Sunday, April 27, 2014

Creating Collaborative Platforms for More Effective Innovation

One of my friends, Dr. Ardhendu Pathak, posed me an interesting question recently: how do we create structures and platforms that can make collaborative innovation easier, and more successful? Having interacted with individuals and institutions across the globe he was puzzled that as individuals we are not inferior to any other country, yet our innovation outcomes are often not on par!

This question resonated with me because it’s closely related to the question I posed in From Jugaad to Systematic Innovation: Why is it that though we have talented individuals, our country does not do well on innovation?

The Structure of Indian Industrial Innovation

Some historic context is helpful here. Post-independence, we imitated the Russian system of creating stand-alone R&D laboratories in different disciplines and application areas. Government directed funding towards these institutions which became part of large R&D systems such as the CSIR, DRDO, ICAR, ICMR, etc. 

These laboratories became rather disconnected islands of effort to build process and product technologies for use by industry. Technology transfer and commercialization remained a perennial problem – industry found the technologies developed incomplete and difficult to scale; and the laboratories felt industry was not supportive of their efforts. Universities remained outside the arena of innovation for industry.

Until the early 1990s, government funding for innovation was directed towards these national laboratories. In contrast, R&D by firms received little attention - the only government support for firm R&D was tax breaks, and some relaxations on import restrictions for firms whose R&D facilities were certified by the government.

After 1991, the government slowly changed its policies and tried to find ways of supporting industrial innovation in firms. But the first two programmes in this direction – HGT and PATSER – were both primarily directed towards helping firms absorb and scale-up technologies that had been created by the government R&D system.

The first recognition of the independent potential of firm R&D came with the creation of the Technology Development Board (TDB) around 1996. The TDB provided low-cost loans to firms to help them commercialise technologies without any insistence on the involvement of a government laboratory.
None of these programmes – HGT, PATSER and TDB – had a strategic focus. Instead they were all reactive, responding to applications received from firms or laboratories.

Vertically integrated programmes like the Space and Atomic Energy programmes had a different approach where they sought to do everything within their internal networks. They went outside only when they didn’t have the internal capabilities and even that was largely for execution – e.g. the atomic energy programme working with a large contractor like L&T.

Perhaps the first attempt at a large scale collaborative innovation programme was the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) programme launched in the mid-1980s. While a separate agency (ADA) was set up to spearhead the development of the LCA, it was quickly realized that expertise in areas like avionics and composites simply didn’t exist within the government system and hence there was no option but to involve academic institutions like the IITs. But involvement with private industry was very limited.

Why Platforms are Needed

Today, it is widely accepted that no organization has all the knowledge it needs to innovate and compete successfully. Partnerships and open innovation initiatives are the order of the day. Companies create their own platforms – e.g. Procter & Gamble’s Connect & Develop – to reduce the friction involved and systematically reach out to a wide variety of potential partners.

At the national level, countries have realized that bringing together key players across academia and industry can help build competitiveness. Of course, such initiatives usually stop at the level of pre-competitive or generic technology development. Even the United States, historically a big votary of open competition in technology development, experimented with initiatives like the Sematech consortium.

The First National Collaborative Platform - NMITLI

The first large scale effort to bring all the relevant players – private industry, academic institutions and research laboratories together – and with a view to creating some distinctive strategic position for the country was the New Millennum India Technology Leadership Initiative (NMITLI) launched by Dr. Mashelkar under the umbrella of CSIR in 2000.

NMITLI was distinctive because it explicitly recognized that such collaboration may help India build a sustainable edge in some new technology areas. However, even NMITLI retained some of the traditional government funding structures – e.g. in a project, while the government/CSIR is willing to make an outright grant to a university or research institution, any funding to a company is again through a low interest loan. NMITLI has another distinctive feature – a project can be initiated either from a corporate proposal or through identification based on expert inputs or national consultation.

What has been the outcome of NMITLI? According to the NMITLI website, in the first 8 years (I was unable to find more recent data –will try to update) NMITLI supported 57 projects involving 80 industry partners, and 270 R&D groups. Outcomes included 100 international patents, and 150 papers in high impact journals. Prominent products include Biosuite (with TCS) and Drishtee, a 3D computational biology platform (with Strand Life Sciences). Some drugs and medical products are undergoing trials. Its not clear whether any project has been able to help India realize the dream of leadership in a particular industry or domain. But its clear that NMITLI has succeeded in bringing myriad academic and research institutions, and companies to the same table.

