April 2012 | tata.com

Looking beyond the obvious

Thomas Edison once famously said, “There is a way to do it better – find it.” It aptly describes the climate of innovation at Titan Industries where innovation and creativity clearly rule the roost. LR Natarajan, chief operating officer, new business, Titan Industries, talks to tata.com about Titan’s various processes to promote innovation and the company’s future plans.

What processes do you have in place for encouraging and managing innovations?
At Titan, we believe in involving everyone in the process of innovation. Every year we come out with a theme for innovation and all innovation happens around that theme.

In 2005, we started an initiative called ‘What is new’ to capture novel processes being attempted in departments. The challenge was to come up with three new ideas every month. ‘What is new’ was all about improving existing processes, breaking the monotony and coming up with something totally novel. We have a process called SEED to collect innovative ideas from employees in the manufacturing plant; the best ideas are rewarded. Idea plus is the equivalent of SEED for corporate employees.

Next we decided to get our vendor partners on board as well. It takes about 30 days to manufacture a single piece of jewellery. The challenge was to bring it down to three days. We called this initiative ‘Three-day miracle’. The craftsmen had hitherto not been exposed to the corporate world of processes, inventories, technology, etc. It took a long drawn exercise to change their mindsets. While we have not reached the three-day mark yet (we are at eight days), a few vendors are able to successfully perform the ‘three-day miracle’.

Another interesting initiative was called ‘Ideas unlimited’ where we engaged with managers for innovative ideas and solutions. We also created a special HOD’s fund where employees can take up to Rs100,000 from the local finance department for any project.

In 2008, we launched the ‘Simplify and automate’ initiative to create easier, better and smarter processes. The diamond bagging automation is a result of this initiative. We zeroed down on nine projects as a result of this initiative and most of them will be implemented this year.

A bottom-up and top-down approach is required to integrate innovation into the strategy and business plan. Bhaskar Bhat, managing director, Titan, formed the Innovation Council in April 2010 with a view to spread innovation across Titan in a structured way. The Innovation Council cuts across brands and functions and its primary aim is to reinforce the culture of innovation and integrate innovation into business strategy.

As part of the innovation enablers’ initiative, the Innovation Council conducted an event called Innovation Bazaar, which was an idea market place. We had a two-day event in Hosur with 120 stalls to showcase the selected innovations. We had eight eminent external judges evaluating the best innovations and shortlisted 25 ideas, which had the potential to be deployed. It created buzz and enthusiasm across the company.

Titan Interweave was another innovation enabler that was aimed at cross-pollination. We created a platform to bring all the brands together and team members were given four tasks, to present: an innovative customer acquisition programme; an innovative customer retention programme, an innovative retail process improvement and an innovative advertisement. In all we had 24 presentations and the best innovations were felicitated.

We have an Innovation Champions programme for corporate employees. It is a two-week quasi-academic programme co-created with IIMB, where eminent innovation practitioners across India spoke to our 30 hand-picked managers on the importance of innovation. Mr Bhat crafted five business challenges and each group was given a challenge. Each group is progressing with their initiative, and expected to reach a logical conclusion soon.

We will be reconstituting the Innovation Council this year and I’m sure there will be new initiatives. The journey will go on.

Titan's Innovation School of Management has been recognised by a number of forums. Please tell us about how it is driving innovation at Titan.
The Innovation School of Management was started to involve more employees in the business of innovation. We co-created a customised learning course on innovation with an industry-leading consultant. It is a six-month course and students are given challenges to work on in an innovative manner. We don’t just focus on the results, but also on the process of making people think differently. After three days of classroom training, they are given four hours a week of free time to work on the project and mentored for two hours a week. As of now the integrated supply chain management unit of Titan jewellery division has 185 trained innovators.

Titan’s automated diamond-bagging system for its jewellery brand Tanishq won the Tata InnoVista 2011 award for ‘Promising Innovation’. What are the benefits of using this automated system?
The automated diamond bagging system is a result of the ‘Simplify and automate’ theme that we had in 2008. It was developed by our precision engineering division. When we started working on the project, we looked for references across the globe and everybody was doing it manually. With a little mathematics, and the understanding of how many diamonds are consumed, we created an automatic bagging machine that eliminates manual intervention. With the automation, we have not just brought the error margin down to zero, we have also created a huge business opportunity for our machine building division.

What are the other innovations implemented, or on the anvil, at Titan Industries?
In the jewellery division, we are currently working on about 41 path-breaking ideas. We have an innovation portfolio, which captures all our innovations, whether it is a product, process or service innovation.

One of the more exciting innovations on the anvil is software we have developed with Tata Technologies which will enable our customer to make her own design. We will be creating a kiosk of sorts where the customer keys in her preferences and her budget, based on which the system recommends several designs. The customer can then customise the jewellery according to her taste and order it. There is also an option to freeze the design, thus making that particular design unavailable for anybody else. Once the order is placed, the jewellery will be ready for delivery in 30 minutes (if ordered from our boutique).

We are also working on making lightweight jewellery entirely by machine. Handcrafted jewellery production is time-consuming, expensive and occupies a lot of our inventory. We are working on the technology with a US firm. What a craftsman takes three or four days to finish can be done in 10 minutes using this technology.

The watch division is setting up a manufacturing plant for stainless steel cases, which are very difficult to make.

Has the company filed for any patents? Is the company looking at IPR as a business asset in any way?
In the jewellery division, we have a patent for a process called virtual stone setting. Virtual stone setting is an innovation in which the resin master which comes out of rapid prototyping has a virtual diamond. With the virtual diamond, you cut a mould; you can then place a real diamond in the mould itself. We cast the wax piece with gold keeping the diamond intact. This process has been patented. We have applied for patents for three other processes – the mould-setting process, diamond bagging automation and filigree casting.

Apart from product and process innovation, Titan also has a history of successful business model innovations – jewellery, eyewear, accessories, etc. How does the company promote this high-level innovative thinking?
In 2005, Mr Bhat spelt out his strategy for being a billion-dollar company in the next five years and came up with an initiative called Future Shock. We engaged 300 managers in Titan to come out with new ideas and thoughts on the direction Titan should take in the future. These ideas were converted into a plan, and Titanians could vote for the best ideas along with an external jury. Gold Plus and Eye Plus started from the Future Shock initiative.

In 2011, the goal was to become a 10-billion-dollar company by 2020. Four cross-functional teams were formed and a new theme ‘Future First’ was initiated. The four teams are:

  • Future Emergent: This team’s focus is on making the eyewear and the precision engineering businesses profitable.
  • Future Home: This team’s focus is on the acceleration of the growth of the jewellery and the watch businesses, and new businesses that Titan can get into in India.
  • Future Globe: This team will focus on making Titan’s business global.
  • Future People: This team will focus on the structure of the company, and the leadership pipeline when it grows into a 10-billion-dollar company.

Intuitively, we have always been aware of the potential of Titan. Ultimately, our aim is that Titan should not only be known for its excellent products, it should also be synonymous with innovation.