October 2009

Apprehending Innovations

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If we consider ICT to be a new set of technologies, then we could conjecture that whatever happens in the ICT sector in terms of product, process, or service delivery is innovation. There is some truth to this statement only if we still consider ICT as a new and emerging industry. Euro-India ICT Innovation Workshop sought to move the debate and research to address ICT innovations from a perspective assuming not only newness but also maturity of the phenomenon. In which case everything that comes out of the ICT industry cannot be assumed as innovative automatically; rather innovation in ICT needs be as unique as for any other technology, requiring a persistent effort in understanding how innovation takes shape. Only then can we manage ICT innovations for maximum benefit to the innovating entity and the recipients or users of the innovation. We need a nuanced understanding of ICT innovation that combines knowledge sharing, knowledge transfer, and knowledge capture issues, with ideas linked to the sustenance and management of innovation, with alliance building, and with domain as well as technology perspectives. The nuanced understanding of ICT innovation requires a broad as well as an in-depth understanding of how technologies, domains, social systems, cultures, organisations and management combine, resources and skills to persist in ensuring sustainable innovation in emerging economies. What are the specific challenges that innovators face in these economies? What are the mitigating factors that need to be considered to help innovators in emerging economies? How innovation takes shape in emerging economies and how is it different, if at all, and does the institutional and resource constraint provide opportunities for innovators to ply their trade or do they hinder innovators in the ICT sectors? These are some of the issues that the workshop invited discussion on.

In Hyderabad amidst e-INDIA, Euro-India ICT Forum held the ICT innovation workshop. The primary focus of that workshop was to share the experiences of the Euro-India Knowledge mapping project, which has been toiling away, trying to understand the Indian innovative landscape across all the regions of India.

This workshop invited industry representatives and non-government organisations and other stakeholders to understanding the findings of Euro-India ICT Forum and allow them to react to the data that they saw.

There were a number of themes that emerged from this workshop. First the knowledge mapping project itself indicated that majority of ICT endeavour is focused on products. While innovation itself is accepted as an important value adder, there is very little concerted effort to understand innovation, manage innovation and leverage innovativeness. It also appeared from the discussion that policy has a critical role to play in innovation, primarily in the education sector and discussions around the e-Learning theme took a lot of time. The primary conclusion of the e-Learning debate was that policy makers really do not understand in full the real potential of IT in education and their efforts have huge gaps that need to be looked at comprehensively.

Organisational innovation was another prominent theme being talked about from two perspectives. The first discussion on value appeared that IT provides a unique opportunity to shift the focus from price to value, but IT, while paying lip service to the idea of value, is primarily bottom line businesses. This attitude among the management hurts ICT innovation because organisations do not support their star employees. Furthermore, innovation takes sustained and long term view and since the business model of most IT firms are based on short term bottom line, particularly during recessionary times, innovation takes a back. This leads to the marginalisation of star employees who act like broadly spanners in the organization.

The workshop concluded with three basic themes, first that ICT innovation is critical for India’s sustained leadership in the high tech industry. Second, that policy is very seldom, not proactive but reactive and third, that Indian technology leaders do very little to raise the profile of innovation among companies.

Dr Sudhanshu Rai
Team Leader, Euro-India ICT R&D Project (sr.inf@cbs.dk)

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