CAR: A Focused Innovation Platform

Perhaps the most focused innovation platform created was the Collaborative Automotive Research Programme (CAR) created by the office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Cabinet in 2003.

In January 2011, when I met Sajid Mubashir, the officer who coordinated the CAR programme, he explained that it came about in fortuitous circumstances. Dr R Chidambaram, Principal Scientific Adviser to GoI, played tennis with Capt Mohan Ram (TVS Motors) regularly. At a SIAM meeting, Mohan Ram and other automotive heads (curiously, most of them ex- GM R&D) – V Sumantran (then Tata Motors), Arvind Bharadwaj (Ashok Leyland) and Pawan Goenka (Mahindra) were musing about what was needed to take the automotive industry to the next level.

Dr. Chidambaram believed that funding the automotive sector would have good results because being a growing industry, there was a greater likelihood of technology getting commercialized. As a result, Dr. Chidambaram got interested in this (by virtue of being PSA) and tasked Sajid from TIFAC with finding out what they needed.

Six panels were formed, resulting in a 2005 Road Map covering 30 areas. These six panels had about 12 people each (that became the nucleus for a future network). During one year they met three times, culminating in a meeting at IIT Madras where the topics were narrowed down. The consensus was that the government should support the industry and bring in academia and research institutions to undertake pre-competitive research through a consortium approach.

As in other cases, TIFAC decided to make all government contributions through the institutions, and as grants. Finally four areas were narrowed down. The common demand driver for technology underlying these themes was fuel-saving. Various dimensions of fuel-saving were identified – size (smaller cars); light-weighting (could give upto 20% reduction in fuel consumption) with a focus on new materials and processes in steel and aluminium, not magnesium; engine improvement; electronics; fleet management; alternate fuels (including electric drive vehicles and hybrids but not hydrogen or fuel cells that were seen as too far out).

Under CAR, about Rs. 35 crores was spent on 10 consortium projects. About one fourth to one third of the project budget went to the lead institution; the lead institution was the conduit for the funding of other dimensions of the project. The lead institution could commission work (e.g. prototypes, machinery, etc. at the companies) and pay for this.

Three out of the ten projects have seen commercial outcomes. But there is a widespread consensus that the CAR platform helped industry and academia understand each other better, and this will provide a basis for future collaborative work.

So, we have at least two examples of collaborative platforms, both of which have achieved some positive results.

The Future of Collaborative Innovation Platforms in India

In recent years, there have been new efforts to create innovation platforms. Perhaps the most ambitious is the Department of Biotechnology’s BIRAP. The Unique ID project, Aadhaar, has provided opportunities for a host of new applications to ride on top of it, thus creating a platform of a different type.

In the US, one finds a number of industry-sponsored consortia, often centered around a few key academic institutions. However, industry associations and trade bodies in India have not taken any such initiatives as far as I know.

India needs such platforms to help exchange information more easily, and to smoothen out transfer of technology and commercialization. One area crying out for such a platform is assistive devices and technologies for the disabled. There are hundreds of projects across the country trying to build such low-cost devices, yet few of them are commercialized or diffused. Building a national platform to bring together and support these disjointed efforts could help India take much better care of people with disabilities and even aspire to be the world leader in this area.

There are several new colleges and technology institutions across the country, keen to collaborate with industry and contribute to technology development. The creation of some new platforms could guide and direct these efforts to more productive outcomes, and help address the problem that Ardhendu identified.

(The views expressed here are the personal views of the author.)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

McKinsey Global Institute Report on What India Should do...

The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) is a think-tank set up by the consulting firm to look at broader issues, usually outside the firm and at the level of the economy. MGI rose to prominence in India in 2001 when they presented to then Prime Minister Vajpayee a report on how India could achieve 10% growth. I found that report interesting enough to organize a small internal workshop at IIM Bangalore in early 2002 where we debated the report. At that time, MGI’s prescription was that India needed to focus on raising productivity in the modern sectors of the economy where differentials between India and the best in the world were very high. I wrote a critique of that report in EPW.

So, I was excited when I recently received a new MGI report titled “From Poverty to Empowerment: India’s imperative for jobs, growth and effective services.” Interestingly, the report itself has created hardly a ripple and has not received much attention in the Indian media, having been completely submerged under the deluge of election-related news. That’s a pity, because the report has some interesting insights. What I also found fascinating is how MGI’s views have evolved over time, and become much more sensitive to the Indian context and debates within the country.

