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Sunday, May 5, 2013

How Tata Group is harnessing the innovation within

This story first appeared in DNA Money edition on April 29, 2013.

Last year, Tanishq, the jewellery arm of Titan Industries, was faced with a daunting task. It wanted to ramp up capacity for making gold coins using powder metallurgy technology. But an intermediate step in the process posed a roadblock – removing moisture from gold powder.

The process typically took 16 hours because of the type of furnaces used in the gold industry. To ramp up capacity, Tanishq would have to either set up more furnaces or look for an alternative method to really speed up the process.

It posted the challenge on Tata InnoVerse, the Tata Group’s in-house networking platform, created by the Tata Group Innovation Forum (TGIF), which was instituted in 2007 under the umbrella of Tata Quality Management Services (TQMS).

“The solution came (within the 40-day window offered for responses) from a manager at Tata Housing who, using his experience in the pharmaceutical industry, suggested using fluid bed dryers,” says Mukund Govind Rajan, brand custodian and chief ethics officer, Tata Sons.

The drying time is down to barely an hour today. “That’s an example of how the process works and the value of creating this kind of platform,” says  Rajan.

Another interesting idea came from a young employee at Tata Teleservices, who questioned the need for going to an optician for eye-testing as against doing it sitting at home.

“It was a great idea, resulting in the creation of an internet-based method for eye-testing. The idea has travelled from being a concept to final implementation in the last 12 months,” says Ravi Arora, vice-president, innovation, TQMS, Tata Sons. Going by him, some 4 lakh people are using the online testing methodology already.

Harnessing such innovative ideas across Tata group companies is Tata InnoVerse. In the last three years, the platform has generated 33,500 ideas, of which 1,976 were selected and 265 eventually implemented.

Going by Rajan, a good 42% of the ideas of Tata InnoVerse came from outside the Tata company concerned, “which clearly indicates the way collaborations across the group are really finding ways.”

The second vehicle TGIF created last year is a bi-annual programme called Challenges Worth Solving (CWS), which was piloted last year and is in its first year of  implementation.

According to Sunil Sinha, chief - group quality management services, Tata Sons, a focused group of top management across Tata companies is involved in identification of challenges and selecting the solutions. “This year, 28 challenges were posted on CWS by senior Tata leadership. These generated 3,764 ideas, of which, eventually, 25 were selected for implementation,” says Sinha.

To be sure, chairman Cyrus Mistry has harped on innovation – besides customer centricity – as a means to differentiation in the market place.

The group currently spends a little over $2 billion (Rs 11,000 crore), or 2% of its total revenues, on research and development (R&D). While it hopes to increase its R&D spend in the coming year, a lot of focus will also be laid on identification and optimisation of the big impact ideas for the benefit of the company.

“In the first 3-4 years, we looked at numbers because we wanted people to think creatively. The numbers have significantly increased from 100-odd in 2007 to almost 3,000 entries in 2013. Now the time has come to look at the quality of innovation/ ideas that can have a greater impact,” says Sinha

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