India To Become A Global Innovation Hub

In an interaction with siliconindia, Balajee Sowrirajan, Managing Director, Samsung Semiconductor R&D(SSIR) shares his views on India’s innovation and research potential

India still ranks low when it comes to innovation and research. What pulls it back even when the government has several initiatives in place?
Today India is a destination for building R&D centers due to technology talent and growing efforts for ease of doing business. Though earlier, India had been known as a leader in the IT services sector, not for product design and development. In recent years, we have seen a shift in this trend, as innovation in India has received a stronger impetus, from the Government of India as well as the industry at large. Today, the country is home to over 1450+ Global MNCs, contributing and driving the global digital transformation mandates from the R&D centers in India.

While staying hungry makes you accomplish great heights, it's the humility that keeps you grounded to learn more, be more accepting of others' perspective and empower your teams

However, in comparison, home grown innovation is still not matured and has a long way to go. India's expenditure on R&D continues to be as low as 0.6percent-0.7percent of the GDP, which is much lower than South Korea, Israel and Japan. With more government incentives and active participation from Indian corporates, India can very well leverage the existing talent and resources to become a global innovation hub.

How can the industry and academia work to fix this gap and make India a leading innovation and research centre of the world?
Collaboration between industry and academia is one of the most important imperatives for building a robust technology ecosystem. The industry can infer what the current and future technology trends are going to look like and work with academia to ensure the future talent workforce is well equipped with the necessary skills.

This can be done through multiple ways by setting up incubation centers, workplace exposure through Internships, live projects, corporate interactions, emphasis on skill-based education that can provide the necessary hands on training and working with academia to co-create the curriculum suitable for today's evolving industry needs. An engaging partnership will enable a more able young workforce of the country and further strengthen the innovation story in India. In addition, senior professors with deep expertise taking sabbatical and engaging with Indian Semiconductor R&D centers on research programs will help gain competitiveness and build broader perspective on innovation.

2021, how is the year going to be for the tech and biz world? What challenges lie ahead for the leaders to deal with?
Technology is going to have a big impact on every aspect of our lives, as we move to the reality of an intelligent world. The emergence of devices that are not only connected but are able to take informed decisions based on data is well underway and this trend will largely be defined by connectivity, sensor, data and AI.

The business world has potentially been changed forever, new business models are emerging, innovation is happening basis user experiences in the pandemic and newer challenges are emerging for leaders to navigate through. Leaders will mainly have to adapt to pivoting their business to become more agile and adaptable to meet changing customer and employee expectation, leading with empathy and flexibility, and creating a positive and motivating work culture during these uncertain times.

With newer technologies emerging each day, how are companies planning to train their employees and keep their skills top notch?
Even before the current crisis, changing technologies and new ways of working were disrupting jobs and the skills employees need to do them. The pandemic has only reinforced the need to upskill and build depth and breadth of niche skills. Companies are also focusing on emerging trends such as AI, IoT, Robotics, Machine Learning and Blockchain alongside with essential skills like building resilience, improving focus, collaboration, and networking skills.

Being a technology-led company, we have always had a strong focus on skilling. Though in-person training plans including travel for global programs paused for us, we continued the momentum with virtual trainings across teams and roles. These virtual trainings have been both instructor led and self-paced, where employees could prioritize their learning needs. Also in these times, trainings led by our internal leaders and experts around software and hardware competencies made a huge difference in raising the level of domain knowledge. In addition to core technology skills, we emphasized on building emotional intelligence for all and understanding of changing business landscape and people needs for leaders to better drive the organization.

How will 2021 be in terms of work culture? What preparations are on the way for the companies to have employees back to office?
The pandemic has revamped the way live and work and 2021 is going to be about continuous learning, employee mental health, work life integration and commitment to diversity and inclusion. Employee safety, well being and motivation will continue to remain top-priorities for leaders and organizations. Organizations are focusing on providing support to employees like webinar on mindfulness and counselling sessions. We, at SSIR, have taken proactive measures to improve the emotional wellbeing of our employees. This includes a tie up with a leading Counselling Agency, which is free of cost for employees and their immediate family to avail and SSIR Cares initiative to support our employees during pandemic. We also conduct regular internal webinars for employees, with doctors and counsellors to assist employees with any COVID-19 queries or guidance on stress management around these uncertain times.

Most of the organizations including us have extended return to office a few times to ensure that our employees are safe, given the uncertainty around the situation. Like many other organizations we will plan return to office when we feel it is safe and all the precautions are in place. I personally believe that in-person collaboration and ideation has its own importance and organizations will be adopting different models depending on their need and nature of work. Few steps being taken by companies to ensure a safe and comfortable environment for their workforce:

Implementing return to work in phases considering nature of work and personal situation of the employee
•Employee guidelines for facial masks, social distancing and temperature checks
•Staggered seating in meeting rooms, cafeterias
•Sanitizing workstations and common area
•Monitoring employee health regularly
•Communication plan and initiatives addressing employee needs

Tell us something about yourself as a person. How would you define yourself?
I am a technologist at heart, who was always interested in computers and problem solving while growing up. My passion for technology also made me explore the world of semiconductors and today as a business leader, I like to create more leaders who can then be mentors to others. I believe there is no substitute to passion and perseverance, be it excelling at work or mastering something that you love beyond work. Building new teams and growing the charter has not been easy, however with our passion and drive, today we are the biggest global R&D center for Samsung Semiconductors. I also feel while staying hungry makes you accomplish great heights, it's the humility that keeps you grounded to learn more, be more accepting of others' perspective and empower your teams. I would say as an individual I like to chart my own path, walk the talk, and learn from every situation and every person.

Tell us about your hobbies, favourite food, cuisine, travel destination, books, movies.
I am an outdoor person who loves to connect with nature and capture the wildlife. Traveling and wildlife photography always gives me the much-needed break where I can pause and just be in the moment. For that reason, national parks and mountains will be on top of my travel list. I have visited many national parks in India and want to explore more once it is safe to travel. At home, I like to spend time with my German Shepherd, Shadow and our new family member, Milo, a Shih Tzu. I did enjoy capturing candid moments of their activities during the lockdown. I also like to read autobiographies and books on life experiences for a dose of inspiration. One of my favourites is Wings of Fire by Abdul Kalam that inspired me to dream more and have a passion for realizing those big dreams. Currently I am reading Man's search for meaning by Viktor Frankl which is an inspiring read on power of purpose and hope in life.