By Abhishek Jain
Most of the people reading this article would relate to my experience when I had just finished schooling and wanted to choose the branch in engineering. At that time the opinion of the lead sheep mattered. A particular branch was desirable others were not. The example may have looked unrelated but I come to the first impediment for transforming ideas into reality, the presence of too many frivolous ideas. Someone created an image that the big money lies in defence and suddenly everyone was trying to join the defence bandwagon. Prior experience, technical prowess or manpower training –nothing mattered. The idea was, I have money, I can do tie-ups and become a defence supplier.
Too many ideas and far too many people
The minute you decide to become a defence company the first thing you do is to clamour for Government support. Unfortunately, even some of the older companies are relentlessly pursuing the Government for support (the start-ups are perennially whining). This means the focus shifted from ‘doing’ to ‘making policy’. It, however, had a good side effect too, some very good policies got made.
Solution: Stop making policies and entertaining too many ideas. Let the forces give ideas of products/requirements only. Thereafter industry must innovate within the bounds of that idea. And no, it will not stymie the innovative spirit, rather it will channelize it in the proper direction.
Missing Building Blocks and Wrong Nomenclature
Products are developed on many building blocks or what are called as technology enablers. When I was quite young, simulations were the in-thing, the AI of today. We were under sanctions and could not buy those ‘hi-tech’ software. The enabler at that time was knowledge of supercomputers; physics/maths and we were really short of such manpower and hardware. We spent a lot of effort and had partial success in a few oases but overall India does not own a world-renowned engineering simulation product (blame me too).
The situation is same with artificial intelligence, everyone wishes to do it but does not know where the data to train the model will come from. The rush for AI is not letting us pause and think if we are really geared up to apply AI or is it even applicable in our problem.
An even bigger problem is the usage of wrong nomenclature. I have seen many a vendor who claims “I do high-end design” when they are actually only making a drawing for someone else. Actual design requires Know-Why, a complex work. Simple regression is passed off as AI. Wrong nomenclature leads to a confusing assessment of capabilities, failures and most of all distrust.
The Government Help
The government help is again a big if/then/else statement. Since, I have been part of many of these meetings; I see the industry and especially the MSMEs/Start-Ups requesting the government to tweak policy, taxation and may be the entire constitution to suit them. This results in more paperwork and no work. This perennial whining from industry in general and MSMEs/Start-Ups in particular makes the job of government purchaser tougher.
After reading many policy documents I feel that there are only three things we should ask from the government if we need to succeed in product development. First and foremost is we need to cut time in executing everything. Time is not a renewable quantity, no way. If the files are always traveling from one desk to another, products will never move. Second is the availability of testing infrastructure. If it is available in the country, it should be given and if it is not, it should be made. Fortunately, this work has started in earnest. Third, is project monitoring and is elaborated later.
Mr. Know-All and Mr. Do-All
This problem I am writing last as this is the biggest one. After the award of project suddenly the internal teams wake up and start claiming they are capable of doing everything and nothing should be outsourced. So from preliminary design, to critical design review, simulations, manufacturing and testing, the team thinks it can be and should be done in-house. This stems from two insecurities (i) What will I do (ii) Will he take away my IP (Intellectual Property).
On the other side is the true blue marketing person, who is Mr. Know-All. He never says ‘no’ when there is an outsourcing opportunity. Sometimes he is successful and then puts his technical team in a quandary. In both cases, we need to note that we will compromise on quality and price. We as an industry need to have small centres of excellence for many subjects. Companies with core competencies come together to realize a product. When Zeus Numerix got the Lockheed Martin Innovation medal 2007 they showed us a movie on how they develop vendors, 1000s of them. Here, vendor is still a pejorative and we need to remedy this.
We do not need Mr. Know-All as head of the product development; we need a Mr. Coordinate All.
No article should end in only showing problems so here is my take in the order of importance.
1. We have fewer problems in India than we think they are. We must stop exaggerating our policy issues with the Government and stop solving those partially imaginary problems.
2. We need to focus on project monitoring. In my 200+ project experience, wherever the customer was literally chasing us, we did a much better job with negligible rework. In our recent project with Navy the number of interactions made it possible to complete much of the work in time with requisite quality. We are the second company in the world to do so.
3. Basic metric of project success should be TIME. We need to start estimating time better. We are either in an excruciating hurry or morbidly relaxed.
4. We must identify consortium partners for product development. Someone we can trust. Doing everything in-house is a recipe for failure.
5. Finally, let’s talk technical. Let the P stand for Physics and not policy. This is the only way to weed out the chaff from the grain.
– The author is Vice President, Strategic Partnership, Zeus Numerix Pvt Ltd. He was one of the 10 innovators to meet US Defense Secretary, and is also a Winner of Lockheed Martin Innovation Award and various other awards