Mumbai: Tata Sons Ltd and Tata group companies have entered into collaborations to fund research and development opportunities in the world's leading academic institutions, including Harvard University, Yale University, the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, and the Royal Society, UK. The financial support, exceeding $25 million, will be spread over time, in line with the tenure of the individual alliances with the institutions.

Tata Group chairman Cyrus P. Mistry in 2015 had outlined that the group needs to embrace a digital future to remain successful. The chairman of the Tata group also outlined critical enablers for sustainable profitable growth that included developing unique consumer insights, diversification of profit pools, creation of intellectual property rights, deployment of robust risk management processes and creation of financial flexibility to seize opportunities. Tata Sons is the promoter of the major operating Tata companies and holds significant shareholdings in these companies. 

“We consider technology research towards market competitiveness in three horizons. The short-term horizon is zero to three years where Tata companies drive their individual competitive differentiation. In the mid-term horizon of three to five years, we facilitate collaboration between Tata companies towards new intellectual property (IP) creation," said Gopichand Katragadda, group chief technology officer, Tata Sons, in an interview. “And in the long-term horizon which is five years and beyond, we are collaborating with the world’s top universities to create breakthrough technologies. The objective is to convert technological trends to market differentiators for our businesses," Katragadda said. 

He said the first phase would be focused on market pull requirements, while the second would be acquiring advanced technologies coupled with market pull. The last phase would be taking proactive steps to find new technologies that can be converted into new business opportunities, he said. 

The Tata partnership with academic institutions is part of a global university collaboration programme of Tata companies for strategic outreach to academia across the world. It is aimed at supporting university faculty and students through funded research programmes, sabbaticals, fellowships and engagements with university leadership, as well as studying long-term research outcomes related to key market needs. 

The collaboration is critical for $103 billion Tata Group as it will help Tata companies find new business opportunities and leverage profit and revenues by effectively using new technologies. Tata Group has over 100 operating companies and there are 29 publicly-listed Tata enterprises with a combined market capitalization of about $116 billion as on 31 March 2016. 

Rishikesha T. Krishnan, director and professor of strategic management at the Indian Institute of Management, Indore, said the ability to take advantage of ideas from top universities depends on the company's ability to assess, develop and commercialize the ideas. Since most of the Tata group companies have strong internal research and development capabilities, this initiative should work to their benefit, Krishnan added. 

Also Read: Tata Motors shares rise 4.6% on JLR sales, new models

“The idea is to have a frugal mindset coupled with systematic innovation, leading the group to create affordable, accessible and sustainable solutions in the areas of energy, health and wellness, factory and fleet analytics, and digital consumer products and services," Katragadda said. 

“Technology breakthroughs accelerate job creation. I believe what we experiment with breakthrough technologies will help the group companies and the country. These initiatives will have a positive impact on revenues and profits of the group companies," the group chief technology officer said.

Tata Sons, Tata Communications, Tata Steel and JLR have established a six-year research alliance with Harvard University. The Harvard initiative will explore the possibilities such as soft robotics, advanced materials and sensor technologies. For instance, Tata Group wanted Tata Steel to transform as materials companies rather than a steel company. Under the Harvard programme, Tata employees nominated as fellows will have the opportunity to participate in Harvard Business School's executive education courses, while contributing to the funded research projects.

Tata group is in the process of developing wrist devices for two very different market spaces—yoga practitioners and factory workers. 

The wearables will track breathing patterns, alertness and other metrics for yoga enthusiasts, while it will help detect mishaps on plant floors for factory workers. It is currently being tested among crane workers at Tata Steel. 

At Yale, Tata Sons, TCS and Tata Chemicals have set up a five-year alliance in the areas of network sciences, consumer behaviour and other research opportunities of interest. Tata companies will enable specific applications for needs, including employee change management, customer acquisition strategies and digital health. 

Tata Sons has also tied up with Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, for five years in the area of advanced materials. The lead company is Tata Steel in this collaboration. The idea is to set up a self sustaining research centre in advanced materials technologies for the Tata Group. 

The collaboration with the Royal Society, UK, announced in June 2016 is a fellowship funding with participation from Tata Sons, JLR and TCS. The funding is aimed at establishing nine Tata University Research Fellowships in physical sciences and engineering over 10 years. 

Tata group has doubled its published patents in two years, from about 3,500 at the end of calendar year 2013 to about 7,000 at the end of 2015. In calendar year 2015 alone, Tata companies filed more than 2,000 published patents in India and international jurisdictions. 

In May, Mukund Rajan, member, group executive council, and brand custodian at Tata Sons, had said the estimated financial benefit of the most promising of these innovations for the salt-to-software group was about $1 billion on an annual basis.

Also Read: Brexit bites Tata Motors as Q1 profit halves on forex loss