In leaps and bounds, guided by frugal engineering

Innovation is ach-ievement at low cost. The recent Indian Space Research Organisation’s mission to Moon and Mars — at a cost that is one-fourth of what international space agencies’ achieved, is counted among the last of the lot. It is nothing short of an art bought into execution through meticulous planning, through frugal engineering and adaptation of technology to save on time and an idea that others failed to think. The cost of travelling to Mars in the Mangalyaan mission is Rs 12 per km, less than what an auto rickshaw or a cab will charge for the same distance in Mumbai or Delhi.

In the wider context for the mission to be successful, it will have to sustain itself through even more innovative practices and ensure access to resources known and unknown, provide financial security by lending services to value seekers and creating deterrence to anti satellite missiles along with capabilities for inter-continental missiles. This process will have to continue for years to come since human needs will be unlimited and the desire to conquer them even more powerful.

The idea can be broadly extended to every aspect of our living. The India of coming generations will require similar ideas that have the potential to transform the way we think, plan and execute, all by crunching mammoth numbers and insurmountable data at lightning speed to facilitate easy decision making and gain competitive edge over rivals in the process.

The development and application of technologies in the field of data analytics, computation, social media, IT, cloud computing, along with the ability of smart phones to transform the landscape in banking, healthcare, consumer goods and education will be immense. The relevance of nano technology and bio-technology cannot be under estimated either.

According to Intel, a global IT major, by 2015 we will need eight times more network, 16 times more storage capacity and 20 times more computer capacity. Besides, companies will have to deal with 50 times more data, highlighting the importance of business analytics.

In 1995, India had a hard disk drive capacity of 20 PB (peta bytes), one PB is equal to 1,024 terra byte. The total unstructured data grew to 39,000 PB in 2011 and is expected to grow more than six times to 226,000 PB of unstructured data by 2015.

Intel believes analysing the humungous big corporate data, web data and sensor data will be the potential gold mine for creating value and also as competitive differentiator for the companies both public and private. The innovation market for the segment is close to $2 trillion.

Sachin Kelkar, head of APAC scale software programme, Intel Software and Services Group, says that having 15 billion connected devices in the next few years is achievable. The biggest question is around where the data will go when these devices connect? The best way will be to make use of that information in a structured manner, he says. “It will prompt a whole industry to grow around predictive analysis and raw data. Big Data will help make companies smarter, more progressive and give them a business advantage. Governments will follow soon.” In 2014, predicts Kelkar, things will continue to move full steam ahead. “Touch it, type on it, or talk to it — these devices are multitasking powerhouses that will offer us new interaction possibilities.”

As a layman we need to understand where the advancements are likely to take us: can the benefits be measured in terms of their requirement in various sectors and fields like roads and transport, industries, healthcare, banks and management of cities. Innovation will have to drive this growth at every level — thoughts, ideas, execution and further innovation — to take the ideas beyond.

Samir Yajnik, COO of Tata Technologies that prepares prototypes for the auto and the aviation companies, says innovation is the need of the hour for sustainability of the country. It is not about cost arbitrage, but about reverse innovation where products are first developed within the country with native technology. “We earlier use to bring the forward looking engineering and concepts into the country through Tata Motors. However, now we have reached a point where technology meets the product development. Innovation has to begin at home,” says Yajnik. The India for India story is immense: it is not about incremental innovation, but breakthrough innovation. The next Google, Twitter and Apple will have to come from India.

Dinesh Jain, country manager of Teradata India, believes since many of the sectors in India are still maturing there is a lot of scope for data analytics in banking, telecom, aviation, automotive, retail and utilities, state electricity boards and other providers. “As a next big thing banks, retailers and industries are queuing for next level of analytics that helps them reduce churn, retain customers and prevent frauds and losses. There are various technologies available and we are ensuring that the industries become part of it to become more efficient. It will be more integrated growth compared with enterprise solutions that work in silos,” says Jain.

From the innovation point of view, the unique identification programme(UID) has thrown up a lot of information, which was not there earlier. Imagine creating a central depository of the entire country. Now even the banks can reach the remotest locations through a SMS or mass campaigns if the government shares the data. The data creation and storage has helped in making distribution of services more broad based. Even the penetration of mobile phone — around 90 per cent — will help us provide better services and thus lead to better growth of the country.

Global technology and consulting giant, IBM, in its latest five prediction for the next five years has identified how technology will change the education system in schools by providing teachers cloud based services that will help identify the risks and roadblocks in understanding the students using the attendance, test marks and behaviour patterns to resolve the issues. How technology will help retail stores to regain their position from online retailers; doctors gain from the use of technology to get access to patients' DNA to diagnose the disease in minutes instead of weeks and how planned cities and network security will be more convenient for users with the deployment of interconnected technologies.

Experts believe in India the innovation streak has become dormant due to endless processes and bureaucracy. Efforts should be taken to enable infrastructure in terms of setting up labs and funding research, inviting richer nations to set up incubation centres for an amalgamation of ideas.

“Companies need to actively encourage employees to give up chasing glamorous titles and facilitate and reward innovation and also tolerate failure, which results in bolder innovations. Also, governments must promote the innovation culture proactively by creating a framework. It should be aimed at boosting funding for innovation, enabling tax breaks and offering incentives,” says Sunil Manglore, managing director of CA Technologies, a US-based IT solutions services provider.

Vinay Kumar P, director sales, India, at Netapp, says, it is imperative to empower and equip those with advanced skills who are responsible for leading product and service development. “It’s equally important to develop and foster an experimentation mindset within the organisation like we do at NetApp India. It is the culture of innovation at NetApp that drives the workforce and makes us smarter.”

Arup Roy Choudhury, chairman of NTPC, India’s largest power utility, believes that every Indian is endowed with a unique ‘jugaad mindset’, which enables him to use available resources innovatively. “By being open to jugaad you will be able to encourage the spirit of improvisation. This results in less expensive yet very effective solutions,” Choudhury says in his book Management by Idiots.

Innovation needs to seep into every aspect of the organisational structure, be it in leadership, management, and technology. “If we need six months to bring out a product, we need to reduce it to two months. Everything we do, we have to do it faster and we have to do it in more impactful way,” says Manglore.

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