Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Business India, November 30-December 13, 1998

Fish curry, feni, and oceanography

The National Institute of Oceanography, Goa, is learning to merge good oceanography with commercially exploitable R&D and consultancy services

Shivanand Kanavi

Serious study of various aspects of the deep sea at the National Insti­tute of Oceanography (NIO) does not jell with the stereotype of life in Goa, carefree and fun-loving. Dr Ehrlich Desa, the director, NIO, is a rarity himself. A well-known oceanographer and one of the first Indian scientists to explore the Antarctic in the mid­1980s, he is neither a geologist nor a marine biologist, as most oceanogra­phers are He is actually an electronics engineer who specialised in instru­mentation. However, Desa does not rest on his past laurels. Ask him about the Antarctic expeditions and he brushes the query aside. "That is history. My task now is to lead NIO in the current environment, where we have to do first-rate oceanography while earning revenue."

However combining good science with commercially useful R&D is a daunting task. Till recently, the major­ity of the 40-odd laboratories of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) produced neither. The autarky of the 1970s and 1980s proclaimed import substitution, not globally competitive technology, as the goal of lndian R&D. However things started to change in the late 1980s. For example, the National Chemical Labo­ratory (NCL) in Pune built up a reputa­tion for good science, global patents, and impressive dollar revenues. R.A. Mashelkar inspired other laboratories to do the same when he moved from NCL to become the director-general of CSIR in 1995. Today NIO, like many other CSIR laboratories, is buzzing with Mashelkar's slogan "research as business".

To describe the work being done at NIO, you are forced to state the obvi­ous. Oceans are vast. So is the scope of oceanography. For academic conve­nience, oceanography is divided into physical oceanography, chemical oceanography, biological oceanogra­phy, ocean engineering, geophysics, and soon.

How do the ocean floors change when continents drift? What are the effects of vast amounts of sediments being brought in by the great rivers of the world, like the Indus and the Ganges? Which are the red-hot spots of submarine volcanic activity? Such questions are studied by physical oceanographers.

Similarly, sea water is not just salty water, say the chemical oceanogra­phers. It is a rich storehouse of chemi­cals. Indian chemical oceanographers often compare their work to the myth­ical" samudra manthan" - the churn­ing of the seas that brought forth an amazing number of things, from nectar to the most potent toxins.

By now, the variegated colours of marine life have reached the living rooms of people, thanks to Jacques Cousteau's underwater TV footage. Biological oceanographers study all forms of life in the oceans, from plank­ton and algae to whales. It is a fasci­nating subject. Many marine creatures exist in high-pressure depths. Temper­atures too vary from the very cold of the Antarctic to the very hot of subma­rine volcanoes. Some marine species have survived for millions of years without appreciable change, like the shark and the horseshoe crab. Dr Anil Chatterjee at NIO has been studying the latter - a species of crab aptly called "the living fossil". He has inter­esting discoveries to his credit that can be very useful to the pharmaceutical and paints industries (see box).

Treasure hunt in the Indian Ocean
NIO has a dedicated team of treasure hunters. No, they are not looking for sunken Spanish gold, but for valuable metals at the bottom of the oceans. Many metals like copper, nickel, manganese, and cobalt exist in sea water in minute amounts. Over time these metals precipitate out and form nuggets as big as potatoes on the ocean floor. Early discoverers of these nuggets, more than a century ago, called them "black potatoes". However surveying ocean floors, collecting samples of these polymetallic nodules, analysing them, assessing the economic potential of these deposits, and so on, requires expensive ships, oceano­graphic expertise, and lots of hard work on board. NIO scientists developed this expertise with leased oceanographic ships in the 1980s. In fact, in 1987, the UN recognised India as a pioneer investor and, in fact, registered India's deep-sea mining claim ­the first ever by any country.

Since then, NIO scientists using the R/V Sidorenko in 1994-95 discovered rich ferromanganese deposits on the Afanasiy-Nikitin sea mount 1,000 km southeast of Sri Lanka in the north central Indian Ocean. The sea mount exists at a depth of 1.5 km. The nodules found here are rich in cobalt as well (as reported by NIO scientists V.K. Bankar, J.N. Pattan, and A.V. Mudholkar in Marine Geology, 136, 1997, pp299-31 5). However Bankar, true to NIO'S circumspect tradition, says: "The crust has substantial signifi­cance both in terms of R&D and economic potential, but I feel it is premature to give it publicity. We still have to investigate the extent of coverage of the sea mount by this crust. Moreover, no mining technology is yet available for this kind of deposit." In an atmosphere of grand announcements of unverified "break­throughs" (remember press conferences organised amidst great fanfare not so long ago about breakthroughs in cold fusion and high-temperature superconductors!), this circumspection is welcome.

Similarly, marine organisms yield millions of different molecules which can be a rich source of active ingredients for the agrochemical and pharmaceutical industries. Appropri­ately, NIO has initiated a 'Drugs from the Sea' programme. Dr Raghu Kumar and other NIO scientists studying certain fungi found in the mangroves have discovered some chemicals with bleaching properties. These could reduce the chlorine intake of the paper industry by half, which in turn would reduce the load of effluent treatment.