The Report

Measurement of poverty is a tricky matter and we have seen several debates triggered by the politics of measurement. While traditional measures have tended to be simple ones based on either income or calorific consumption, there is general recognition that a more multi-dimensional measure would be helpful.

MGI has tried to create its own measure to fill this need, by replacing the poverty line with an empowerment line. According to MGI, to be “economically empowered” is to be able to meet basic needs of food, energy, drinking water, sanitation, healthcare, education and social security at an acceptable level (p. 36).
MGI’s adoption of such a measure is somewhat surprising because it is people like Amartya Sen, usually not the darling of “capitalist” consulting firms, who have been the pioneers of such thinking! Sen has been a major proponent of every individual being entitled to a certain minimum quality of life and dignity!

What is alarming is that by this criterion, as many as 56% of our people (680 million people) lack empowerment. MGI’s calculation is that the average consumption expenditure for a minimum standard of living in India meeting these eight basic needs is Rs. 1544 per person in 2011-12 prices. For a typical 5-member family, that works out to a family expenditure of Rs. 7720. MGI’s estimate is that Government (central and state) spent Rs. 390 per capita on these 8 needs but only Rs. 208 reached each individual (p. 39). The resultant empowerment line of 1336 per capita is 1.5 times the official poverty line (p. 39)
The report estimates that a big reduction in empowerment gap came about between 2005 and 2012, a period of rapid economic growth. 74% of this came from income increases, and 26% from government programs.

The overall empowerment gap is estimated at about $69B. I was relieved when I saw this figure – it doesn’t seem all that high when you think that India’s software exports are about twice this figure and that this is the rough topline of the Aditya Birla group, one of our top industrial groups. I know we can’t just redistribute wealth, but the gap can be bridged with just the wealth of some of our rich industrialists!

Some Interesting Observations

Embedded in this report are some interesting observations:

  • India has a missing female work force:  “40% of India’s women in the age group 25-54 were economically active compared to 88% in China” (p. 48).
  • The unorganized sector is where the jobs are being created but its productivity is one-fifth that of the organized sector. [I wonder what are the implications of this for the Wal-mart vs. Kirana store debate!]
  • MNREGA has increased rural incomes but reduced construction sector productivity! (p. 50). Interestingly, the MGI report refrains from any criticism of MNREGA and in fact when it talks of the lack of safety nets, it looks like being mildly supportive!
  • Lack of skills is a critical issue – at the extreme, only 1% of workers in Bihar have received skills training (p. 51).
  • India has poor agricultural yield – only half that of China (p. 52).India’s problems in agriculture arise from focusing spending on input subsidies rather than on technology and knowledge diffusion.

The report suggests a more nuanced look at poverty by breaking up the poor into those who have just escaped (but who are still “vulnerable.”), those who are excluded, and those who are impoverished. 

Vulnerable are above the poverty line but below the empowerment line. Using this classification, 30% of the population of urban India is vulnerable.

Such segmentation should be useful as it helps identify the needs and priorities of different groups. While health (40%) and food (19%) together account for almost 60% of the empowerment gap overall, housing is the second largest gap in urban India.

Other Perspectives of the Report

Another measure that the MGI report looks at is access to basic essential services. It estimates nationwide access deprivation at 46% (p. 54)

Access deprivation score (ADS) is used to characterize availability of services in each district. ADS is based on access to 6 services. National ADS is 46%. Most deprived districts are in Bihar and UP.
India’s 9 megacities are “community services deprived” (p. 94) and fall short of being the least deprived agglomerations.

The MGI report suggests that states have districts fitting different archetypes and therefore need different policies for different different districts. I don’t think we see much of this thinking in most states except for declaration of “most backward” districts. Is it time for states to take a more nuanced approach to development within themselves?

The Recommendations

The MGI report recommendations are a mixed bag. They sometimes re-trace existing dogma. They occasionally embrace new ideas. To drive the creation of millions of jobs, the report advocates reforms along predictable lines – cut red tape, improve infrastructure, remove tax distortions, etc.

But I was relieved to see the report refrains from motherhood statements like “enhance competition” that were commonplace in the earlier MGI report.

The four main recommendations are:

  • Creation of 110-115m non-farm jobs [nothing new, I guess]
  • Increase agricultural yield [easy to say, seems difficult to do]
  • Double public spending to expand access to services [I was surprised by this one]
  • Increase effectiveness of public spending – best states achieve about 75%

While correctly observing that growth is required to fund public provision of services [for an interesting exposition of this dynamic, see Sanjaya Baru’s The Accidental Prime Minister], the report observes that public spending is the key for the bottom-most layer.

