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BW Businessworld

Lessons From Tata’s Innovation Journey

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Anyone can have an idea. Someone, in a remote corner of the world, might just have a solution to your problem. And If you are a conglomerate the size of the Tatas, chances are you might find the solution within your workforce itself. Based on this premise, Tata companies have been working on driving collaboration among group companies for some time now to propel innovation and facilitate cross-pollination of ideas. But the journey to innovation may have several learnings, hidden under several layers of information, as the Tata group is discovering.
The group came up with the Tata Group Innovation Forum (TGIF). The objective of the forum was to facilitate specific innovation initiatives across Tata companies. The Tata Group Innovation Forum in turn has created vehicles like Tata Innoverse, a networking platform that functions as an innovation hub for all Tata companies and also honours innovations across companies under a platform called Tata Innovista.
While there were a record number of entries across categories, and the premise that companies can benefit if they accept that they do not have all the answers was underlined, nearly 42 per cent of the solutions to business challenges posted on Tata Innoverse come from outside the concerned Tata company. There were other lessons as well. Take a look at three caselets.
Collaborate To Conquer
Tanishq, the jewellery arm of Titan Industries wanted to ramp up capacity to make gold coins. One of  the intermediate steps in this process is the removal of moisture from gold powder. It used to take the company 16 hours to remove moisture through the type of furnaces that were conventionally used in the gold industry. So to ramp up capacity, Tanishq had to either set up more furnaces or look for an alternative method. Tanishq posted this challenge on Tata Innoverse, the internal networking platform that functions as an innovation hub for all Tata companies. A manager at Tata Housing suggested that Titan could use the Fluid Bed Dryers (FBD) used in the pharmaceutical industry. Tanishq explored this solution and after few adaptations brought down the drying time from 16 hours to 1 hour.
The Real Time Experience
The idea may be a great one, but it needs to work in market conditions as well. The Titan Eye Plus 
Vision Check, where consumers can get an online eye test done by themselves is one such example. 
Suggested by an employee at Tata Teleservices, Titan adopted the idea and also implemented it through its website that promotes their optical wear business. While the idea overall was a nice one and  saved one the initial visit to an ophthalmologist, there were execution issues. Consumers cannot  check their eyesight if they are in office, particularly if they are sitting in a cubicle. To take 
the online eye test, one has to be at a distance from the screen and the cubicle will be a barrier 
for that. Then, consumers cannot take the test alone as one needs to keep clicking the mouse to take the test ahead. So again a consumer cannot keep a distance from the screen and operate the mouse unless they have got really long hands. Unless, one has a wireless mouse or a motion controlled computer, that is.
Morale Of The Story
Innovation itself may have no connection with employee morale to start with but getting your work 
showcased at a group level, does give a tremendous boost.  Tata Innovista has a category called “Dare To Try” that “recognises and rewards most novel, daring and seriously attempted ideas that did not achieve the desired results”. One entry that won in the category in the past was from Rallis India, where the company tried unsuccessfully to prevent solidification of a herbicide that required heating to be used at the point of usage. This year, the same project won an award for product innovation as a Rallis India team innovated to produce the herbicide, Pedemethalin, in flakes instead of solid form requiring heating. The only difference was that the team that worked on the project this year was different from the team that had tried but failed last year. Would the fear of being upstaged by their peers prevent people from sharing failure stories in the future? Or does that affect the morale of the team that dared to try but did not succeed in the previous year? We do not know the answers. But that is another story.
email: prasad (dot) sangameshwaran (at) abp (dot) in
email: alertprasad (at) gmail (dot) com
Twitter: @alertprasad