Thursday, May 29, 2008

India as an Innovation Hub

I was reading Navi Radjou's recent blog post on the HBR site on entitled "Is India an Innovation Giant... or Pygmy?". Given that I just got back from India last week, I had some thoughts that I wanted to share.

My company, Symphony Services, provides product engineering services for software, telecom and web-based companies, so innovation is critical. As expected, we have a significant segment of our delivery operations in India, so India's ability to act as an innovation partner is key to our success. That being said, I see a few issues that can impact India's ability to continue filling the cup: Hubris and Infrastructure.

1. Hubris: India, Inc. has to stop reading it's own press clippings. I've heard predictions that by 2025 India will own ALL product R&D and that US personnel at software companies will simply be sales and marketing functions. This has 2 implications for me. First that there is a discounting of the importance of contact with the end customer in creating innovation products and services. It's the same kind of "we know better than the market" that is the battle cry of most engineering organizations. I saw it when at Kyocera and the paraphrase Chip Heath of 'Make it Stick' fame, that's why your remote control has 53 buttons. Secondly, it presumes that the rest of the world is either standing still or will just 'get dumb' at the same time. Not happening. Lastly, it seems as if no one realizes that this kind of message will play very poorly with the same people that they want to sell to.

2. Infrastructure. Anyone who's been to India knows what I'm talking about. A 2 hour commute to go 10km is insane. And the prospect of adding thousands of more $2500 cars to the current state of affairs is just a bad idea. Look at the impact that the creation of the national highway system had on the US economy in the 60's. It allowed the population to spread out, create jobs through the construction and the resulting housing boom that followed as people could commute to city centers. And the ability to facilitate interstate commerce was a boon to all sectors of the economy. With a similar investment, the potential for the majority of the population to begin to reap some of the benefits of the ITO/BPO boom would create dramatic change in the economy and create more options for entrepreneurs to thrive, not just in the tech sector, but in all aspects of the economy. Infrastructure would grease the skids for the Indian economy and spur the creation of new companies and fortunes to battle the existing oligopoly that exists today.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good Post Glenn. I see a few other issues that really can set India back in terms of Innovation:

1. Quality : If you see the quality intake of the IT industry you would not be surprised that India generates 100's and thousand's of engineers every single day not to mention that there is a big list of aspiring candidates waiting out there to join the force... Good and Bad news? secondly if you see the dripping quality you can make out that the talent is always a pyramid... Best talent is at the peak and ofcourse les... I am not sure if the foundation of the pyramid is supporting innovation...

2. Market Dynamics and Role: While I agree that somewhere down the line the India Inc will play key role in product R&D but due to market dynamics and core involvement of the engineering divisions into product startegies being negligible I dont see concrete happenings or outputs in terms of product R&D very soon. Ask how many Product Managers sit in India managing a product that runs in Europe or States? Or in fact ask how many domain experts (Count them as Alpha domain knowledge holders) stick to the same domain for long?

3. Outsourcing do you really think that work? It may for a lots of them but it simply doesnt for everyone... you may also be interested in reading Diminishing Software Quality... to addd to this do Service providers really understand the business model before they promise customers to deliver? Above all in my past when I was working for a big Brand I was expected to work for a Media customer based in US... eventually the only reason things did not go well was Engineering Team in India lacked the understanding of the business model and product and domain.... The Ideal thing to ask here is really are we spending enough of our Investments on Trainings on business side of product development? than just technologies and trainings?

ahh... the comment is getting lenghtier.. guess I should be writing be writing a post on this soon...

Sameer Shaikh