Customer Immersion Leads to Innovation: GE India Chief

 | October 03,2012 05:30 pm IST

Day-to-day interactions with customers, customer immersion and having long conversations with the customer holds the key to innovation, feels John Flannery, President & CEO, GE India

Start with the customer, and then work backwards from what he wants. GE has always strived to do that, he said in his keynote address on Innovation and Localization on the closing day at TiEcon Delhi 2012.

Innovation is critical not just for small enterprises but for large enterprises as well. Its very easy for those of us in large enterprises to believe what others say about us and get comfortable being the leaders. But we need to be paranoid, he said.

As an example of listening to the customer, he illustrated the reverse innovation GE has done with one of their ultrasound machines for Indian Obstetrician-Gynaecologists in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities. Long weekends spent listening to Ob-Gyns and the problems they faced - lack of reliable power, little technical expertise, maintenance issues, and so on culminated in a model with an average selling price less than a quarter of the top-end models. GE plans to take the product to African and Latin American markets soon.

In a session titled Road Not Taken, entrepreneurs from different walks of life narrated how their dreams came true. Adil Hussain, MD, Harvest Gold, left a well paying job after IIT, to introduce a new bread into an already saturated market.
Harvest Gold was born in 1993. Today the brand has 80% market share in Delhi and the company owns state-of-the-art proprietary technology of making bread. They plan to now expand their presence in India and abroad. The one axiom he says he goes by is, Find a way. If the way doesnt exist, make one.

Gautam Bhardwaj, Co-founder & MD, Invest India Micro Pension Services, has worked in the area of pension reforms for over 15 years. There are 100 million elderly today which will double by 2030. Ninety percent of them dont have pension as they work in the unorganized sector.

When he saw the huge need for pension for people who work as rickshaw pullers, run roadside eateries, work as vegetable and fruits vendors, he started Invest India Micro Pension Services. It is the only such venture in the world.

Today, Invest India reaches out to 100 districts impacting a large number of people. The venture encourages savings of small amounts every month. The money is invested in regularized financial institutions. A helpline is set up to for account holders with various information queries.

Ashok Alexander was a McKinsey professional, when he was asked to head the HIV Prevention Program, Avahan, at The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Apprehensive at first, Ashok slowly understood the enormity of the task before him and decided to take it on.

As he started speaking to sex workers, he realized that his corporate approach was just not going to work, and he realized that, this was not about distributing condoms. As he explored, he found another layer that needed quick addressing - violence.

When asked the sex workers said they wanted Avahan to help by bringing down the violence. So an HIV prevention program became a violence reduction program.Avahan helped the sex workers to group themselves, and enabled legal and media support for them. When anyone needs help she can press a couple of buttons on her mobile and get help. The group comes to her rescue by shouting and screaming at the doorstep, gathering support from media and lawyers.

Sujata Sahu, founder of 17000 ft Foundation, is an avid trekker. Sahu and her husband were drawn to Ladakh and its people again and again. They started the not for profit, 17000 ft Foundation, to help schools in Ladakh. There are 963 schools in Ladakh, but most do not have resources and teachers. They are currently mapping the schools making it easier to mobilize resources to these schools.

The foundation is reaching out to trekkers and tourists visiting Ladakh to give books, crayons and other materials to schools or even volunteer to teach if they have a stay of two weeks or more. This is also helping the local community as tourism spends increase.