Invigorating R&D, innovation in India

India’s R&D growth story is taking an interesting turn with an increasing focus on deep technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and IoT. Talent maturity and rise of powerful life-altering trends are fuelling the growth of the technology industry. Ergo, continuous building and nurturing a talent pool towards the future of such newer technologies is a crucial element of the technology rollercoaster.

The heralders of such talent are usually two parties: scientific research institutions and technology companies. Partnerships with a vision towards establishing and maintaining symbiotic relations among these entities can go a long way in meeting this need for talent in India.

Educational and research institutes are not “live businesses” and students are trained based on textbook concepts, mostly working on problems that are theoretical. Real issues that face a corporate set-up are much more complex with the added quotient of running a business which solves customer problems.

While the curriculum is trying to keep pace, the technology landscape is changing at a rapidly, widening the gap between the talent fresh out of universities and the actual skill sets corporates seek today. Encouraging the students to think outside the box of theoretical learning is yet another challenge for lack of ‘here and now’ problems.

Another dimension is the juxtapositioning of long-term technology trends towards solving a future problem or seeing the business/impact value of nascent and far out technologies. Realising the fact that the problem at hand is real-world and the solution they offer will have a larger impact has proven to be the biggest motivation for young researchers.

Corporates are on the lookout for talent with fresh perspectives and newer skillsets. They are looking for business-ready minds that understand the way technology reaps returns in the real world. Universities and researchers are keen on taking up challenges facing the market that go beyond the syllabus.

An attempt to make industry-academia relationships symbiotic is critical for businesses and students alike. Alliance programmes, if carefully devised and well executed, help bridge the gap that exists today between what’s being theoretically taught and what the new-age workplaces demand.

From a student’s perspective, working on an industry project gets them mentorship from minds that have been solving impact-based problems. These alliance programmes provide students an exposure to global research practices and a vast bank of real-life case studies that rests with the organisations.

It is always a great idea to involve professors to play a frontal role to ensure there are no gaps in the alliance frameworks as they play a critical role in balancing the curriculum.

Intent to impact

India can become one of the world’s principal powers in R&D and innovation. Future development in this space significantly depends on the intent and action by our government and educational institutes. A big role is played by corporates who can open windows to the global needs of technology, and in addressing the risks and shortcomings involved.

Premium research institutes have been predominantly nurtured through government funding which has brought to fore some of the greatest minds in tech. Taking them to a global and fulfilling state of impact is possible through the partnerships that multinational arms of global tech giants can bring.

The Union government is also encouraging research institutions and corporates to partner. The Avishkar programme, for example, is a great initiative wherein the government and corporates are jointly funding research programmes.

The intent to impact will be the key to accelerated growth. The results of partnerships and alliances will come through only with the right intent, funding being one of the lesser important aspects. Collaboration programmes must involve commitment from the corporates at an intellectual level. The communication between the participating entities must be a frequent dialogue.

We need an active collaboration, feedback mechanism and actionable results among all key stakeholders — including government, research institutes, corporates and other ecosystem players. The objective for the corporates, therefore, must be to offer researchers extra guidance and mentorship that they are not privy to.

Professors, on the other hand, can leverage these models to best suit and complement research pedagogy. These steps will not only ensure powerful impetus to solve real-world problems but also help India rise as a major innovation power of the world.

(Visweswaraiah is Senior Vice President and Managing Director, NetApp India and Simmhan is Assistant Professor, Department of Computational and Data Sciences, IISc, Bengaluru)

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