At the same time, there is need for better governance to ensure that the resources invested reach the people they are intended for.

While the report calls for increasing level of investment, there is no specific reference to FDI. Are they just being cautious? Not wanting to take a position? Or just assuming that FDI is inevitable? That’s not clear!

A few things I found interesting about their recommendations:

  • They call for the creation of 70-100 job creation engines – “industrial clusters, tourism circuits, food processing parks” (p. 123). There’s nothing new about industrial clusters and food processing parks, so it’s not clear what is distinctive about their recommendations and how they will suddenly do magic.
  • I like the recommendation to create a vibrant set of “emerging cities” (p. 127) – the report shows how, compared to China, India lacks intermediate sized dynamic cities. Economic history shows the importance of cities in economic development. While former President Kalam’s dream of PURA is attractive, I have always had my doubts regarding the economic viability of it!
  • The report is quite neutral about the new land acquisition laws (p. 136) of which industry associations were quite critical, preferring to wait and watch!
  • While agreeing that labour reforms are necessary (the report quotes an OECD study that India has the  second most protective set of laws for workmen), the report calls for labour reforms to be accompanied by greater job security and even suggests unemployment insurance.
  • Another interesting suggestion from the report is why not use MNREGA funds for skill development?

The report refrains from being doctrinaire and instead advocates learning from best practices. You might recall my posts on the Amartya SenJagdish Bhagawati debate some months ago. The report takes a middle path saying that both in-kind transfers and cash transfers can work. It proposes a contingency model – where choice depends on context – the report even suggests that the Public Distribution System (PDS) can be reformed using technology.


A cynical way of looking at this report is that MGI has hedged its bets, and its report allows it to go along with whoever wins the next election. But, to be fair, I think this report has some new insights, and could facilitate some useful debates on what the country should do next.

[All data quoted here is from the report. The comments and views expressed here are personal.]

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Allowing Indian Science to Flower and Bloom

In a recent article in the prestigious journal Nature, Mathai Joseph and Andrew Robinson make a passionate call to “Free Indian Science” in order to allow it to flower and bloom. (Regular readers of this blog might remember Mathai Joseph from a review I wrote of his book.) Their core argument is that Indian science has not lived up to its potential (e.g. after independence, no Nobel prize has ever awarded to an Indian scientist working in India) and that the reason for this is the excessive bureaucratization of science – scientists are promoted on the basis of years in service rather than scientific accomplishments; funding is subject to unreasonable bureaucratic restrictions; and mobility is limited. They call for creating an independent funding agency with government money but outside government control, rotation of administrative roles, cross-institutional research groups, and rejuvenating science in Indian universities.

Too Broad a Brush?

Joseph and Robinson have used a broad brush to paint their picture of Indian science and, in the process, missed some nuances. My guess is that individual scientists working in theoretical domains have done well, even if they haven’t won a Nobel. I could point to at least two – Ashoke Sen (see picture above), a string theorist, who is regarded among the best in the world (he won the new Fundamental Physics prize instituted by a Russian billionaire in 2012), and Manindra Agrawal (see picture below), a computer scientist who, working with two of his students, created the first deterministic algorithm to determine whether a number is a prime in polynomial time, leading to his being awarded the Godel prize and the Fulkerson prize among others. The long arms of scientific bureaucracy couldn’t prevent either Ashoke or Manindra from doing their best!

Is Funding an Issue?

Joseph (see picture above) and Robinson (see picture below) acknowledge that funding is not the issue though they can’t resist criticizing the government for failing to raise the spending on R&D above the magic mark of 1% of GDP. The fact is that thanks to the influence of the scientific establishment and people like CNR Rao in particular, Indian science has no shortage of funds. I have heard stories of officials from government agencies camping at the IITs and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in the last quarter of the year literally begging professors to submit proposals.

India has science and technology cooperation agreements with several countries from the OECD. Historically, these were funded primarily by the foreign partner. Today, with the partners facing a funding crunch, the Indian government has taken over many of these finding obligations. This is another sign that India is not short of research funds.

If not, where is the problem?

