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The Financial Express Article, February 2013, Ganesh Natarajan

A case study presentation and discussion at the Mecca of Management Education the Harvard Business School is always an exciting occasion and when the case being premiered is the Innovation story of Zensar, it makes the excitement truly palpable. Created by Innovation Professor Michael Tushman when he had done a keynote and workshop at NASSCOM’s Leadership Forum, this case captures the compulsion, the process and joys of successful innovation, not just at a firm level but for the entire Indian Tech sector.

Innovation in our industry is not new and for over a decade, we have taken the innovation initiative to new heights at NASSCOM, starting with a simple search for innovation in new products and services by small and medium enterprises and then widening the search to process and business model innovation and enlarging the scope to large enterprises as well as multinationals in their work in India. It is to the credit of successive generations of NASSCOM leadership that the enthusiasm for new ideas and new ways of achieving business transformation for our clients has always been at the forefront and it is this unflagging enthusiasm for innovation that has enabled the industry to battle all odds and always emerge triumphant.

The Tushman case itself presents extremely well how one organization that started in the software services business at the worst possible time, the year 2001 after the decline in the Dotcom wave and the Year 2000 opportunity chose a “different point of view” to stand out from the clutter and make itself a valuable partner for even Fortune 500 and FTSE 100 customers. In a market where programming skills were the key differentiator for Indian companies, the service innovation offered was the ability to develop solution blueprints from the study of business processes and create computer systems without the traditional manual programming and testing efforts. The case also recounts how a service innovation morphed into a business model innovation through the ability to deploy people simultaneously in different locations on a common client problem, a true implementation of a global delivery model. And finally how the organization first tends to reject the new idea and then wholeheartedly embraces it as the “holy grail” of differentiation and innovation.

Innovation has been embraced in many firms in the industry, depending upon the scale and scope of the innovation agenda. While many firms have been content to innovate in small doses across the spectrum of products and services, a few have dared to embark on what consulting firm Erehwon calls “Orbit shifting Innovation” and choose the road less traveled in their journey to success. Even amongst Professors at HBS, the approach to fostering innovation have been varied with Christiansen advocating complete spin-outs of breakthrough innovation ideas while the Tushman model of ambidexterity advocates a study of the operating leverage to be derived through simultaneous exploitation and exploration, often keeping an innovative idea within the larger organization to derive its full benefits. And with the new community and open source way of spreading innovation, the Michael Porter research on innovation clusters could point to new models of eco-system development for any set of firms in an industry.

The search for innovation and new ideas to grow and succeed can never go out of vogue in any country or industry. A recent lead article in The Economist pointed out that after the invention of the toilet, there have been few truly breakthrough innovations even in the United States although diehard fans of Apple may find much to disagree with that hypothesis. Be that as it may, there is no doubt that the pace of innovation has perceptibly slowed down, even in the West and the onus is on the new economies of India China and parts of Africa and Latin America to pick up the innovation gauntlet and discover new solutions for the world. Information Technology presents new opportunities everyday whether it is the ability for three dimensional printing to bring manufacturing back to the West or even the power of Big Data to transform election outcomes, as the Obama team so effectively demonstrated in the recent US Presidential election. A strong focus on innovation not just in IT but in other industry sectors will enable India to take the lead and bring many new ideas to the forefront for the country’s economic benefit.

For the IT industry itself, the better than expected results reported in the third quarter and the robust order books and pipelines enjoyed by most of the top twenty software exporters has enabled industry watchers to breathe a collective sigh of relief. There will be many challenges in 2013 as the US, having thwarted the fiscal cliff now contends with the debt ceiling issue and the European countries continue to struggle for sustainable growth. But the Indian industry has always been innovative in its ability to garner wallet share from its clients and there is no doubt that we are heading for a much better year. Innovation will continue to be the lighthouse that guides the Indian IT ship in these choppy waters!

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