Millennium Post

Research, innovation as growth vehicles

Research is philosophy and needs to be practiced like we practice religion. A knowledge gathering individual would look to putting together the nuts and bolts, the data, metadata and information together and add to the body of knowledge researching and innovating as he goes along. Metadata helps in gaining the hindsight, innovation the insight and education the far sight. Research provides the vehicle to do this.

How do we explain complex concepts that are beyond the best brains? We do this sometimes through statistical, empirical, and even experimental or most of the times through standard dictionary phrases. A better way I believe could be anecdotal.

The word innovation derives from the Latin word innovatus, which is the noun form of innovare ‘to renew or change,’ We all know that any change is difficult and painful and hence innovation too needs a new thought process that constantly challenges the established norms.   

Research and innovation, a vast subject, difficult to analyse within the realm of all disciplines is best to steer within the scope of IT as a discipline and hence information technology is my chariot to demystify Research and subsequently Innovation.

 An interesting analogy that comes to mind is that of Abhimanyu: the warrior prince in mahabharata who was entrusted with the task of penetrating a Chakravyuh (certain formidable formation) of the enemy. His advantage was that he had learnt this very critical aspect of warfare when still in his mother’s womb through his warrior father who had narrated it to his mother. However, the paradox of his prowess was to be his ignorance of how to exit the same having successfully vanquished the enemy.

That analogy is pertinent to India today. We seem to have arrived riding the wave of IT services without any clue as to the development of IT itself. It is the same way we missed the industrial revolution. We missed the woods for the trees and today find ourselves stuck between what could have been and what is in recent times.

Even as governance of the country is challenged, the skill development and education in IT remains firmly hinged to hardware imports and hence the operating systems imports, where no more than 10-12 million PCs arrive in the country annually, though the country should have made giant strides in creating its own hardware brand and could have been a world leader.

We need to innovate with IT as the backbone of governance especially for a country the size of India that has nearly 18 per cent of the world’s population and occupies only 2.4 per cent of the world’s geography.

While we engineered the software DNA of the country, it is an apathy that we couldn’t do much with the hardware, given our brain power. IITs continue to catapult the Indian knowledge and sow it on foreign lands but that again is limited to conjoining the dots there, while the return import of that knowledge however is costing us precious revenue outgos even as corporation upon corporation in the US is thriving on the nutrition it derives from the patent laws and IP rights prevalent there and limitedness of the same here. The hardware vendors to India whether from Japan, US, China or other countries indeed hold the lock, we may have the key in the form of our software prowess but keys dont sell without locks in India but locks sell everywhere.

 Just as Mahabharata, the Panchatantra and Chanakyashastra have been universally available for free, we seem to have lost the plot somewhere there when it comes to developing and encouraging enterprise.

The rate of growth today determines the almanac of an Indian enterprise; more so; the PSUs. This requires a revisit. Profit is indeed a bad word in India and in the Indian psyche, however we again miss the woods for the trees if we have to look at profit in seclusion and not in conjunction with the right business practices with laws that protect the development and encourage the idea of its propagation through adequate and appropriate controls. Profit is definitely a bad word unless it is supported by the right means and is harvested as a process of great cultivation practices; both of which are fuzzy in India. We seem to have duplicity and a generous sameness of business models that continue to war a common turf.

The copy-paste jobs that the students in IT and technical colleges undertake when developing their projects as part of their curriculum don’t help either. Here is a solution; it is at best a case in point. With the advent of cloud, what if the ministry of micro, small and medium enterprise could share its data with AICTE and AICTE were to encourage colleges to occupy and script their enterprise applications on a piece of cloud that they could acquire to be used as their lab.

There is a good chance that a small nut and bolt manufacturer will turn his attention to where these nuts and bolts go and who knows he may actually end up starting a computer manufacturing unit. Yes! it says that, all that we have around ourselves today was once considered impossible; so be it, thus it shall be!!

If industrial growth is indeed vital for the Indian economy, it is a matter of time that the MSMEs will get connected to the Government, their buyers and bankers and a global marketplace and set in motion a sustainable juggernaut that would thrive on research and innovation.

I realise that the opportunity and the responsibility that these observations of mine impose on me is immense and while I am at liberty to expound my views on Research and Innovation involving boiling of the oceans and world hunger and poverty, at my best, however, I can only offer a perspective.

I share the above as a small blueprint of an idea that has potential of enabling us to crank our own engines rather than remain subservient to a limited vision and as consecquence to economies of the west. We have an opportunity to learn from them!

So in a nutshell:

 1.     Shall we start a debate on the patent and IP laws and developing the right tools and implements to develop, propagate and protect our GDP growth. Our hardware shall grow out of that reason.

2.     Study profits as both an end and a means to development and progress, given the right environment, tools and implements. There is need to revisit our rate of growth that at best rides a turnpike of inflation to at best reverse itself.

3.     Let each college buy a piece of the cloud that propagates millions of nurseries with a potential to raise the MSMEs and spur innovation to deliver quicker, better and more competitive products from the MSMEs!

Let me make a different pitch: Object oriented languages that form the backbone of modern computing, came out of a great innovation. Dennis Ritchie the developer of UNIX, who helped shape the digital era and a great innovator by any standard, said that though there were technical and semi-technical aspects of using C family of languages, they turned out to be well-placed both for describing things at a high enough level so that portability across hardware was feasible, but simple enough in its requirements to make it cheap to implement. The entire modern computing today is based on this one innovation.

We need innovators and innovations of that standard. Innovation comes out of empowering individuals to out beat and outperform mediocrity. We need radicals and mavericks to promote innovation and systems to identify such individuals and protect them from the mediocrity and banality around.

We need to create ecosystems that enable environments to flourish in research and innovation in our institutions. We need to define dynamic structures that bring out the best in our youth. We are far too much and too often couched in false protection mechanisms and falsely protected mechanisms that we have lost the ability to take risks. Failure and even a perception of failure haunt us. We need to empower our school going children, youth, where demographic dividends are firmly in their favour for the next 25 years, to take risks, and also appropriately protect them against possible failures. Innovation would be born out of this.

Innovation and Research for Product development and process improvement as a means to encourage quality, is an important activity and should be promoted by collaborations with large Industries, and engagement with MSMEs to improve the global brand image of the country. This is possible with design innovation centres in our institutions for product development and process improvements. In an economy which is a predominantly based on imports product development becomes very critical. Newer hob markets emerge from such initiatives.

We need to break the shackles of regulatory systems, break free, ideate and allow free enterprise to promote research and Innovation. New financial models need to be created for public and private funds, or even create bonds with third party collaterals or create outcome based loans for funding research and innovation.

We also need to move out from purely transactional approach to problem solving and create robust processes driven systems. This will help in defining processes and hence create an environment to promote free enterprise. Redefining even the IT and patent laws is necessary to protect the ideas, processes and systems so that cross reference driven pointers do not rob individuals of their intellectual property and a means of livelihood based on their ideas and creativity.

The author is Chairman, All India Council for Technical Education

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