NIO also has an active team of oceanographers who are studying the effect of oceans on weather systems. Their work will be greatly assisted by the Indian Space Research Organisa­tion's Oceansat, which is going to be launched soon. Oceansat is a remote sensing satellite which will provide extensive data on ocean surface temperatures. Study of this data can lead to a better understanding of complex global weather phenomena like the monsoons or El Nino.

The Crab man

Animal rights activists would just love him. Dr Anil Chatterjee's discoveries, when commercially exploited by the pharma­ceutical industry, will save the lives of quite a few rabbits. Phar­maceutical companies producing injectibles have to certify them for no contamination and the Indian Pharmacopoeia (IP) prescribes that the sample of the drug be injected into a rabbit and the effects seen after 48 hours. The drug is safe only if the rabbit survives. But this is not a fail-safe test. Recently, batches of injectibles exported from India have been rejected for failing more rigorous tests. The USFDA insists that injectibles be tested using a chemical found in the limulus horseshoe crab. The chem­ical, Limulous Amoebocyte Lysate (LAL), can detect even a single bacterium present in the sample. Now the IP too has changed the rules to allow the LAL test. Today India imports some Rs.80-90 crore worth of LAL from the US. There are six companies world­wide that produce LAL by extracting it from the blood of the horseshoe crab.

Dr Anil Chatterjee of the bio-oceanography group at NIO has spent years studying the horseshoe crab - the oldest living species on earth. Chatterjee has found that the blood of another. "species of horseshoe crab, called the trachypheus, found off the coast of Orissa, can be used to extract Trachypheus Amoebocyte Lysate (TAL), which is as effective as LAL. He has also patented a method to extract 20 per cent of the crab's blood without killing it. His current ambition is to develop a cloning process to produce TAL so that no more horseshoe crabs need be killed.

Billions of blistering, bilious barnacles!
We are not quoting Captain Haddock from the Tintin comics. It is an exclamation of every mariner who finds his newly painted ship soon covered with colonies of barnacles and molluscs. But ye ancient mariners, have patience, research at NIO might help you soon!

While at his favourite pastime of crab-watching, Chatterjee has made another discovery: that male horseshoe crabs have barnacles and molluscs clinging to their backs, while the female of the species is squeaky clean! Investigating the phenomenon further he has isolated a chemical (glycoprotein) in the female that has this anti-fouling property. If this glycoprotein can be synthesised then marine paints will get a powerful anti-fouling ingredient

The geophysics department at NIO, along with the National Geophysical Research Laboratory, Hyderabad, have carried out seismic surveys on the continental slopes of India and detected the presence of gas hydrates (frozen methane gas) at several places. This work might help India solve its hydrocarbon problem in the long run. At depths like 600m below the ocean floor, where the pressure is high and the temperatures low, methane and other components of natural gas can solidify into ice as hydrates. A tonne of hydrates brought up to the surface will yield 0.8 tonnes of water and 168 cubic metres of natural gas. So mastering exploration and mining of gas hydrates could be the key to overcom­ing the severe hydrocarbon shortage in India.

“The least glamorous of all depart­ments at NIO is ocean engineering," says Dr P. Chandramohan, assistant director of the ocean engineering divi­sion. But the ocean engineers are the institute's bread and butter and jam! Every project along the coast of India, be it in petrochemicals, oil refining, steel, cement, ports, and so on, has to get an environmental impact survey done by NIO'S ocean engineers for clearance.

It is clear that, slowly, Desa and his team at NIO are learning to combine good science with its commercially exploitable applications. Today Mashelkar is proud of the work being done at NIO. Situated next to the romantic legend of Dona Paula and the white sands of Miramar beach, this centre of excellence is quietly proclaiming: “Goa is not just fish curry and feni, but oceanography too."

ISRO--Remote Sensing

Business India, February 28-March 13, 1994

Remotely sensing profits

Remote sensing is becoming important in corporate planning

Shivanand Kanavi

What do ITC, Tata Tea, Tata Chemi­cals, Indal, Gujarat' Ambuja and fishermen's cooperatives in the west coast of India have in common? They are among the more than 700 users of Satellite Remote Sensing data from the Indian Remote Sensing satellites, IRS-IA and IRS-IB. ITC, the cigarette giant, is using remote sensing to get advance intelli­gence on the tobacco harvest to better pre­dict the price of tobacco when it comes to the market. They have also used it to study sunflower and soybean crops in certain districts of Andhra Pradesh.

Similarly Tata Tea is using it to scout for land that is suitable for tea plantations. Tata Chemicals is using RS to try better watershed management and cropping pat­terns to help the drought-hit villagers around their plant in Mithapur, Gujarat. They are also using it to survey siliceous limestone reserves near their cement plant for possible sourcing. According to Dr Manu Seth, Tata Chem's deputy manag­ing director, they are very interested in developing remote sensing applications to study the post harvest soil condition with respect to nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous content over whole districts. This will help them to advise farmers about the right mix of fertiliser inputs. With their own urea plant coming up at Babrala, UP, this novel application of remote sensing will not only help farmers with scientific information but also help Tata Chern estimate demand and adjust production accordingly. Similarly a num­ber of companies, like Indal and Gujarat Ambuja Cements, are using remote sens­ing for geological prospecting.

