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February - 2007 - issue > Cover Feature
Preparing for the Future
Aritra Bhattacharya
Thursday, February 1, 2007
Sham Banerji is sitting at one end of the chequered chessboard, contemplating his moves. The other side is heavily laden, with government bodies, regulatory authorities, and competing voices. Banerji, Director-Corporate Business (India), Texas Instruments must move his pawns carefully. He has to anticipate what regulatory issues might cut through the company’s existing product line, what might capture the whims of the bullish customers and snowball into a pressing demand, and reign them in in the moves he makes.

New to the role, Banerji has his hands spread on quite a few things. Not only does it involve driving the India business strategy but also forging partner alliances and key business relationships, and pursuing public affairs and policies, along with growing TI’s university initiatives (see box). Over and above these defined chores, he works closely with the company’s strategic marketing group in Dallas. The group looks across all business units and TI products, and looks at the scenario 3-5 years ahead of time. With India now being part of TI’s market, Banerji has to represent appropriately the needs of 1 billion new potential customers (from the subcontinent) that have come on the company’s radar.

“The sheer market size inspires immense interest and curiosity in the strategic group,” he says. Even though many spheres of the market in India are growing in tune with worldwide growth trends, the needs in this country can be very different. The medical market is a case in point. A portable ultrasound machine is now a pressing need in the Indian market. Not so much in the developed economies, where there are ultrasound clinics all around, but in Indian villages, the machine is a must. Not only does it have to scan but also must be able to transmit the image, if required, to a more qualified doctor in the city.

A large part of Banerji’s time goes in identifying such ‘sockets’ that TI’s products can plug. LoCosto—the single-chip mobile phone platform for ultra-low to entry-range wireless handsets was one socket that was plugged recently. Says he, “The first call on the chip was made from India. In fact the Chairman of TI Worldwide, Thomas Engibous came down to India specifically for the purpose.”

The chip was driven by trends in the India market. There was a pressing need for low-cost handsets, with all value-add features in place. Responding to the need, TI developed a GSM-only chip that supports standard voice codecs in dual-band phones, along with system security and optimized memory footprint.

While strategizing and developing is one thing, how does a company like TI, which does not make the products for the end-user market the same?

“In the case of cell-phones, the features are provided by the service providers. We liaise with them to provide the appropriate silicon platform that will enable deployment of such features,” says Banerji. The company works closely with broadband, telecom and mobile TV service providers and customizes its platform based on the market needs. For instance, 2007 is an important year in terms of 3G deployments in India, and TI is readying its platforms to support the rollout.

While the relationship with service providers is one of the key control points in Banerji’s job profile, India’s regulatory roadmap is another major one. What this means is that the company’s product roadmap must be in tune forthcoming regulations. It calls for a fair amount of lobbying with the government and regulatory bodies to gain an insight into what might be coming in the near future. In the case of WiMax deployment for example, the lines are still muddled, and he is keen to find out how it will be used, the related spectrum policies and then use the same information for readying products. That TI has a rich history in India helps it connect with government agents. It uses the reputation to influence certain policies formulated by executive bodies, as also the broad product trends.

Influencing product trends is done through collaboration, and Banerji says that India is a ‘fertile ground for collaborative innovation’. “That’s the way forward in this market,” he notes. So, there are companies providing the IP, with the platform coming from TI and an OEM providing the final solution. The eco-system, with a large number of small and large companies in embedded software development and product design, provides ample opportunities for fruitful tie-ups. Needless to say, such collaborations help sell TI products.

The company’s 21 years of R&D legacy in the country also provides it with a rich skill set across all product lines among its engineer base. There are trained professionals ready to answer any queries the emergent market might have.

While consumers in India and the rest of the region demand best of the features to be available on the gadgets at lower price points, Banerji and his team are looking for other control points which may be important in deciding TI’s future road map.

Sham Banerji leads Texas Instruments’ university initiatives. This puts him in charge of the 650 company-sponsored DSP labs in various educational institutes spread across the country. The labs focus on providing engineers hands-on experience in the digital signal processing area.

“Around ten years ago, when the TI university initiative was started in India, it was extremely difficult to find engineers with practical signal processing experience. Now, approximately 35,000 students in graduation and post-graduation studies undertake our lab programs every year, and hence talent is relatively easy to find,” notes Banerji. Though not all students undertaking the university lab programs join TI, they become the company’s ambassadors in a way that in the event of being confronted with a problem in future, they look at TI platforms to bail them out.

Contrary to the U.S. where TI directly implements the university initiative, in India, it is implemented through a partner. The partner sets up the labs, and provides the training and hardware. On its part, the company trains the partners for a period of four to five months, preparing them for imparting training to the students.

Moving ahead, TI wants to introduce hi-performance analog training modules. Banerji’s team is developing the ‘Lead with Analog’ program for the same purpose. The program will be part of the lab curriculum of the institutes though, much like the signal processing training module. Says Banerji, “It will take a lot of time to lobby with university bodies to get them incorporate such courses as part of the curriculum. Till then, we have to make do with lab efforts.”

Another aspect of the university initiative deals with forging collaborations with educational institutions. Under this program, specific projects are undertaken, aimed at developing solutions for rural areas. One such project with IIT-madras is exploring the possibilities of developing and deploying information cum communication kiosks in villages. Another such project will use the MSP 430—a low-powered micro-controller that can operate just by digging the electrodes into a potato!

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