The problems lie elsewhere. Globally, science operates through peer review, whether it is funding or acceptance of papers for publication. In India, though the government tries to use similar mechanisms to give out money, these peer review systems don't work well. Most of the funding tends to be "captured" by scientists from a limited set of influential, government-funded institutions. Historically, this was inevitable as India had a limited number of experts in each area and these were largely based in these marquee institutions. But while higher education in India is rapidly shifting to the large number of private universities set up in the last two decades, these are largely un-represented in the funding agencies’ review mechanisms and in the funds they give out. One reason is that they have not established their own credibility, the other is that the government tends to be suspicious of them in much the same way that the government is suspicious of private industry. It is not clear how this will change even if funding happens from an independent agency.

While Joseph and Robinson may be right about the evils of bureaucratization, the more potent evils are in a different arena. Even good institutions like the IITs and IISc lack an efficient and competent internal administrative system. I recently met a young faculty member who had a handsome start-up grant and access to government funding but finally threw up his hands and emigrated because of the huge number of obstacles to procuring the equipment he needed. Those who stay and wait lose out on productivity unless they are theorists and don't need equipment or laboratories. The system is particularly slow if you need a complex collection of equipment. This is one of the reasons that professors don't take on large projects that involve product or system development.

The situation is different and worse in the (public) university system. Rather than seeing a project as a matter of pride, the administrative system sees it as a source of rents. Several university professors have told me that they don't take on externally-funded projects because they have to constantly hang around university officials to be able to spend the money that has been granted to them. Given these problems within institutions, I wouldn’t expect to see a sudden boom in scientific output even if the government were to create a separate funding agency outside its immediate control.

Instead, the Indian science system, whether it be in government-funded research laboratories or universities, needs a new cadre of administrators who have some understanding of science and can promote it in a meaningful way. Professionalization of science management and administrative roles has not been given the attention it deserves.

Are charismatic leaders the solution?

Though Joseph and Robinson lament the absence of towering personalities like Bhabha at the helm, I have a different view. A certain democratization has happened in Indian science that is good for the country in the long run. Today, Indian science has a large number of competent scientists who have gone through the hoops of the Indian system (for example, competed with thousands of others to enter the portals of an IIT or IISc), done their PhDs at the best universities in the world or India, and then committed to working in India. Many in this category are today becoming leaders of scientific and academic institutions. They command respect because they have reached where they have due to their own talent and hard work, and they have demonstrated the ability to succeed in the tough environment that is India. 

I am thinking of people like VijayRaghavan of NCBS (now Secretary of the DBT, see picture above) or Sathyamurthy of IISER Mohali (see picture below). These quiet leaders are creating the right environment for research in their institutions, outside the spotlight. May their tribe increase.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Xerox Research Center India: High Potential Late Entrant to MNC R&D in India

Xerox is a legendary company that not only created the modern dry process for paper copying, but then continued to dominate that industry for a couple of decades. Strictly speaking though the “Xerox” process was created by Chester Carlson who then sold the technology and patent rights to the founders of the company that later took on the name of its core technology.

There are a few noteworthy things about Xerox that often feature in my teaching:

  • A number of leading companies of the time including IBM failed to see the value of Chester Carlson’s patents and declined the offer to buy the patent rights. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder!

  • Through a combination of technology advancement and building a strong patent wall, Xerox managed to keep competitors at bay for almost 20 years, a feat that is almost impossible in today’s world of rapid technological change.

  • Xerox started losing its stranglehold on the industry when it was disrupted by a set of enterprising Japanese companies including Ricoh and Canon. They leveraged their competence in building copiers with a small physical footprint (ideal for space-starved Japan) to create a new market for small copiers in the United States. By selling small, reliable, economically-priced copiers they avoided a direct confrontation with Xerox that dominated the large corporate copier market with machines leased to central administrative offices backed by a strong service network. As often happens in such disruptions, Xerox was unable to respond to this because its leasing model tied it down.

  • One of the big ironies of Xerox’s loss to the Japanese copier companies was that Xerox’s own affiliate in Japan, Fuji Xerox, was a pioneer of the small copier technology that was so cleverly exploited by Canon and Ricoh. Yet, in Xerox, as was typical of many large multinational enterprises at that time, technology flowed only one way, from parent to subsidiary, and the company realized the value of its own assets too late!

Xerox Today

Xerox today is a very different company from what it was in the past. I knew that they had moved away from the core copying business to digital documentation at some stage, but wasn’t aware of their present business mix till recently. Thanks to the acquisition of ACS, an IT-services business focused on the US transportation and healthcare businesses (medical record processing; parking systems; transportation fleet management, etc.), Xerox has moved away from its legacy business. More than that, it has successfully avoided the ignominy faced by its Rochester twin, Kodak (which had to file for bankruptcy). IT services accounts for about 60% of Xerox’s topline.