The National Remote Sensing Agency at Hyderabad and National Natural Resources Management System and Regional Remote Sensing Service Cen­tres are together making considerable efforts to popularise the technology. They provide satellite data in various forms to Indian users at throwaway prices that are one-third of what a foreign user has to pay but even then internationally they are cheaper than the French, who are their main competitors. They also help in inter­preting it for specific applications. This service is being widely used by various government agencies and a large number of users from the private sector. Among them are 250 fishermen's cooperatives, for whom NRSA provides charts of the best fishing grounds off both the east and west coasts. It has been found that the catch along these recommended routes is at least 30 per cent more than that without the help of such charts.

It is a classic case of a technology developed for war finally being turned around for peaceful developmental pur­poses. After all, remote sensing was pio­neered in the US to locate Vietcong guerrillas hidden in the jungles of Indo­China. Remote sensing is based on the fact that different objects reflect or scatter dif­ferent amounts of electromagnetic energy in different wave length bands.

The electromagnetic spectrum spans wavelengths right from gamma rays to long radio waves. In remote sensing, the most useful regions are visible light, infra red and the microwaves. While passing through the atmosphere, electromagnetic radiation is scattered and absorbed by gases like oxygen, carbon dioxide and ozone and water vapour and dust. The absorption occurs at particular wave lengths whereas certain wavelengths pass through the atmosphere without much attenuation. These are called atmospheric windows.

The reflective or emissive properties of various surfaces at different wave­lengths are called their 'spectral signa­tures'. The spectral signatures combined with spatial variation of these signatures tell us about the size, shape and texture of objects. In case both these fac­tors are the same for two crops, then the temporal variation of reflectance comes to our rescue since for different crops in their growing period it is different. Apart from wavelength, another characteristic of electromagnetic radiation is polarization. The polarisation of reflected radiation also tells us about the object.

Spectral reflectance of vegetation, for example, is quite distinct and plant pig­ments, leaf structure and water content influence it in the visible, near infra red and middle infra red regions. Since vege­tation has maximum reflectance in the infra red, it always appears dark red In RS photographs instead of the usual green that we associate with vegetation. Hence RS photographs are also called 'false colour composites'.

Soil reflectance tells us, about moisture content, amount of organic matter; iron oxide present, relative percentages of clay, slit and sand and roughness of the soil surface. Water reflectance is influenced by its turbidity, etc.

The IRS satellite with a spe­cial camera called the Linear Imaging Self Scanner, based on charged coupled device technology, scans a piece of the earth's surface for radiation in four bands. l) 0.45-0.52 micron: This band is useful for mapping suspended sediments or water quality and various, studies related to coastal region. 2) O.52-0.59 micron: Sensitive towards vegetation discrimina­tion and ferric oxides. 3) 0.62-0.68 micron: Useful for green bio –mass estimation and crop yield studies.

The IRS-IA and IRS-IB carry three cameras. The LISS-I camera provides a picture covering 148.48 km in width with a resolution of 72.5 metres. The LISS-2A and 2B cameras provide a resolution of 36.25 metres and a width of74.24 km. The entire payload including the world class LISS cameras are being make in the Space Applications Centre at Ahmedabad. The data is digitised but requires corrections to be applied for the earth’s rotation and the roll- pitch –yaw motion of the satellite itself.

For furthers analysis of data one needs to know the exact spectral signatures of different crops, soils , terrains, etc, this is called 'ground truth' . The preliminary analysis is compared with actual detailed data from the ground in a small area. For example, if one is looking for cotton acreage under cultivation, probable yield and evidence of pests and disease afflicting the crop, then one needs to correlate satellite data with data from a typical cot­ton growing area.

Remote sensing cannot tell you what is inside the earth but the detailed study of topography can tell you about ground water potential and even probable areas for certain minerals. Recently it has been applied to find probable gold and tungsten bearing regions in Andhra Pradesh. Remote sensing applications in planning are innumerable. Inland aquaculture development, drought monitoring, irrigation an command area development, flood risk zone mapping, urban sprawl, land encroachment, study of forest cover, even damage assessment of forest fires, pipelines and major roads lying are just some of them.

Due to increasing demand for satellite data a whole industry of small scale entrepreneurs has come up around Bangalore and Hyderabad for manufacturing equipment required for data analysis and even consultancies which specialise in data analysis. The skills developed in India in analyzing IRS, Landsat and SPOT data have become so internationally competitive that when France wanted to do a survey on land use to settle subsidy claims of farmers, the contract was given to ISRO. Today, most Regional Remote Sensing Service Centres have become self sufficient indicating the popularity of RS. Besides ISRO has created a wide infrastructure by training over 5,500 spe cialists in the field.

