Over the last few years, numerous interesting researches and developments have come from India. If you look at the market today, you will find a lot of young entrepreneurs creating a wave of start-ups in India and coming up with innovative products and solutions. It is also good to see tech giants such as Intel, Mahindra, National Instruments (NI), Tektronix and Texas Instruments (TI) promoting and providing incubation for developing these ideas into final products, starting at college level.
However, we also see that some start-ups fail to even take off. Only a few of them have reached the market and have made profit and a lasting impression. Indian designs hardly get recognised and accepted like the ones coming from the world’s top economies. Discussed below are some of the major reasons why this is happening, and how it can be solved.
Made in India, made for India
The Indian economy is different from other economies on the technology forefront. A large number of innovative ideas that come up here concentrate on assisting at grassroot levels, such as farming. It is difficult, or even pointless, to introduce such indigenous technologies to countries that do not match our living conditions and economies.
So, either the products should be made with a more universal appeal or should be targeted at markets that are at par with India.
Expectations of developers
In today’s world, innovation is not just about bringing up a breakthrough idea and a product. It is about creation of new economic value for this product and achieving its wide adoption and commercial success.
More often than not, Indian innovators are fascinated with increasing the functionalities and including exclusive features to the product they are developing. What they do not assess is whether the product would sell and in what kind of application areas a customer would get value addition, and if it satisfies regulation and safety standards.
After spending a lot of time and money developing the product, they start thinking about things like who will buy the product, how to sell it, how to get it certified and more. So they end up selling in Indian markets only and are unable to recover the cost without venturing out to international markets.
Quoting veteran scientist Dr Raghunath Anant Mashelkar, “In the field of innovation, India’s image is bad across the world because of our tendency to have jugaad. This means getting less from less people. We bypass everything and somehow fix things. The idea of affordable excellence is what India needs to support.”
Expectations of consumers
As previously mentioned, we find that some innovators try to add as many features as possible into a single product. But increased functionalities do not always excite end users. More integration generally affects the ease-of-use because system complexity increases with increased features.
Maintaining a simple user interface (UI) is a major factor that engineers should be careful about, but sometimes they fail in keeping it simple and easy to understand from the consumer point of view. The product would not be successful if it is not implemented in a way the customers find useful and simple.
Another major area where innovators fail is pricing. Countries like India have a price-sensitive market, and unless the product has an affordable price point, and its design blends in with the ecosystem of the country, selling the product could be difficult.
Safety and security concerns
It is important to understand standard safety, security and regulatory requirements, and make sure that the end product satisfies this criterion. Engineers in India often fail to think through and probably do not know or do not even consider that.
Mashelkar said, “Somehow, in India, cost is the only consideration and not safety.” If the product is not designed for safety and security, it cannot be certified, and unless it has relevant certifications, it cannot be sold in international markets.
When developers reach this stage, the only solution is to perform reverse engineering and find out what went wrong in the design, to find out where they breached the specification and safety standards and correct those. This requires time and money, further delaying the time-to-market and increasing the cost of the product. Hence, it is imperative to take care of the level of safety, security and reliability during the design stage itself.
Every field in electronics has a set of international standards. But of course, many countries have their own specific set of standards derived from international standards. This is because products developed in a foreign place would not always fit into every economy or lifestyle.
Some product development companies are going for international certifications and their variations with consultants coming in from countries like Germany, Italy or the USA. But this is very expensive. It is important to build that expertise with as much local resources as possible because in India, price matters.
Automation of software verification, standards compliance, certification and regulatory support are now available through software tool suites provided by LDRA, making the process easier and cheaper.
Developing a favourable ecosystem
Several big brands only own the brand name. Most components and sub-systems that go inside the final product are from different vendors. When setting up base in India and working in a supply-chain system, we need to have vendors who can make these available locally.
In today’s scenario, India lacks this ecosystem. The only option for such firms is to import the sub-systems. This is not profitable for the brands as they only have assembly units here. Due to this, they prefer to not set base in India. So while we say that big players are not buying anything from India for their systems, when these players look at India, they do not find vendors who meet their criteria.
In order to successfully establish a manufacturing unit, vendor base has to develop and an ecosystem has to be built around it over the years, and this ecosystem should have the capability to become the right vendor for that industry. If we work on increasing the capabilities of indigenous companies and creating a good supply-chain model in India, products would not only sell in international markets but also become a part of major systems and programmes.
While coming up with schemes, the government is focussing a lot on skill building. Electronics associations and other technology players have been actively supporting this initiative. Our professional education system has also been encouraging students with college-level technology business incubation wings. Funding and other help are provided to assist students so they can develop their idea into a product and take it to the market. But we still have a long way to go in moving from an examination-oriented system to an application-oriented one.
Indian product developers have come a long way from avoiding risks, playing safe and preferring comfort zones to being adventurous, passionate and not afraid of failure. We already have the talent, capital, ideas and skill-sets. What Indian innovators and product developer companies require is a systematic process of innovation. Having well-structured processes should improve the rate of conversion of an idea into a successful product in the market.
Anagha P. is a technical correspondent at EFY. This article was written with inputs from Ian Hennell and Shinto Joseph, during an interaction at Embedded Safety and Security Summit (ESSS) 2015, Bengaluru