Innovation Haven (The Financial Express – January 16, 2012)

In August 1985, American chip maker Texas Instruments set up a research and development (R&D) facility in Bangalore and became the first global technology company to establish its presence in India. Ever since, India has been an integral source of intellectual property for big tech multinationals. The availability of a growing engineering talent pool, a vibrant technology ecosystem and a supportive investment climate in the country have been the key reasons for tech giants to set up their R&D operations here. The current economic situation has not dampened their spirits, and some of the brightest minds running these creative hotspots tell Sudhir Chowdhary & Ankita Rai that they revving up their engines of innovation and value creation from India.

Making computing life simple

Located in India's Silicon Valley Bangalore, HP Labs India is one of seven HP Labs worldwide. Its goal is to make computing as simple as using a mobile phone,
watching a TV or even simply interacting with another human being. HP Labs India director Sudhir Dixit says, "The research explores ways in which IT adoption and internet connectivity can be accelerated through simplified and intuitive computing and natural metaphors of human-device interaction, for example, via speech, gestures, touch, paper and mobile handsets."

It is estimated that as many as 121 million Indians are logged on to the internet in India, but this is still a relatively small proportion of the country's 1.2 billion population. Factors such as the lack of a localised value proposition, reliance on paper to conduct transactions, unfamiliarity with a keyboard and mouse, lack of local language content and cost of ownership have deterred Indians in smaller towns from owning a PC and accessing the internet.

HP Labs India research revolves around paper based interaction, simplified web access and interaction, intuitive multi-modal and gestural interaction, technology in education and device, connectivity and cloud services. HP Labs India has achieved significant success in these areas. In 2006, it released Lipi Toolkit, an open source toolkit for online handwriting recognition on Windows as well as Linux. In July 2010, it launched the SiteOnMobile beta, a portal based solution that enables website owners to define tasks on their website and make those tasks easily accessible to their customers.

Dixit says, "In 2012, we announced the VAYU project, a unique project developed to enable rich and intuitive experiences that deliver the value of computing and the internet to non-tech savvy users in their living room without owning a computer. The VAYU ecosystem can function as a 'hub of the home' allowing users to access the internet using their mobile phones or a basic infrared remote." Other successes include Gesture Keyboard, Personalised Video application, Web Tuner, Digital Pen, Printcast and Educenter.

In the future, HP Labs India will focus on delivering complete solutions for various industry verticals, for both the consumers and the enterprises.

Big Blue approach

In today's business and social environment, "the world is lour lab," says Manish Gupta, director, IBM Research—India and chief technologist, IBM India/South Asia. IBM Research's focus is aligned to IBM's strategy in the growth markets. "We have expanded our global presence through our nine labs across the world, including India. The presence of IBM Research in India gives IBM the opportunity to gain new insights about the present and future needs of emerging markets, as well as enhance our relationships with businesses and governments in India," he says.

IBM Research—India works on projects that are driven by real-world impact. "Services research is a key focus area and we work very closely with our services businesses and global delivery teams in this space," says Gupta. Another area of focus is mobile-enabled emerging solutions. A leading innovation has been the development of a tool called voice of the customer analytics (VOCA). "This automatically extracts insights about customers' satisfaction levels with our clients from contact centre interactions and helps us share those insights with clients. VOCA has become a part of the managed CRM offering from IBM globally.

Another breakthrough innovation has been the Spoken Web technology, which creates a parallel of the World Wide Web on telephone networks by using speech. It aims to transform how individuals create, build and interact with information using the spoken word instead of the written word and offers the potential for transforming how information and services are delivered in emerging economies like India. Among others, IBM Research—India has created a solution called CaaTS (Data Cleansing as a Transient service) for cleansing noisy data and improving data quality. This has been used by several clients in India, and has enabled dramatic improvements in the accuracy rates for resolving addresses and names while deriving a single view of the customer from multiple databases.

Gupta summarises, "As a part of IBM's Smarter Planet initiative, we are working on solutions that can solve some of the long standing societal problems like reducing the inefficiencies in transport systems, utilities such as energy, water and healthcare systems."...