To the credit of ISRO' s satellite tracking, telemetry and command team goes the fact that IRS-lA, whose design life was only three years, has been working like a charm for nearly six years due to astute handling of the satellite from the ground. The IRS-1A and 1B data is top class compared to the American Landsat and the I French SPOT data. In fact, since Landsat- 5 has become old and Landsat—6 launched in 1993 was lost in space (accidents in space do not happen in India alone!) and since IRS data is highly price competitive, compared to the French SPOT, there is tremendous potential to market IRS data in North America. Eosat a US company that is a major in global marketing of remote sensing products, has tied up with Antrix Corporation - set up to market Indian space technology worldwide - to do just that. In fact recognizing ISRO' s experience in building and operating ground stations at Bangalore, Lucknow and Mauritius, Eosat will buy ground receiving systems and data processing software also, from the department of space.

The next generation IRS-l C, to be launched in mid-1995 from Baikanour, Russia, is even more advanced and wjl1 provide stereoscopic data with LISS-3 that has three times higher resolution than LISS-l and 2.The satellite also has a big­ger power pack and, most important, the capacity to record and transmit later. The additional wide field sensor in IRS- 1 C will make it capable of looking at vegetation in an area Once in four days instead of the present 11 days. It is clear that painstaking efforts by ISRO scientists, since the late sixties to learn remote sens­ing data analysis, application develop­ment and even acquiring the capability to fabricate world class remote sensing satellites is finally paying off.

Story of TCS-An IT Pioneer

Business India, June 7-20, 2004


India’s software leader continues to be innovative

Shivanand Kanavi

Wordsmiths are grateful to Saddam Hussein for providing that colourful phrase ‘mother of all...’ to describe all sorts of things irreverently. So while IT historians may hail T C S as the ‘mother of all Indian software’, Dalal Street awaits the ‘mother of all Indian IPOs’. The billion-dollar IPO could happen anytime (those with long memories might accuse us of saying the same thing for the last four years!). The market was expecting it in April. And then came the elections and turbulence in the stock market. Once the market stabilises, many expect the money being pulled out of PSU stocks to pour into a good tech offer like TCS. Bombay House, the headquarters of the Tata Group, is keeping its cards close to its chest. The company has officially gone into a cooling-off period and executives are not available for comments or interviews, or even photo shoots. Group chairman Ratan Tata and Tata Sons finance director Ishaat Hussain have both gone abroad.

But the prospectus is ready to be filed any time now and soon everyone will be talking about the TCS IPO. It is one of the most successful Indian companies, with branches in 32 countries with over 800 foreign nationals working for it and serving clients round the world. A true Indian MNC.

Business India has been following the company for decades now and started doing this particular story almost a year back. We found that the company is set for a quantum leap. Many of the quotes are from interviews done several months ago.

Starting with four people in 1968, TCS has grown into a giant of 28,000 software engineers, adding 3,000–5,000 people (the size of a medium-sized company) every year. At any time about 10,000 engineers are abroad and some of them are working at global delivery centres in Australia, Canada, China, Hungary, Japan, the UK, Uruguay, and the US. How does TCS manage all this growth in a highly competitive business environment that is constantly changing in terms of technology?

An apt term to describe TCS is ‘software factory’. The analytical framework and terminology that senior management uses in dealing with various aspects of TCS are clearly those of the manufacturing sector. They talk about managing the supply chain of TCS recruits, the same way as Toyota or Ford do. They talk of inventory management of its engineers, logistics of deploying them in a way Dell would be proud of. They talk of enterprise resource planning to deliver their software, the way Reliance or Tata Steel would do with petrochemicals or steel. Ironically, it sounds like the revenge of the manufacturing nerds on the services industry! But in terms of management theory, this is a truly remarkable framework that untangles the spaghetti of managing a services company.

Interestingly, T C S starts its ‘raw material scouting’ and ‘vendor development’ right at the college level. It takes it seriously enough to assign more than 50 senior executives to interact with academic institutions. At these institutions TCS funds many academic events like conferences and seminars, and also gets involved in improving teaching and curricula, establishing fellowships, and exchanging expertise through visiting faculty programmes, etc. They top it with an annual retreat with over a hundred top academics in Trivandrum, the training hub of TCS.

According to H. Kesavan at the University of Waterloo, Canada, who headed the electrical engineering department of IIT Kanpur in the 1960s, not many people know that TCS took an active role in building the computer science department at IIT Kanpur. Similarly, according to Juzer Vasi of IIT Bombay, the chip designing community owes a lot to TCS, which sponsored an entire M-Tech programme in VLSI design at IIT Bombay. IIT Madras too has a TCS-sponsored programme in mathematical modelling.

“TCS is extending the relationship to several universities abroad as well. It has sponsored projects at M I T, Harvard, the Kellogg School, Carnegie Mellon, University of Waterloo, and institutions in Japan, Australia, China, and Singapore,” says executive vice-president S. Padmanabhan.

