Innovation at TCS: The art and science of the possible
9 MINS READ
The innovation foundation
The human mind is a thing of wonder, especially when you consider its ability to comprehend and appreciate aesthetics and abstractions in the form of the arts, the sciences, linguistics, and so on. Tied to this ability is the human need to create, innovate, and invent. This persistent desire for innovation – together with the compelling ability to draw from human curiosity – is what drives us at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).
One of TCS’ very first leaders, the late Faqir Chand Kohli, set up our research division about forty years ago with the core belief that “all domains of knowledge must be pursued because at some stage of design, development, or manufacturing, computers would be involved”. TCS Research and Innovation was born of this belief.
Harnessing a culture of innovation
“Can you help me avoid animal testing for the new cosmetic we are developing?” “How do we assess biological age for insurance underwriting?” “Will your robot be able to predict where the next geyser could burst in our gold mines?” Finding answers to these client questions requires bringing computing and several other sciences together. The answers, which evolve into TCS’ intellectual property, form a part of the many innovation feeds that power our business.
When it comes to innovation, we look for answers across the enterprise, with a targeted effort towards technology evangelism. TCS’ central research unit works like a hub, with spokes connecting to innovation labs within each industry segment. A retail pricing algorithm created by the central team could work for travel, too. A supply chain algorithm that works for a CPG company may also work for a manufacturer. This enterprise-wide evangelism ensures that TCS’ inventions are made known to every associate, spurring further downstream innovation towards solutions.
Listening to client problems and ferrying them to research is an important step at TCS Innovation. Prototypes built in response go through a time-bound journey -- with scientists, business teams, and the leadership participating. Finally, new technologies and solutions make their way to the client’s world as an innovative business solution (once it has been de-risked).
But it takes the churning of more than one ocean to produce a pearl of an idea. A dedicated Incubation team at the corporate level and within our business groups, therefore, evaluates as many as 3,000 start-up ideas a year. Prototypes can come from formal research, incremental innovations in projects, ideathons, process improvement initiatives, and proactive ideas from associates.
While we have been creating intellectual property within TCS for decades, we moved to open innovation over 15 years ago. It was the late Harvard professor Clayton Christensen who helped us devise our three-horizon innovation strategy: short-term (incremental); mid-term (platform); and disruptive (future business possibilities). This strategy gave birth to what is now the TCS Co-Innovation Network™ (COIN™).
While academia continually delves into new technologies, nimble start-ups make forays into the marketplace with emerging technologies. The COIN program tries to bridge both worlds and give global businesses a piece of the excitement.
No such thing as too much innovation
Today, we continue to explore quantum computing; genome and metagenomic analysis to personalize medicine; and security and privacy by design so that more control stays with the individual. Deep computing architectures; model-driven adaptive enterprises; and behavior modeling and simulation are a few other areas of innovation.
Soon, these will be part of tools that can help an enterprise make strategic decisions more scientifically, bring intelligent automation to businesses, provide insights from huge and diverse data sets, and bring value to end-user customers and the world around us.
We believe that innovation is a river that must never run dry. All of the initiatives within and across our extended innovation ecosystem run continually. This endeavor to build a strong foundation in innovative thought has got us global acclaim. We realize that before the idea comes the ability to ideate, and this is what we strive to nourish, nurture, and perfect as the path of the possible. At TCS, the road to innovation may be less travelled, but it is full of sights, insights, and, may we add, adventure. Simply put, we see innovation as the definitive route to perpetual progress.