Made in India: What’s the missing link?

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By Himanshu Yadav

India is heavily dependent on imports of electronics goods to meet domestic demand. More than 70 per cent of the domestic maarket is served by imports, as per a joint study conducted by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) and Ernst and Young. One of the most important reasons responsible for this situation is the low spending on R&D—Indian electronics industry spends only $10 million annually on R&D, which is merely 0.85 per cent of the GDP in comparison to China’s 1.44 per cent and Russia’s 1.77 per cent. India has tremendous potential to become a global innovator for high tech products and services. Yet, the country is unable to bring out new designs and innovative products.

“Innovation need not always be big, transformational or revolutionary. It’s the incremental changes made to better a product, process or business that make the difference. Innovation plays a key role in any organisation’s or product’s success and in today’s context it cannot be ignored,” says Lalit K Das, head-instrument design and development centre coordinator, industrial design, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. “Innovation is ‘in-nova-ovation’. Unless there is ‘ovation’ there can be no innovation. To make this happen, there has to be an idea that can earn you an ovation,” he adds.

Key ingredients of innovation

Highlighting the factors that make India less innovative, Philip Jacob, director-central development and engineering, Bharat Electronics Ltd, shares, “Innovation depends on two things—creativity and risk taking ability. These two, in turn, depend on the environment. We lack in these areas as we fear to take up challenges and face failures. The industry needs to develop a suitable environment to provide the necessary encouragement, resources and technology.”

Das, however, has a different point of view. “The common belief is that the market drives innovation. But I think that it is the culture that drives it and somehow we have failed on this front. Innovation cannot happen just by being rationale. If we delve into the past, we find many forward looking innovators bringing innovations with the intention to give back to the society. These innovators were successful because they thought from the cultural point of view. For example, Edison who brought light to millions by inventing light bulb or George Eastman who brought the camera technology used by professionals to the masses through his company Kodak. This attitude needs to be adopted by entrepreneurs, students, mentors and the society as a whole,” says Das.

“Being a mentor, I have tested this approach successfully on my students. Our institutes select the best students in terms of academics, however, many of them do not know how to approach the real problems. Once a problem is properly understood, it’s only the matter of skill and passion to solve it. Some designs that our students have developed are quiet successful because they were designed from the cultural point of view. For example, our students designed a car for old people that performs three functions simultaneously—doors open, the roof retracts and seats slide back, when one wants to get in or out of the car. This innovation bagged us Nissan award.”

Das believes that interdisciplinary approach is important for innovation. “Electronics designers, industrial designers, mechanical engineers, entrepreneurs and anthropologists—all need to work together to bring out innovative products,” he says

Factors to be taken care of

We apply innovative ideas to make our lives simpler. One buys a new product keeping in mind its usability, reliability, maintenance cost and looks. To fulfil these requirements, an innovator or a designer has to interact with users to find new solutions. “When a product is designed, its success in the market depends on whether it meets the requirements of all the stakeholders—buyers, manufacturers, management and society. There can be a conflict between these requirements, which in turn, affects the usability and market value of the product. For example, a manufacturer may find it not feasible to manufacture; the management may not find it suitable to give proper returns; and society’s interest can be served if it uses green technology. These aspects need to be addressed. Therefore, the design engineer needs to know the manufacturing process so as to create a suitable design. Designing should be done keeping in mind how easily and suitably a product can be marketed,” shares Jacob.

Jacob points out another problem area, that is, the design team usually runs behind schedule in bringing out a product. However, this can be sorted out with modern tools, analysis equipment and new techniques available in the market to ensure that the product is developed on time with least number of problems.

What can be done

India has the potential to emerge as an innovation hub for low cost technology products and process reinventions. To develop these capabilities, according to Das, we require low energy consuming technologies. The second step in this direction should be to ensure that the technological and managerial innovations go hand-in-hand. Third, entrepreneurial spirit should be created within organisations (within business units and project teams), providing natural innovators the space to grow. Organisations need to build a culture to reward risks, encourage entrepreneurship, celebrate success and creative ideas. Fourth, organisations should collaborate and co-innovate in the evolving ecosystem. This is very essential to take a brilliant idea off the ground.

Besides, the government and the industry need to come together to transform the manufacturing ecosystem by making the necessary changes. If we want to emerge as a strong force in the global market, we need to have the infrastructure and capability to sustain the complete lifecycle of electronic products—from design, development and testing to manufacturing.

The government should strengthen and enforce intellectual property rights (IPR) laws to match the global standards. It should invest in innovation infrastructure as there is a huge requirement for measurement, standardisation, testing and quality check centres across the country. Funds should be created for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to patent and copyright their products. As these processes are expensive and many SMEs do not have the fund to file global patents, they lose their rights on the intellectual property created by them. Also, few cities can be identified as emerging innovation centres and R&D facilities can be developed through international collaborations.

However, in order to succeed, participation of all stakeholders in the ecosystem is essential. As it is the government’s duty to create a conducive atmosphere for innovation, it is the responsibility of the industry to put in collaborative efforts to design innovative products and create a brand image for the Indian products.

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