We want to scale up innovation culture at Tata group: CTO Gopichand Katragadda

Tata Sons chief technology officer Gopichand Katragadda on facilitating the creation of tech road maps to sharpen focus on consumers through digitization

Tata Sons chief technology officer Gopichand Katragadda. Photo: S.Kumar/Mint
Tata Sons chief technology officer Gopichand Katragadda. Photo: S.Kumar/Mint

Mumbai: Led by Tata Sons Ltd group chief technology officer Gopichand Katragadda, Tata group companies have kick-started as many as 70 internal projects to achieve breakthrough innovation. Of these, 40 are in the pilot stage. On successful completion of the pilots, they will be integrated into the business process. Katragadda and his team are also facilitating the creation of technology road maps for some group firms and helping them sharpen focus on consumers through digitization. In an interview, Katragadda and Rajiv Narvekar, practice leader, technology and innovation management, at Tata Sons, touch upon some of them. Edited excerpts:

You complete three years in Tata group’s technology and innovation office in August. Can you offer a peek into the activities undertaken by the office since you took charge?

Katragadda:  The priority was to understand what we need to deliver for a conglomerate like Tata group, which has a unique structure. The idea was to ensure we are adding value at the intersection of the companies. We picked a few areas—one being actual technological delivery. We could go either of two ways—be an organization that will be an evangelist which will provide training and guidance to the group companies, but what we chose (was) to bring all companies together and facilitate deliveries, as in technology function, you get outdated very quickly unless you do a hands-on delivery.

We picked areas where we can make very big contributions. We said, within food, energy, wellness, factories and digital consumers, we will pick up those where market size itself is $10 billion, the opportunity for Tata group was about a billion dollar and opportunity to make profit was about a $100 million each year. Over the past three years we have put teams in place by hiring systems engineers, chief engineers as well as group company deputed folks who came together and tapped into what existed in the company and built upon that. We have a couple of programmes which are market-ready and some in the pilot stage. From a technology standpoint, we are ready in the areas of eye wearable and drone-based pesticides.

How are you facilitating innovation at individual company level?

Katragadda: We have identified ways by way of which individual companies could become more innovative. We have done some level of facilitation by creating group-level university connect (through tie-ups with several foreign universities) at a strategic level. We have built up several new programmes, one among them is Innovation Edge. This is for CEOs and her direct staff. The goal is to identify breakthrough opportunities for the company. In the process, we might also identify some important process improvement. For programmes that require technology intervention, we support with a technology road map. We also ran and built on the IP (intellectual property) programme that we run at the group level. We also added elements such as the knowledge expo where we bring the best of faculty from across the globe. We also run the chief technology forum with the intent to bring all group companies on the topic of technology so that they know what’s happening in each other’s companies and cross-leverage. There are also chief information officer forums. In the digital forum, the idea is to use digital as a method of innovation. It’s an iterative approach where the customer is at the centre.

Which are the companies that are part of Innovation Edge?

Katragadda: The companies which are part of the project include Tata Motors, Tata Steel Ltd, Tata Teleservices Ltd and Indian Hotels Co. Ltd. Cumulatively, there are some 70-odd projects of which 40 are in pilot stage. There are a portfolio of projects covering various aspects, including enhancing revenue, reducing cost of production, etc.

Narvekar: It began in April 2015 with Tata Motors’s passenger vehicle business. Ten ideas were identified after a three-day workshop. These were filtered from 50-odd ideas that got generated to ensure that could lead to meaningful programmes for the PV (passenger vehicles) business. Most of the ideas generated were consumer-facing. We used analytics and artificial intelligence which one of our partners has created and then identified pain points that customers experienced in the entire value chain. Some action plans were identified and presented to the head of PV business. Over the past few quarters, these were piloted and integrated in the business process of the company.

With Indian Hotels, the idea was to enhance customer journey through digital journey. We worked on digitization of the check-in and check-out as that was one of the biggest frustrations of the guests—they found it cumbersome and time-taking. This wasn’t happening as there were changes done after the reservation—rooms were upgraded, etc. This led to delay in checking in and out. We identified a vendor who created a proof of concept for one of our prime properties and now it would be deployed in other properties.

With Tata Teleservices, four programmes were identified. One was—office telephone on your mobile. Many times, you call the desk phone and you get to hear so and so has stepped out and not on the desk. We have developed an app that ports the call from the landline to the mobile phones. In  Tata Teleservices’ case, we went straight into the road-mapping exercise; with others, we used AI (artificial intelligence)-based tools to look at social media feeds and understand the frustration. We are also working on a project for on of Tata Steel’s plants.

Are there any tangible targets for these?

Katragadda: There are some results already in terms of increasing market share, margins, enhancing quality of the product. There are some internal benefits like productivity enhancement. For each of the disruptive programme we have targeted a four times improvement in performance, and profitability. There are also other continuous improvement programmes. Most of these will deliver the results in up to three years. We are trying to change something which is difficult to change in a short while—it’s the culture. There’s an innovation culture we want to scale up further by identifying and developing lateral thinkers.

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