October 2016

'The strategic alliances are built around a shared research vision'

The global university collaboration programme of the Tata group has led to strategic partnerships between group companies and leading universities of the world. The first alliance in June 2016 saw £5.6 million in funds provided for the prestigious University Research Fellowships scheme of the Royal Society, UK. In August 2016, financial support exceeding $25 million was pledged to top universities including Harvard University, Yale University and the Indian Institute of Technology Madras. Dr Gopichand Katragadda, group chief technology officer, Tata Sons, speaks to tata.com about the scope and objective of the programme

The Tata group is partnering the world’s leading academic institutions as part of its global university collaboration programme. Could you tell us a bit about the nature of the collaborations and the kind of support the group will provide to the universities?
The Tata partnership with academic institutions is part of a strategic technology outreach across the world. It is aimed at supporting university faculty and students through funded research programmes, sabbaticals, fellowships, as well as studying long-term research outcomes related to key market needs. The financial support, exceeding $25 million, will be spread over time, in line with the tenure of the individual alliances with the institutions that include Harvard University, Yale University, the Indian Institute of Technology Madras and the Royal Society, UK.

From left: Isaac T Kohlberg, senior associate provost and chief technology development officer, Harvard University, with Dr Gopichand Katragadda, group chief technology officer, Tata Sons

What is the expected outcome from such engagements with academia?
The strategic alliances, spread over 3 to 6 years, are built around a shared research vision. Tata companies are interested in engaging on the frontiers of research in their core industries, to identify promising opportunities for collaboration. The partnerships are focusing on the creativity and talent in academic institutions to enable innovations that can be taken to market by Tata companies. This programme will not only give greater access to the talent pool through interaction with students but also help build intellectual property in the areas of research. Further, it will also enable internalisation and commercialisation of R&D through the fellowship / visiting scientist programme where employees will engage with students.

Tata companies are also part of the global university collaboration programme. What is the rationale here?
The duration of the engagement with the academic institution defines the objective of the partnership. A Tata company will lead the initiative while Tata Sons will provide support through participation in the technical and governing bodies of the collaboration.

The long-term (5 plus years) engagement is designed to build a collaborative platform for companies to work with academia to keep the Tata group competitive through a technology push. Tata Sons, Tata Communications, Tata Steel, and JLR have established a six-year research alliance with Harvard. The initiative will bring together the capabilities of Harvard’s world-leading scientific research enterprise with those of the Harvard Business School. Some of the initial areas of interest are soft robotics, advanced materials and sensor technologies.

At Yale, Tata Sons, TCS and Tata Chemicals have set up a five-year alliance in the areas of network sciences, consumer behaviour and other research opportunities of interest. Tata companies will enable specific applications for needs including employee change management, customer acquisition strategies and digital health. The cross-industry tie-ups will explore the mutual areas of interest for Tata companies.

Isaac T Kohlberg, senior associate provost and chief technology development officer, Harvard University (fifth from left), with Dr Gopichand Katragadda, group chief technology officer, Tata Sons (sixth from left), and others

 

Are these collaborations purely focused on research or would they also include development of marketable technologies, solutions and products? Has the group identified specific focus areas that the collaborations will explore?
We are looking at developing marketable technologies, solutions, products and services. Towards this, Tata will provide the market insights and knowledge of real-world business. Along with academic institutions, Tata Sons and partnering Tata companies that include Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Chemicals, Tata Communications, Tata Steel, and Jaguar Land Rover will explore commercialisation opportunities for the collaborative R&D efforts. The joint steering committee, comprising the Tata leadership and university leaders, will decide on areas of interest and invest in R&D efforts.

How will the academic collaborations help the group’s innovation programme?
The academic collaborations are an essential part of the group’s innovation efforts. At Harvard Business School, the Tata fellow programme provides selected Tata employees an opportunity to be part of HBS Executive Education programme while working with the research teams to help commercialisation and internalisation of the R&D in Tata companies. This programme enables the business aspect of innovation. In addition to the research at the universities, the strategic engagement enables the Tata group to leverage the start-up ecosystem around these universities for our innovation efforts.