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Tech Mahindra: Enabling a Culture of Collective Innovation

Brand Finance
01 June 2022
Nikhil Malhotra, Chief Innovation Officer, 
Tech Mahindra
Nikhil Malhotra, Chief Innovation Officer,
Tech Mahindra

As the R&D arm of Tech Mahindra, how has Maker’s Lab consistently enabled a culture of collaboration and collective innovation?

From its very inception, Maker’s Lab has been all about harnessing the creative potential of not just researchers in a lab but from the wider community of academics and business leaders. In fact, this Thin-Q-Bator is guided by the core values of Tech Mahindra and the larger Mahindra Group. We Rise for Good together.

More than the successes, it is the failures that we celebrate and remember the most. We also like to refer to them as “feedbacks”. One of our first feedbacks was when we took on this ambitious project to disassemble a children’s bike and retrofit it with sensors so that it could stand on its own. It took us three months to figure out how to control its center of gravity. Unfortunately, another robotics company from the US beat us to it with their self-balancing robots. It felt like a crushing defeat then, but if you ever visit our Pune Maker’s Lab, you’ll see that bike proudly on display, reminding us of how far we have come.

For us here, it is almost an unsaid, collective mission to do good with technology-led innovations that would create a better world. During the pandemic, it was all hands on deck; from conducting research on predicting the severity of the next virus waves, to using artificial intelligence to search for potent drugs, and to combating the deadly virus. We even dedicated hours of volunteer work to help those on the frontlines and those in need. Our research continues to identify FDA-approved drugs that can be redeployed as therapeutics for COVID-19.

Recently, we collaborated with the College of Military Engineering (CME), Pune to address challenges in the field of defense through technological innovations. Through the association, Makers Lab will provide real world technological innovations to the army officers at CME and help them understand the nuances of emerging technologies. We are also working with the government and NGOs to bring predictive data-based assistance to the farmers of our country, while also tacking the equally important issue of autonomous vehicles, which have the potential to dramatically transform road safety in India.

What we do every day serves as constant reminders at Makers Lab to collectively work towards our mission to simplify tech for good through collaborative innovation.

With rising focus on next-gen tech and the metaverse, what role will Makers Lab play in shaping this technology-fueled reality of the future?

From dealers to retail stores, telecom to banks and healthcare providers, there is not an industry left that will not be impacted by the metaverse. In fact, we have been encountering regular queries from customers who want to join the metaverse bandwagon.

We are on to a newer, better reality for this world— one where the virtual and the real will harmoniously collide. One where we can conserve our planet and our bottom lines, create decentralized never-before experienced experiences, and establish a “creator economy” in the process.

Our aim at Makers Lab is to demystify this metaverse and all its layers and fuel the next generation of metaverse experience.

We have already launched a first-of-its-kind, ‘Meta Village’, a digital twin of Pargaon in Maharashtra to gamify learning on the Roblox platform. This Meta Village will enable students to code in Bharat Markup Language (BHAML), a language platform built by Makers Lab that enables anyone to code HTML and Javascript in their native language. We have been preparing this meta reality for a while now.

Over 1000 engineers are currently being trained this year on facets of graphics computing, IoT, AI and edge computing for this very purpose. We have been honing our expertise in the many next generation technology layers—cloud, data analytics, 5G, AI, blockchain, and cybersecurity— to offer our stakeholders the NXT in digital innovation.

While we see how reality shifts with metaverse, we are also cognizant of the framework of computing which is undergoing transformation with quantum computing. Our foray in this relatively unknown world of quantum physics happened in 2018. This was our first use case on post quantum cryptography with our long-standing partners in the UK. We have now extended our research and development efforts in quantum machine learning and algorithmic application to use cases.

We will continue to offer end-to-end transformation services, creating significant synergies that can bring solutions which catalyze future readiness for our customers.

Tech Mahindra has always been a brand for purpose, focused on sustainability and responsible business growth. What are some of the ways in which Makers Lab ensured that there is always meaningful impact on ground?

As part of Tech Mahindra’s skilling initiative to harness the power of technology and promote technical education in rural areas, Makers Lab has been teaching children the basics of computers and BHAML to leverage technology to reinvent the education system at the grassroots.

I mentioned Meta Village, which will also gamify the learning process for children in rural India thereby providing them with an opportunity to develop the crucial technical skills needed to become tomorrow’s disruptors.

We have also led Ideathon Laps to focus on responsible business growth that can help shape a better and sustainable future.

This was part of the ongoing Mahindra Racing partnership to crowdsource innovative solutions for a better and sustainable future.

In our endeavor to build intellectual properties locally, we are also ensuring to contribute to the backbone of our society – agriculture. With the agritech boom in the country, the major focus has been on large farm holders and the inputs market side, including insurance. To ensure services like insurance are accessible, achievable, and sustainable for even small holding Indian farmers, we went on to make a simple app that farmers can use to manage loans and assets in 12 local languages with voice support to do away with the problems of interacting with the ‘application. We have also built on to the ‘Panchang’ intelligence and envision to create our own weather channel for farmers which will give weather prediction from IMD and compare it with ‘Panchang’ to predict weather conditions more accurately for farmers to decide on their crop.

To put it briefly, every action we take at Makers Lab must have a meaningful impact on ground.

Are there areas which Makers Lab concentrates on beyond Tech Mahindra? And how does it cascade into the Tech Mahindra brand?

Stakeholder capitalism is embedded in Tech Mahindra’s DNA and we at Makers Lab have been working towards serving the larger community for a while now.

For one, we treated unprecedented crisis as a testbed for India to invest into independent research and technology through collaboration across the key sectors, government, customers, and our people. We accelerated our R&D led innovations to curb the surge of COVID-19 cases in India. The first goal was to study and build susceptible-exposed-infectious-recovered (SEIR) compartmental mathematical models for prediction of COVID-19 across cities. With the second wave, our lab adopted this molecular docking approach considering the virus’ high transmission rates. Using AI, we looked at 8000 FDA approved drugs and distilled that list to one viable product that is being tested by our partners in Bangalore (Reagene Biosciences and Indras). This has now transformed into usage of quantum computing to even enrich the space of drug discovery.

Next, autonomous driving, which may not have direct relevance to Tech Mahindra, is still relevant for Mahindra Group, where Makers Lab is researching on how to bring a certain level of autonomy in the sub-continent. The algorithms which work well in other parts of the world may need to be tweaked when we consider conditions on Indian roads.

We are also researching on neuroscience-inspired AI or AI++ as we like to call it, and there have been various groups across the world doing this. Our primary motivation has been the human brain and the ease at which parallel processing and reasoning happens within the human brain. We tend to study processes and are researching on algorithms that can complement the current AI techniques like vision and language. We believe that would be a huge boost to the AI delivery pipeline and solutions.

Every initiative we adopt or action we take, be it in research or building new-age solutions, is rooted in Tech Mahindra’s overall core values to go beyond business and create a better tomorrow.

About the Author

Brand Finance is the world’s leading independent brand valuation and strategy consultancy. Headquartered in the City of London, we are present in over 20 countries.

For almost 30 years we have helped companies and organisations of all types to connect their brands to the bottom line.

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