Awards and recognition play an important role in encouraging innovation. The government has been giving awards for several years now, but with a focus on technological innovation. While these government awards were decided by eminent juries, they lacked an in-depth assessment process. But, in areas like quality (think of the Malcolm Baldridge or equivalent awards), an important part of the selection process is the in-depth assessment carried out by qualified assessors. So, when CII decided, after several years of internal debate, to institute industrial innovation awards this year, such an assessment became an integral part of the process.
Having been on innovation award juries before, I have found that the challenge is to balance creativity, outcomes, and potential future impact. It’s sometimes difficult to compare a very simple idea with huge potential impact with a novel yet complex technological concept that could appear ahead of its time today but revolutionise the industry later. Not surprisingly, such debates were an important part of the deliberations of the jury for the CII Industrial Innovation awards that were announced a few days ago. A highlight of the jury was its international composition and the enthusiastic participation of some members who had flown thousands of miles to be a part of the process.
Knowing my penchant for writing on interesting innovations I have seen, one of my co-jury members started teasing me during the presentations that he “didn’t want to see all the confidential details splashed on my blog.” I have taken his caution to heart and all the information given here is based on what is available in the public domain!
I will restrict my comments to the two winners in the manufacturing category. The applications for services innovation tend to be dominated by IT, and I rarely see eye-catching ideas in this domain.
This Year’s Winners – Manufacturing
Bilcare, a Pune-based packaging solutions company won an award for what it calls nonclonableID ™ technologies. These are used to prevent counterfeiting and provide a validation of the originality of products across a variety of industries ranging from pharmaceuticals to automobile components. In India, the government has been particularly interested in these solutions because of rampant counterfeiting and tampering. The Bilcare solution creates a unique material fingerprint for each product or component passing through a supply chain and provides an end-to-end solution of verification and validation.
AP Organics, a Sangrur-based company, is a leading producer of rice bran oil under the Ricela brandname. The company’s distinctiveness is based on the patented physical refining process it has pioneered that preserves important ingredients such as Oryzanol which has anti-cholesterol properties. Today, the company has also effectively backward integrated, and through its decentralized sourcing and processing, is able to source rice bran from multiple centres across the country and use it before its short shelf life is over.
What’s Common to Both
The cases of both Bilcare and AP Organics underline the importance of working on the “right” problems.
Counterfeiting and duplication erodes the brand value of companies and poses significant losses to customers. It can be extremely dangerous too in products like drugs. And counterfeiters are becoming more sophisticated, so solutions have to become better too.
Not only is large import of edible oils a macroeconomic problem for India, heart disease is becoming an important lifestyle hazard. Yet, the Indian palate is unlikely to change in a hurry. Domestic production of “good” oils is therefore a priority.
Both of these are good examples of the “pain-wave-waste” criteria for problem selection that Vinay Dabholkar has stressed in our 8 Steps to Innovation.
The Importance of End-to-End Innovation
Both Bilcare and AP Organics show that end-to-end innovation has become necessary in many product categories. Of the two, AP Organics appears to have been commercially more successful, possibly because it is easier for it to manage the entire process. The Bilcare technology itself looks to be sound, but involves system-level implementation which is not always easy.
Both Bilcare and AP Organics have shown the value of their innovation in international markets though exports and international usage.
Both innovations have taken time to mature. In fact, Bilcare’s technology is still not ubiquitous even though some customers like a Japanese automotive component manufacturer have established its utility.
I was both somewhat intrigued and saddened by the relative absence of Indian pharmaceutical companies in the final shortlist. While my fellow jury members were quick to explain this away by recalling the industry’s focus on generics, pharma is even today India’s most R&D intensive industry. And, not so long ago, we had several Indian firms undertaking courageous drug discovery programmes. I hope this is just a blip and that we will see many Indian pharma firms intensifying their efforts to discover new drugs or drug discovery systems in the years ahead.
Let’s hope that the new CII Industrial Innovation Awards grow from strength-to-strength and become highly coveted awards in the years ahead.