As an industry leader TCS has played a premier role in the creation of infrastructure for IT education in India. And all that spadework does not hurt TCS when it goes recruiting to these institutions. Moreover, the way TCS conducted itself during the downturn has enhanced its brand equity in academic institutions. To recap, several companies, including some IT blue chips, did not honour their offer letters given to campus recruits in 2002, citing the downturn in business as the reason. But TCS did.

Moulding the recruits is a very important activity and a large centre at Trivandrum’s I T park is exclusively engaged in this. “The training in TCS is no doubt excellent, and that is why everybody tries to lure a TCS engineer,” says Radha Krishnan, CEO of Innova Solutions, a Silicon Valley software services company.

“How to keep track of our assets – our people, their current competencies and skill sets, where they are deployed, who is finishing one project and is ready to be deployed in a new one, and so on – is a key issue in our business. We have brought in digitization of this whole process, which has led to efficient use of our resources. At times it is the key to delivery of the solution to the client in time,” says global practice director (manufacturing and process industries) Ravi Gopinath.

“In TCS we have an important global systems integrator partner that can be trusted to deliver. They combine deep domain and technical knowledge with a global delivery model that brings tremendous value to our customers.” --Bill Gates, Chairman, Microsoft

“Senior consultants give inputs and brainstorm about changes in technology and likely demand for new skill sets in the near future, so that we can plan our recruitment and training programmes accordingly,” he adds. Thus digitisation acts as an ERP package for TCS.

Companies like Oracle claim that such internal ERP implementations have led to savings to the tune of a billion dollars. What would the monetary gain of digitisation of TCS be? “In terms of pre-project planning and delivery times one can use metrics (engineers’ jargon for ways to measure something), and we see a lot of gain. However in terms of opportunity costs it is difficult to monetise what we have gained,” says Gopinath.

TCS is a rare services company to have a decent-sized R&D. “We spend about 2 per cent of our sales on R&D,” says Ramadorai. “Our R&D is different from the blue sky research done in universities. It has to show its effect on our consulting practice in terms of products or tools and methodologies,” he adds. TCS has outstanding academics like M. Vidyasagar from the University of Waterloo, Canada, Kesav Nori from IIT Kanpur, and Mathai Joseph from the University of Warwick, UK, in its R&D ranks.

In fact TCS was way ahead of its times when it established TRDDC (Tata Research, Design and Development Centre) in Pune in 1981. Today R&D is more decentralised and advanced R&D is being done in Hyderabad, Chennai, and Bangalore as well.

The graphic which traces the history of IT brings out one point clearly — that when TCS came into being in 1968, Microsoft, Apple, Sun, Accenture, Cisco, Dell, Compaq, Sapient, Oracle, Novell, SAS, SAP, and Siebel did not exist. Neither were technologies like Unix, C, Java, Microprocessor, PC, LAN, Internet, Linux, and the World Wide Web invented. That shows the prescience of pioneers like F.C. Kohli and entrepreneurs like J.R.D. Tata in venturing into new territory.

“Tata Sons pumped in Rs35 lakh in 1969. The company made a loss of Rs20 lakh,” says F.C. Kohli, a power engineer who was roped in by JRD to build TCS. “Nobody could believe that computer services could be done out of India. I was a director of the prestigious IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). I used to flash my IEEE visiting card and use my old contacts from MIT to get people to listen to my pitch. Nobody dared question my ability to deliver software solutions. If they had, I would have been in trouble. We had only ideas and a can-do attitude, but no track record,” reminisced Kohli, when Business India profiled him as one of the 50 path breakers of India in a special issue on the occasion of the golden jubilee of India’s independence.

“We cold-called and persisted, and built it brick by brick. There was nobody to help. The government was hindering us and nobody knew about India,” recalls Ramadorai. Today encomiums about the pathbreaking role of TCS are plenty.

“Thirty years ago when I came to Canada, people would ask me, ‘do you have an elephant in your home in India?’ Now the pendulum has swung the other way around and the world thinks that everyone in India is a math wiz and an expert computer programmer. The patient and steady efforts of TCS have contributed significantly to brand India globally,” says Desh Deshpande, chairman of Sycamore Networks.

Other Indian software honchos too are generous in their praise. Satyam chairman Ramalinga Raju says, “TCS helped lay the foundation for the growth of the IT industry.”
Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani elaborates, “TCS pioneered the Indian software industry and has played a seminal role in the global acceptance of Indian software capabilities.”

“I remember the first Burroughs computer TCS imported in 1974. I was a junior officer at Citibank. One never knew that it was going to be the acorn that subsequently grew into the mighty oak of TCS— and in fact of India’s IT industry. I still get goose pimples knowing that I was there at the beginning, even if only in a peripheral role,” says Jerry Rao, chairman of MphasiS– BFL.

However, it is sometimes said that while TCS was surely a pioneer, it has been slow in growth. They cite the fact that while TCS crossed a billion dollars in revenue in June
2003, 35 years after its founding, the newer companies like Infosys and Wipro also joined the club a year later.

But this misses the point. A true path breaker always has to struggle to clear the undergrowth in a jungle and then others follow with great alacrity.

