preloder

Tech Mahindra’s Innovation Journey to TechMNxt

(MAKE, INVENT, REIMAGINE)

Author: Nikhil Malhotra
Global Head of Innovation

An era of rapidly changing technology, virtualisation, SDN/NFV and 5G as an all-encompassing bubble for communication is redefining thought processes across the globe. This digitalisation wave has brought and would continue to bring changes in business models

In this age we are evidencing a marked shift in the consumer purchase cycle. An example is media and entertainment industry and its convergence with the Telecom world. From managing media and publishing – the key aspect of promoting mass consumption – marketers are shifting their attention to on-going customer experience. This is because of the critical shift in consumer trust from a published media to peer opinion. That is what is driving service uptake and loyalty.

In fact this has a major impact on how we view digital – the new way of creating services and the new way of consuming and servicing them which is dramatically changing the traditional customer supplier equation and is driven by the evolving technologies that offer a new lifestyle and insights

The era of the customer reaching out to the product is gone. Now it is the service that must seek out the customer and that too through peer influence and not the conventional mode.

The word ‘convenience’ has assumed an all important role in not just discovering a service but also in delivering and managing.  Product life-cycles have become short placing a very high demand on the traditional ways of creating and delivering products. More often than not the very nature of time required to release a product makes it obsolete or is unable to deliver the ROI.

Setting up the Innovation hub – The Maker’s Lab

The pace of technology is increasing at a rapid rate. To be a trusted advisor for our customers, IT service providers today need to increase their tech intensity and ensure they are at the forefront of technology. The idea of creating a central hub of Innovation was dabbled within Tech Mahindra in 2014.

The idea of this R&D hub was to be a beacon for cutting edge research and technology development, to enable the organization to look beyond the curve, to say as you hear in star trek “To go where no none has gone before”. When Makers lab got established in 2014, the idea was to see what can be done, what is the potential of researchers in the lab and what potential can be harnessed from a wider community of not just associates but also academia and businesses. Collaboration was the central piece of innovation within this R&D hub.

The lab was housed in what came to be known as a wet-kitchen area. There were two reasons why the creators thought the lab was good there. It was a secluded physical space and the hope was that this space would become the beacon for the future as it is physical and secondly there was ample sunlight filtering in which enabled associates to think

The start of anything new is naïve and the lab started in a maverick and a naïve way. The lab’s first experiment was to build a bike that stands on its own. The idea was to start from a kid’s bicycle, take it unscramble it, retrofit it with sensors and then somehow control the centre of gravity with it. We tried for 3 months and suddenly we heard news that Boston Dynamics in the US has made self-balancing robots. Since we were finding it difficult we quickly left that idea but we did not leave the thought and passion behind it. We took the same bike and hung it on our garage walls. If you come to Pune Maker’s lab, you would see that bike hanging. It is a constant reminder of our first successful failure. This incident also taught us that objectification of technology is essential for the future

The start of anything new is naïve and the lab started in a maverick and a naïve way. The lab’s first experiment was to build a bike that stands on its own. The idea was to start from a kid’s bicycle, take it unscramble it, retrofit it with sensors and then somehow control the centre of gravity with it. We tried for 3 months and suddenly we heard news that Boston Dynamics in the US has made self-balancing robots. Since we were finding it difficult we quickly left that idea but we did not leave the thought and passion behind it. We took the same bike and hung it on our garage walls. If you come to Pune Maker’s lab, you would see that bike hanging. It is a constant reminder of our first successful failure. This incident also taught us that objectification of technology is essential for the future

The naivety did not stop here. It continued with us experimenting with a lot of other facets before we honed our vision and mission

