Listen to Soumitra discuss the Global Information Technology Report Findings 2010-11which he co-authors. Video credit: INSEAD Knowledge

Soumitra Dutta is the Roland Berger Chaired Professor of Business and Technology at INSEAD and the founding director of INSEAD eLab, a center of excellence in the digital economy. From 1 July 2012, he will join the Samuel Curtis Graduate School of Management at Cornell University as its 11th Dean. Professor Dutta obtained his Ph.D. in computer science and his M.Sc. in business administration from the University of California at Berkeley. His current research is on technology strategy and innovation at both corporate and national policy levels. He has won several awards for research and pedagogy and is actively involved in policy development at national and European levels. His research has been showcased in the international media and he has taught in and consulted with international corporations.

Soumitra Dutta

SOUMITA DUTTA’s opening remarks
InDialogues 2012. 26 Jan. Davos. Switzerland

I am a product of one of the IITs, and for those of you who know India IITs are fairly well respected technical institutions, and recently about two years ago I had my 25th alumni reunion. As part as the process of the reunion we were invited to interact with the graduating class. In '85 when I graduated I think in my computer science class there were 50 students roughly. Within the first two or three year 45 or 46 of them had gone to the West including myself, which was quite normal and typical of the trend at that moment. We had a group of people in the class at the amphitheatre and I asked them how many in your batch are going to the US or somewhere else for higher studies? Out of a class of 60 only 2 were going to the US for higher studies. That’s a big number. So we asked the question - what else are the rest of you doing? Most of them were taking jobs of course in Microsoft and yahoo or other such research labs or multi nationals in the country. But a non trivial minority of them - maybe around 6 or 7 - were starting their own companies. There was one of them who came up later on and proudly gave me his card which had his name and it said CEO. For me that was a very distinct shift in terms of how the patterns have changed in at least one part of india and this doesn’t represent all of India. But I think it also tells what is I think the most positive force for innovation for India today, which is that there is a sort of inspiration amongst the young to create new companies often driven by the successes of the previous generation before them and that has really broadened the set of role models available for India.

So when i was growing up in India there were essentially three role models. If you were lucky enough to be beautiful or has some physical talents in terms of beauty you became a Bollywood star. If you did not have the beauty but had some physical brawn you could excel in one sport you became a cricket star. and if you had neither then you hoped you had something in your head and you became a doctor or an engineer. I'm not exaggerating. This is real life. Today what is different is in addition to those three there is a fourth one and the fourth one is becoming increasingly attractive and that is the entrepreneur. Entrepreneur in terms of creating new companies, new jobs, so on and so forth. The point I want to make is, in India what gives me hope today is not in terms of what the government is doing or what infosys is doing or some big company is doing. But the inspiration that is being drawn by the new generation on things that they are doing. what they will create of course is something that will be driven by a number of factors and clearly to answer your questions on new models.

You will see a number of interesting innovations coming out of India and China at a very high level. I think china has become very good at mass production quality or high quality manufacturing. China is not yet strong in seeing disruptive innovation coming out in a grass root level. India is much stronger out there and is weaker in manufacturing. I think that is potentially a sign of strength for the country. And in terms of looking at the technology trends of India in general there are two sources of innovation in India. So either you have a technology push and you create new technology, which creates whole new industries- you invent the laser, and because you invent the laser you have a whole lot of industries coming out of that. Or you have much more of a market pull where in this context you might combine existing technologies to create viable market solutions. In India what you are seeing right now is a phase where a lot of innovations are market pull solutions, innovative ways of combining existing technologies for solutions for the local context. And of course there is a lot of appeal because a lot of them get carried to Africa, Latin America like the nano which would be one example of it. And there are many other technologies with which this happens. So in India you are having a phase where more innovations are driven by the market pull, which is quite typical of many market innovation trajectories.

The challenges for India. The first story of the IITs. We all know that yes we have great human talents, but India does a lousy job at developing them. This is really true, most people in the West think Indians are so bright and they are so intelligent. But the reality is the education system in India is a mess. And fundamentally a lot of universities and colleges produce bad outputs in terms of quality of graduates and quality of faculty and everything else so there is a whole need for investing in education at a broader level, much more at a broader level much like what China has done. China has invested more intelligently in ramping up its whole education system bottom up. And that is something India needs to do desperately as a lot of good human talent is getting wasted. The resources are there but in a small segments, they are not spread across the country. And the second thing I would say is India cannnot be satisfied by these market pull solutions. People are required but you also need technology push and technology is push is through research and development . So you have to invest in original R and D to create new technologies, to create new concepts, and if this does not happen, ultimately India will not win on a global stage. You need that investment in R and D. The Indian investment in R and D is actually very very small. Even the leading limelights of the Indian it industry are not investing enough in R and D. The Indian IT industry's products are a very very small number. Even today they have invested in process innovation but largely in terms of product IP very little has been done. So the need to invest more in R and D in the company will give the technology push and help.

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