The result of this is clearly seen in the mathematical modelling used in improving manufacturing processes or in connecting the process control at the shop floor level to the enterprise software and so on. The R&D has come out with product suites like Master- Craft and Bio-Suite. The former is used to translate the specifications for a programme into code. Such tools are called CASEpac (computer aided software engineering pack). They greatly accelerate code-writing or converting the code written for one platform to another. Bio-Suite is a product developed in collaboration with CSIR to help pharma companies and genetics laboratories to efficiently extract useful information from vast amounts of genetic data. TCS has a bouquet of about 30 patents for products and processes by now.

In fact the evolution of some automation tools like CASE pac can be traced to highly intelligent engineers being forced to do mundane code conversion way back in the 1970s. The result was an intelligent solution, why not automate this conversion? TCS engineers developed a tool called the ‘data dictionary’ to illustrate these ideas. The tool was used in several projects in the 1980s. “The whole idea of software engineering is to change the programming from an individual-centred artisan-like process with its inherent stamp of individuality and hence non-standardisation to an industrial one, where others can easily understand and debug the programmes written by somebody else. Creating components which can be used repeatedly in different projects, thereby reducing time and manpower required for a project, is another feature of software engineering,” says Kesav Nori, EVP.

Another example of successfully applying manufacturing strategies in software development is how TCS dealt with Y2K projects. It developed appropriate tools to automate the task of finding and changing the ‘date field’ in any programme from two digits to four digits. Once the task was thus simplified, an ‘assembly line’ was setup in Chennai and personnel were outsourced from local software companies.

Quality assurance systems are another important aspect of modern factory life. TCS has been at it for a very long time. So much so that not only are a large number of its establishments certified at Level 5, the highest such standard, but they have contributed to the evolution of the CMM system itself. “We started quality initiatives quite early as members of IEEE standards group. They involved hardware interfaces, programme management, importance of peer review, code review, etc. We have worked with Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute (SEI) and recently we presented a paper on integrated quality management systems at the chartered engineers conference. We are also founder members of the Internet Security Alliance,” says Ramadorai.

Has the software factory approach led to dehumanisation of human resource (H R) development? Is HR using PeopleSoft and forgetting that you are dealing with soft people? These questions constantly trouble Ramadorai and his senior colleagues. Their quest for the human touch is being partly fulfilled by a new initiative headed by Mala Ramadorai and other ‘TCS wives’, who have formed an organisation called Maitree (friendship). How is it different from the generals’ wives doing their bit in the Army Wives Association? “It’s not an organisation where someone does something for somebody but a network and support group for TCS families spread all over the globe. Through Maitree we help each other relocate, find appropriate schools, doctors, housing, and so on. We organize numerous activities for TCS families from trekking and adventure sports to origami and classes in ballroom dancing and theatre workshops,” says Mrs. Ramadorai.

Not much is known about Ramadorai. He is a techie to the core, but then so is much of TCS. The problem -solver’s approach of an engineer comes through all the time. When the markets crashed by 25 per cent in two days after the recent general election results, one would have thought that Ramadorai was worried sick about his company’s IPO. Instead he was pointing out to a visitor that both BSE and NSE had withstood the stress test. As a postscript he also added that the systems at both BSE and NSE had been built by TCS engineers.

Ram, as S. Ramadorai, is simply known within TCS, is a good listener. He speaks little and when he does, it is clear that he has thought the subject through. He is also very candid, circumspect, and self-critical, a quality one rarely sees in a sector otherwise characterised by hubris.

His father served in the accounts and audit service of the Government of India, so Ram’s childhood was spent in Delhi. He graduated from Delhi University with a BSc (Hons) in physics and then studied electronics and telecommunications at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, which incidentally awarded him the distinguished achievement award for 2001. In the 1960s computer science was just shaping up as an independent subject and Ram graduated with a master’s from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1970. UCLA was a hotspot for computer networking in those days. In fact, much of modern data networking developed at UCLA under Len Kleinrock’s leadership.

Soon after UCLA Ram had a short stint with NCR, which was one of the big three computer manufacturers of the times. But soon he joined the fledgling TCS in 1972.
In those days TCS was forging a relationship with Burroughs and, along with his
mentor F.C. Kohli, Ram played a key role in the ensuing saga that brought state-of the art mainframe computer technology to India. Since then he has not looked back.

Today he is one of the most traveled executives in India. Does he enjoy it? “What lies at the end of the travel is relationship-building, which is the heart of consulting,” says Ram. “Travel is not something one looks forward to, but there is no option. My travel started in 1981–82. Those days it was mostly to the US.” In the last 6–7 years he has been to all parts of the world. “I spend about 45 per cent of my time with customers, the same with employees, and the balance with stakeholders and analysts, and in board meetings,” he adds.

Ram’s passions are reading, classical music, and golf, in that order. Of course
having a wife who is an accomplished Hindustani vocalist of the Gwalior gharana helps. “I spend time in a lot of things other than technology: reading on a range of subjects. My favourites are: New York Times’ science supplement every Tuesday, which covers a wide range of topics like biotech, archaeology, and anthropology, similarly, New Yorker, The Economist (especially the surveys), novels in Tamil, and so on.