When we look at technology, we basically look at a combination of design and disruptive technology within the organization and we try and innovate by design in this disruptive world.  One of our first experiment was to look at the chatbots and the frameworks around the world. We went around and did a lot of research around different frameworks. While a lot of the frameworks have their own individual strengths, we found one thing that was missing in all of them and that was the element of ‘design’ and the question that was probably not answered ‘how do you make bot creation simpler with context?’ That got us to make our first IP which was called the ‘Entellio’. Entellio over a period of last 5 years has grown from strength to strength winning accolades of customers and employees but the process of growth has not stopped. We believe it is in an ‘endless prototype’ stage. If someone wishes to see it they can have a look at  entellio.techmahindra.com

In 2016, the ideology of the lab and the work being done spread to within the Pune region and we were constantly visited by dignitaries (business and scientific) to see the force catapulting a ‘maker’ within the lab. It was in 2016 that the organization decided to open it in India in 3 more places viz. Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai. Today the Maker’s Lab is in 9 places across the world and is serving the role of a co-creator, co-innovator and co-researcher with its partners (business, academia and associates)

As you can see the lab creates a global mesh on networked innovation. The ideology of this approach is to take innovation done in one geography to our customers in different geographies

Over the past 5 years, Maker’s lab has come to focus on 6 different radical technologies

  • Machine Learning and AI: We research on AI algorithms and also provide consultancy in terms of applying AI and Machine learning algorithms to business problems but we also have a mission to ensure we look at AI from a neuroscientific principle. We believe that Turing’s test, however valid it might be also carries a slight bit of a flaw: “If you can mimic intelligence, you are deemed intelligent” . While it has succeeded in a lot of ways, a lot of questions have been opened up and one if a business challenge of how do you reach a customer at the edge (one who has low or no connectivity) in today’s supposedly connected world.  AI and ML need a large data whereas a human brain does not. A child can decipher between a cat and a dog image in less than 5 seconds whereas a machine takes 1 million images and 400 KW of power. This prompted us to do research on the brain and combine forces with the world’s best. We today are connected to research institutes around the world doing this research
  • AR and VR: We have professional gamers in the lab that build and extend reality using AR, VR and now XR(extensible reality) applications as a corporate gamification or as business effecting virtual reality solutions
  • IOT and Robotics: We do our own robotics as well. We build robots but also sometimes use third party chassis providers for our robot chassis and build the software on top. A good part of our robots today are concepts we are looking towards to see how man and machine can meld the worlds together. We have won an Aegis Graham Bell award in ‘connected life’ for a concept robot that we built in 2017 as a wellness guide for patients. We called this robot the “Saarthi”

http://bellaward.com/connected-life-tech-mahindra/

Key feature of proposed invention is about having a Digital Virtual Interactive Personal Assistant Robot at home / care centres / hospitals with all possible devices connected to take all vital parameters as required and send near real time data connected to remote physicians / doctors / concerned authorities and help individuals to take their prescribed medicines on time and also have remote interactive video sessions with recordings for compliance. Program controller (Arduino or Raspberry Pi based controller) to collect this data from patient and give it to the Remote Monitoring Medical Systems /database.  Interface from the Diagnostic and Intervention Algorithm on AWS for processing the patient data collected by the EMR. Voice interface to interact with the patient during collection of data. This is needed for verbose questions such as pain description and other natural language responses. Use speech to text interface to achieve this.

  1. Block chain: Distributed ledgers and blockahin will revolutionize the world and we do think research and development along with skills is needed there
  2. Quantum Computing: Our very recent foray has been to the world of quantum computing where, we are very proud to say that we were the first IT services company in India to do a concept on quantum computing with our partners in UK

https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20190402006009/en/QuintessenceLabs-Tech-Mahindra-BT-Develop-End-to-End-Video

While we take these innovations to the world, we also believe our associates need to be part of this and partner in this growth We have taken several steps internally and also with our partners to provide value via these disruptions