Innovation at Xerox

Xerox figures in innovation lore for an important reason that I didn’t write about in the opening section – its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) was the source of a number of technologies that have changed the IT and computing industries. George Pake, one of the PARC founders, predicted an “office of the future” in 1975 that bears an uncanny resemblance to what an office looks like today. The Graphic User Interface (GUI) was invented at PARC; Bob Metcalfe, one of the inventors of the Ethernet worked at PARC too. Laser printing technology was another major PARC invention.

Unfortunately, PARC also features as the most prominent example of a company research center whose output was exploited by everyone except its corporate parent! As is well known, Steve Jobs was an important beneficiary of PARC’s pioneering work!

Today, like other large companies, Xerox has a network of R&D and innovation centers across the globe. 

As a company, Xerox has more than 60,000 patent grants since inception!

Xerox Research Center India

Xerox Research Center India (XRCI) is a relatively recent addition to the Xerox network and is only a few years old (it was started in 2010). It’s the first Xerox research center in an “emerging market.”

I recently had the privilege of giving the keynote at XRCI Open 2014, the first major innovation event organized by XRCI.

 XRCI is small by Bangalore R&D centre standards, but has a focused team of high quality researchers. I found ex-professors from the IITs, PhDs from top US schools, and some people with considerable experience from other MNC R&D centres in the group. XRCI is led by Manish Gupta, a respected figure in IT R&D in India who spent much of his professional career at IBM. Manish led the IBM Research Centre in India till a couple of years ago.

I liked XRCI’s efforts to reach out to the academic community at this event. They had professors from a variety of institutions like IISc, IIIT Delhi, IIT Madras and IIT Kharagpur, apart from students from all over. The posters represented the work of both the academic and Xerox communities, thereby promoting cross-fertilisation of ideas.

A distinctive feature of XRCI is that they have 3 ethnographers on their rolls. I am not sure of the origins of this, but apparently thanks to its interest in work practice research, globally Xerox has embraced ethnography as an important element in its approach to innovation. And I am really happy to see XRCI following this trend.

Apart from my session, I attended an interesting panel on “Smart Cities” – the gap between the chaos of our cities and the ideal smart city of a slick power point presentation is so large that I sometimes wonder about the relevance of such panels. But, I suppose it is exactly this chaos that provides the opportunity to bring intelligence into managing things better.

Areas of Work at XRCI

 Analytics, big data, and crowd computing are some of the big buzz words at XRCI. Mirroring some of the priorities at Xerox, XRCI applies these approaches in multiple areas including healthcare, transportation, education and customer care.

Healthcare is being transformed by IT, but there are also big opportunities. According to some estimates, the value of healthcare fraud exceeds $70 Billion. IT can help reduce this. Quality can also improve – tech evangelist Vinod Khosla predicts that 80% of healthcare can be handled better by software. These are obviously great opportunities for an IT and analytics driven R&D centre such as XRCI.

Researchers at XRCI are working with their US colleagues on non-contact diagnostics through video. The objective is to see under the skin and into the body using near infra-red waves. A combination of Physics and Biology then enables measurement of some essential body parameters. XRCI has a neonatal collaboration with Manipal hospital to do “thermal videos” of infants to check their respiratory performance and temperature. Similarly, there is the potential to detect breast cancer through thermal means instead of using mammograms.

Another area is decision support for clinicians. XRCI is working on stroke severity prediction. An accurate prediction can not only save lives, it can help in optimum use of scarce hospital resources. Prediction is currently at the 80-90% accuracy level, and the effort is to improve it further.

Other current areas of interest at XRCI include traffic flows, and related issues like mobility demand and optimization of public transport; workflow automation applications in banking; and bridging the paper digital divide in education by working on SPOC based solutions for engineering education. For the “official” version of what XRCI does, visit their site.

The XRCI Opportunity

Overall, I found a quest to combine local needs with global applications. Most MNC R&D subsidiaries in India (see my earlier posts on IBM, Cisco, Bell Labs India) have found that if you want to do interesting stuff based on working with the Indian ecosystem, it helps if you work on problems that also have global relevance – that gets greater buy-in from the business and makes commercialization easier. Manish is using his experience with IBM to bring in this kind of thinking early at XRCI, and this bodes well for the future of XRCI. By the standards of other MNCs, Xerox may be a late entrant as far as setting up R&D in India is concerned, but it has the opportunity to make quick impact!