He likes playing golf. “I play more when I am travelling. I like the golf ranges in California and Scotland.” What about deals — are they made on golf ranges? “Rarely. After all, one plays with one’s friends. If we talk business, it would be ‘insider trading’. However, a lot of deals are made outside the office in informal settings, in the club, while traveling together. People invariably want to work with those they trust,” Ram adds.

If there is one word to describe Ramadorai, it is ‘underplay’. For those who have seen the flamboyance of neweconomy poster boys like Michel Dell, Steve Jobs, or Larry Ellison, the chief of India’s biggest software play is a far cry from all that. Having been in the shadow of F.C. Kohli for most of his career, little is known about Ram. But he has delivered when entrusted with responsibility to lead the company. TCS has grown more than 14 times in revenue in eight years, from Rs.500 crore in 1996, when Ram took over as CEO, to an estimated Rs7,000 crore this year, growing at a compounded rate of 40 per cent a year.

Not bad for an underplay.

Software can be a stressful profession with long hours of separation between husbands and wives. Then there are problems of adjustment in different environments and cultures at different client sites. Maitree is trying to mitigate these chronic issues and bring in that human touch to HR, though it is not a part of HR.

What are the strengths of TCS? One acknowledged one is building longterm relationships with clients. “Everywhere we have gone in, it has been a long relationship — Amex 27 years, SEGA 13 years, and so on. In fact most of the big accounts have been with us for a minimum of 10 years,” says Padmanabhan.

We are our own model
There are enough people in India and the West (mostly in Silicon Valley) who would give gyaan about what is wrong with India. When they see islands of excellence, like the Indian software industry, they often engage in clich├ęs like ‘body shopping’ and low-end coding vs. consulting and ‘high-end’ work. The names that are frequently mentioned as role models in this regard are Accenture, EDS, Cap Gemini, and so on.

So Business India looked at the financials of these would-be ‘role models’ and came up with surprising numbers. The big three are definitely impressive in revenue, with EDS leading the pack at over $20 billion and Accenture following it with $13 billion and Cap Gemini at nearly $7 billion. The last three years have been bad for technology consulting and hence either their revenues have not grown, as in the case of EDS and Accenture, or have actually declined by over 25 per cent, as in the case of Cap Gemini.

The largest Indian software house, TCS, crossed a billion dollars in 2002–3 and is estimated to have done $1.5 billion in 2003–4. At a CAGR of 40 per cent (TCS has grown at this rate in the last eight years), TCS will be a $11 billion company in 2009–10. By that time, of course, the big three might have pulled out of the last three years’ doldrums and gone much further ahead.

But the opposite could happen too.

Just look at their bottom lines. EDS had profits of $1.36 billion, a mere 6 per cent of its revenues in 2001, and dipped to a loss of $1.7 billion in 2003! Accenture’s profits were $1.05 billion in 2001, nearly 7 per cent of its revenues, and slipped to $500 million, less than 4 per cent of revenue, in 2003. Cap Gemini’s profits were 152 million in 2001, less than 2 per cent of its revenues. And these meagre profits fell to a loss of nearly 200 million in 2003.

TCS profits were Rs1,221 crore in 2001, a healthy 28 per cent of its turnover of Rs.4,163 crore. They dipped to Rs1,140 crore in 2002–3, but are expected to have reached over Rs1,700 crore on a turnover of Rs7,000 crore in 2003–4. (The company has not declared the revenue and profit figures for 2003–4. These figures are market expectations.)

As far as high-end consulting goes, earlier clients did not believe that work could be done offshore in a country of ‘snake charmers and elephants’, and neither did sophisticated telecom links exist, when TCS started offering its services abroad in the mid- 1970s. Most of the export work involved exporting consultants and programmers.

Things changed in the late 1980s. Telecom links improved and due to painstakingly built up reputation to deliver, clients started slowly recognising brand TCS. The first major project SEGA, the securities settlement system for the Swiss authorities, was done on a turnkey basis, from requirements to architecture. At the same time, 70 per cent of the work was done offshore in India. Thus was born the Indian model and has grown from strength to strength.

Indian companies have demonstrated their strength globally and have remained highly profitable (the good ones reporting PAT-to-sales ratios of 25–28 per cent). Do we still consider the giants with low profitability as role models? One wonders.

“TCS has been a valued GE partner for the past 14 years and has our largest global development centre (GDS) for software services. Their technical expertise, high quality processes, and global delivery capabilities in Hungary, China, and India have been vital to their success in developing missioncritical applications for GE,” says an effusive Scott Bayman, CEO of GE India.

“During the Internet boom we may not have grown fast enough compared to other companies because our people were already deployed in longterm contracts. But when the downturn came, the same long-term relationships helped us survive the bad days better than others,” says CFO
S. Mahalingam.