  • Tech Mahindra formed a Maker’s lab around 2014 which is a thinqbator division within the organization. The lab works as co-innovation and co-creation with customers but also connects with academia for research, businesses and also associates. Associates use Maker’s lab across the globe to train themselves on disruptive technologies. If they have an idea , then they can come to the lab , be mentored and up-skill themselves. One of the focus was open source and making stuff on our own
  • Internally at Tech Mahindra we also put our solutions and IPs to test within the organization. We feel that if my associates can use the technology first hand , then they can build technologies for any customers. Our focus always has been value provided to a customer. Some of the things that we have done internally
  • Launched a program ALIVE on AI and botification within the organization. Under this charter we have opened three of our IPs viz. Acumos (joint IP with tier 1 telco), Entellio (TechMahindra’s conversational AI assistant) and Uno(RPA agent)  to each one of our associates and I am happy to say that associates use these technologies for providing value to our customers internally while training themselves
  • From a Talent management perspective, our HR team made an AI based system called TALEX which was launched sa couple of months back. The system looks at job requirements within the organization and matches the skills of associates to the job requirements. We use machine learning to do so
  • We also believe that humans need a little more than the usual work to keep them happy at their workplace. Our Makers lab and HR team guided by our CPO has made some fantastic enterprise gamification applications for associates to gain knowledge and get out of the monotony they live in. For e.g. we realized that standard operating procedure documents (SOPs) and other information is hardly read and adhered to via emails, so we started a process of making games. Currently we provide our associates “Crosswords” to learn a new policy, “Career Turbo” as a game to charter their path within the organization. This has a dual effect of keeping our associates engaged along with some fun.
  • Wellness of associates is of paramount importance and we have maintained that Tech Mahindra as an organization also takes care of the wellness of its employees. Again we went back to our thinqbator to create a new kind of a bot called the “Aasana bot” which sits on every desktop and encourages the associates to take “Yoga” break twice in a day
  • From a sustainable perspective, the lab demonstrated a drone based seed farming use case

Infusing TechMNxt

TechmNxt is all about inventing new possibilities, which is the core of our DNA. The effort is to ensure we are relevant today and are ready for the change that tomorrow beckons. Innovation for us is intuitive, immersive, and inclusive and starts with the “I”, which stands for an individual as well.

This is our clarion call of technology for the future, to ensure every “I” in Tech Mahindra is aware of the curve in the future and is skilled towards it to serve the customers and their needs

In conclusion, the story of innovation at Tech Mahindra is about Courage, Courage that comes from its heart and DNA, courage that is infused by its leadership starting from our CEO and Chairman Shri C.P. Gurnani and Chairman of Mahindra Group Shri Anand Mahindra, Courage that just does not mean literally strength but is an acronym for the following:

COURAGE

C– Collaborate, Collaborate and Collaborate

O– Objectify technology (See how it affects the customers and their customers)

U – ‘U’ are the makers of your destiny

R – Rewire your psyche. The heart is an involuntary muscle that beats every second. It is the mind that needs rewiring

A – Asking ‘why’ questions every day

G –Setting goals and lastly

E – Empathizing with the creators ego because it the creator that has to see the depths of nefarious potholes when it doesn’t work

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

We are reminded of the limitless-ness of Human curiosity, when we see man and machine create marvels for the future together” is the quote Nikhil Malhotra lives by

Nikhil Malhotra is a futurist, TEDx speaker and global head of innovation at TechMahindra, he is also the creator of Maker’s Lab, a unique Thin-q-bator space within TechMahindra with over 18+  years of experience in a variety of technology domains.

Nikhil’s area of personal research has been natural language processing and vision as a multi-modal input, enabling machines to talk the way humans do. Nikhil has also designed an indigenous robot in his lab, as a personal assistant.

He lives by a dream of creating smart machines that would wed human emotions with artificial intelligence to make lives better. He is also a leading speaker on digital transformation, practical use of AI and the future AI

He holds a Masters degree in computing with specialization in distributed computing from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne.

Nikhil currently resides in Pune with his wife Shalini and sons Angad and Rudra.