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Innovation in Action: Interview with CIIE’s Chief Innovation Officer - Sanjay Jain

Sanjay Jain, Chief Innovation Officer, CIIE

In conversation with Sanjay Jain, Chief Innovation Officer at CIIE, as we discuss how he stays ahead of the curve and what innovation trends should we look out for in 2018.

Q. There is no consistent definition of innovation. Every industry and every department perceives it differently. How do you define innovation?

Innovation is the creation and application of new solutions to meet the needs of the market. The key is the newness of the solution and how it is better than what existed before. This could come from newer products or processes. For instance, in the last 10 years, we have seen mobile payments changing the way people live and work. This has happened in Africa, China, and India and we could consider that to be an innovation .

Q. How do you stay abreast of the emerging tech trends?

I meet a lot of new companies, read a lot and look at what is happening in the field. It helps that till recently, I was a practising engineer.

For instance, recently, I was on the jury of a startup competition. This forced me to look in detail at what startups are doing, the trends that they are seeing and responding to.

Q. What do you think is the next big thing that will revolutionize the world of tech in 2018?

2017 was a fantastic year to be in tech; we have seen a significant increase in capabilities of the hardware, software and AI. There has been enormous progress in domains such as finance, energy and health. 2018 promises more of the same, and combinatorial effects will continue to make our lives easier and better. The blockchain will continue to fascinate people.

In India, 2018 will usher in an era where data will become an important element of how people think about technology and their interactions. This will result in a greater formalization while tilting the balance in favour of the consumer.

Technology has become an important element of a democratic society. I look forward to more people using it for empowerment, to get ahead and be an equal contributor to the formal economy.

Q. In your opinion, what are some of the next-gen technologies that will change people’s daily lives?

Communications tools & technologies have already shown the way! Mobile telephones and WhatsApp have changed the way people communicate or even do business. We are starting to see the same trends with banking and wallets such as Paytm and BHIM UPI. In the coming years, we will see many more tools in finance, education and healthcare.

Q. In your opinion, what role does entrepreneurship play in the context of innovation? Why is it important?

An entrepreneur starts a new venture and takes a risk in the hopes of making a difference. If he/she is successful, they are able to increase market share and make a profit. Deploying a better solution reduces the risk of failure and allows the venture to succeed even in the presence of competition. Hence innovation goes hand in hand with entrepreneurship.

Q. What in your opinion are the key differentiators between a fad and a real innovation? How do you call out the difference between the two?

Watch out for the hype without substance! Fads are shallow changes, created primarily for newness, without being better.

For instance, the world of crypto-currencies contains some amount of innovation and has seen a lot of traction. But they have not delivered commensurate value, and are at risk of being termed a fad. On the other hand, mobile wallets and payments have delivered value in Africa, China and India and have changed the way people lead their lives! They are no longer a fad!

Q. In which sectors do you think the progress has been minimal but there are innovations waiting to happen?

The hard problems of our times relate to inclusive growth (access to the financial system, livelihoods, health care, education, energy, etc.). Many people are actively working to experiment in these areas, but progress has been slow. I am hopeful that some of these experiments will lead to the innovations that will succeed at scale and improve the lives of millions!

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