“Many people who worked on the clients’ side several years ago as junior or middle-level managers have grown to become CIOs and CEOs. We keep in touch. Nobody compromises in value and delivery, but the network helps. I don’t remember any client who started with us and then walked away from us. Of course they bring in other vendors, but you become a strategic partner. The senior management at TCS have been in the company for a long time and learned to take the ups and downs. They have the ability to convert uncertainty to small certainties. It helps in dealing with chaos. In a difficult year we call up their top people and tell them, ‘This is a difficult year for us — how will we structure the deal?’ They also do the same. Wining, dining, and partying is not our culture. Relations are built on mutual value and respect,” explains Padmanabhan.

TCS has been known to be strong in banking, financial services, and insurance (BFSI). More than 55 per cent of its revenue is estimated to come from this sector. Jay Dvivedi, CIO of Shinsei Bank, Japan, says: “TCS has a vast pool of highly skilled software engineers. I have extensively used them when I was in Citibank Japan and now at Shinsei Bank.” Mark Barton, vice-president of channels and alliances at Oracle Asia Pacific, adds: “As TCS conquers new markets in the world we are confident our mutual relationship will strengthen and grow.” After all, TCS championed relational databases when Oracle was still a fledgling company.

But the new avenue for business has been e-business, which has taken off like a rocket. Headed by young N. Chandrasekharan, 38, the e-biz division started modestly in 1999 with 10 people. In 2000 the division clocked $90 million and in 2003–4 it was expected to clock nearly half a billion dollars!

The turning point for the e-biz group came when it implemented a highly complex project for GE Medical in 30 countries. Recently Forrester, a well-known I T research group, rated TCS as having the best value proposition in customer relationship management (CRM) consulting. The field consisted of IBM, EDS, Accenture, Cap Gemini, Deloitte Consulting, Infosys, Bearing Point, and so on.

The manufacturing group headed by Ravi Gopinath too has made considerable inroads into the auto industry, working with Cummins in engine development, with G M in engineering and supply chain, with Johnson Controls in CRM, etc. In the case of process industries the modelling skills developed at TRDDC have helped in working with Alcoa, Lafarge, and the Indian cement industry, which also happens to be one of the most advanced in the world. The group is looking to develop oil & gas as a major growth area. It is also developing a special software package for powerplant maintenance along with BHEL.

The niche that T C S has become famous for is stock exchanges. It has built the systems not only for NSE and BSE in India but also for the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, the Canadian Depository System, and of course the Swiss SEGA.

The turning point in this business came with the planning and execution of SEGA. In fact the project, won against international competition in 1989, seems to have been one of the defining moments in TCS history. “It was like linking NSE, Stock Holding Corporation or NSDL, and RBI and member banks in India seamlessly. It was a complex and mission-critical system. The solution had to be very robust with multiple linkages to share registers, depositories, and cross-border entities, etc. We got it purely because we could deliver technically and our architecture could meet demands 10 years ahead. The selection process took nine months. The price was not an issue since it was mission- critical. It was developed from scratch. None of the clients spoke English. The deadline, announced two years in advance, was the first long weekend of October, when the Swiss financial community changes its system. We consistently met all the deadlines. That is when all the onsite and offshore methodologies were defined, communication links were established. The way Indian software companies were doing business changed with that project,” Padmanabhan recalls proudly.

Where is TCS headed now? “BPO is definitely the flavour of the month. We actually started as a BPO doing data-centre-based processing for banks, billing for Bombay telephones, examination processing, share accounting, custodial operations, and so on. Later we started offshore development centres. We have done everything but voice (call centres). So we are well equipped for that,” says Ramadorai.

But what about the backlash in the US against outsourcing? After all, TCS was its first Indian victim, when a contract of $15 million was cancelled by the Indiana government. “There has to be a short-term, medium-term, and long-term response to the backlash. In the short term we should take extra care in compliance with all regulatory issues. In the medium term we should be ready with our global delivery centres to finish our projects in case restrictions are put on visas and movement of our people. In the long term we should look at the potential of WTO negotiations for globalization of services,” says Ramadorai.

“As for future business opportunities we are looking at several. We are seriously developing engineering and design services capabilities. We have a joint venture with GE for aircraft engines, and offshore development centres with a couple of other companies. It is a growing chunk of business. We are beginning to get into chip design. In the 1980s we worked with Hewlett-Packard on chip design tools, verification and testing of chips. CMC has embedded software capabilities, besides expertise in port automation, automotive embedded systems, railway automation, Scada and powerline automation, and other real-time systems. The government is planning to spend Rs10,000 crore, so we are looking seriously at government projects also. We did a good engagement in Sri Lanka and we are looking at South Africa,” he adds.

“As for challenges that need innovative solutions, I see first of all people-building, secondly developing new business model for delivery of services. For example a citizen services portal, data, applications, etc, in a kiosk. Say I want a driver’s licence and I pay Rs100 and you say, fine. One has to build applications for that, and so on.”

And thus, folks, the engineers’ engineer keeps ticking, ably carrying on the legacy of his mentors F.C. Kohli and J.R.D. Tata.