India's oldest conglomerate has thrown open the challenges it faces to the outside world, seeking ideas to deal with them. Under Chief Technology Officer Gopichand Katragadda, the group asked academicians, scientists and others to come up with solutions to its problems that were posted online.
What it is looking for are solutions for some of the toughest problems faced by Tata companies across products, business models and internal processes.
The Tata Open Innovation Program was started four months ago and two sets of challenges have been opened to the public. The first was in the area of waste to value. The business house wanted to know ways to reuse byproducts that are produced by Tata Power, Tata Steel and Tata Chemicals.
The reward the prize money is Rs 1 lakh per challenge would depend upon the challenge that the candidate managed to solve. "Innovation is finding new ways of creating value. For the first time, this year, we have thrown open challenges to the external world and are extremely excited with the initial entries," said CTO Katragadda.
The programme is being run on the Tata Innoverse platform, a collaboration hub for the more than half a million group employees.
"It is a long-term programme through which the Tata Group endeavours to create a win-win situation for all the three stakeholders the Tata company, solution provider and our customers," said Ravi Arora, vice president-innovation, group technology & innovation office at Tata Sons.
Innovation is a key focus of the 147-year-old conglomerate with Chairman Cyrus Mistry pushing for digitalisation across group companies, even at those carrying out traditional manufacturing businesses.
In 2014, it appointed its first chief technology officer, Katragadda, to bring about a digital revamp. "This has been going on. Companies have realised that every innovative idea cannot come from within. So, there are hackathons, and challenges being thrown open. Certainly the Tatas have taken longer than others to start their process," said a consultant who works with India's large conglomerates on IT and innovation. He declined to be identified because he works with some Tata Group companies.
Crowdsourcing of ideas for innovation is not new among Indian conglomerates. The Mahindra Group ran a Spark the Rise programme to scout for innovative ideas in areas such as driverless cars and affordable solar energy. The programme had a $1 million prize. Global financial services firm Citibank is running a Citi Mobile Challenge in the Asia Pacific to scout for ideas.