Blog Archives

Where the roads meet

Francis Collins came some time back. For the uninitiated, he is the reigning director of the National Institutes of Health, US. He is known for his contribution towards making the Human Genome Project a grand success, the benefits of which we are still reaping, nearly a decade after the project was officially declared complete.
I was supposed to write about his talk. That is precisely what I’m not going to do.
Those who were interested, came for the talk. Those who were not, did not. Those who missed it due to unavoidable circumstances (sheiβe!), I’m sure you’ll find a video link somewhere.
What I remember telling myself was, “Hmm… fancy chemistry and even fancier and scarier ( I can understand if people believe there can’t be anything scarier than chemistry) machines”. Francis was training to be a chemist. He shifted gears mid-way. He went into medicine. Time for another shift – he jumped into genetics. The ease with which he played around with molecular genetics (for the biologists – he was part of the team responsible for the seminal papers on ‘chromosome jumping’) was probably because of his background in chemistry. Don’t get me wrong – I believe the blue blooded biologist can do the same….all I am suggesting is that a different background might have given him that extra something.
This brings me to what I really want to share with you guys, and that would be the interdisciplinary nature of things. Francis might have been a one man army but, often the complicated nature of the questions we seek to answer, requires a whole arsenal. At least that holds true for the current era of biological research and I don’t see the trend changing anytime soon.
I remember sitting and listening to my roommate, enthralled and mesmerized, about ‘schlieren photography’. A few weeks later I was attending a talk at NCBS and there was this sticky little irritating question which the speaker was unable to answer. The answer to me was, “use schlieren photography”. I am sure I was wrong. What I am pretty confident about, is that the general direction in which I was thinking, was not wrong. A senior PhD student from MRDG was telling me that initially it was thought that the most pressing questions in biology can be answered through physics and chemistry alone. But, slowly biology bloomed into an independent art and commanded her own niche. We are going to hit a roadblock soon enough if these niches don’t start communicating.
Today the undergraduates are exposed to a plethora of subjects and are discouraged from over specializing at an early age. There are pros and cons to it but that makes for another article. My generation of wanna-be-biologists didn’t have that luxury. To them I say – Collaboration. But most importantly, step a little into the world of your collaborator, get your feet dirty in the opaque and muddy techniques used by them, get a glimpse of their frustrations and steal a peak of how they view the world. The reason for it is simple, though your collaborator will be doing a certain part of your research for you, the mental and cultural isolation that the two camps suffer from, might elude a certain interpretation of the data.
Interdisciplinary research (as opposed to ‘multidisciplinary research’, where one individual dons various hats) isn’t a very alien concept. Big biotech and pharmaceutical companies have been practicing this model of research for years. They tend to quickly assemble a team of the required super specialists and embark on solving tortuous and torturous problems. ‘Holistic’ campuses like ours are a gold mine to do this sort of research. In most universities, departments pertaining to different disciplines might be in two different cities altogether but, that is not the case with us. Other scientists are also waking up to this one simple fact – get diversity under one roof. The Janelia Farm Research Campus is one such bold initiative, where scientists from different walks of life are brought together to solve perplexing biomedical dilemmas.
Even the ‘one lab-one PI’ dogma is being re-evaluated. A graduate student from Toronto recently visited my lab. He was working under two guides in McGill – one was from biomedical engineering and the other from neuroscience. We are seeing this change even on our own turf. There are students who report to two scientists – a friend of mine has to report to both the centre for neuroscience and the department of mathematics. My batch mates and I might not be as malleable as the undergraduates, but this system seems to be quite profitable.
Intro courses for some subjects might be specially started (if there is demand for them) to help graduate students familiarize themselves with other areas of research. ‘Mathematics and Statistics for Biologists’ is one such course the campus offers but, I am sure many more can be looked at. Also, we are lucky to be in ‘academia central’ – surrounded by institutes working on “all sorts of weird things!”. Opportunities are galore. We just need to look around a little and keep an open mind. And all anecdotal evidence points to the fact that interdisciplinary research can be intellectually very stimulating.
This is a campus where all the roads meet and I, for one, have no intentions of walking alone.

Anindo Chatterjee (CNS)


Dr APJ Abdul Kalam’s talk at IISc

Former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam graced our institute on 7th and 8th November, 2011. He visited the Chellakere campus, had a special interactive session with the institute’s undergraduate batch. He inaugurated the Robert Bosch Center for Research in Cyber Physical Systems and later gave a talk to a packed J N Tata Auditorium on 8th November, 2011.
Starting proceedings at the J N Tata Auditorium, Associate Director Professor N Balakrishnan gave the introductory speech. Director Prof P Balaram welcomed Dr Kalam and referred to the thunderous applause that welcomed Dr Kalam into the auditorium and stated that the only way the Director may get an applause when he enters the Auditorium is if he is accompanied by Dr Kalam.
The theme of the talk was “Evolving a unique you”. Dr Kalam started by speaking about the beginning of IISc. He spoke about his experiences with Prof Satish Dhawan, theclasses that he attended, the way they worked on a project to design a contrarotating propellor and mentioned Prof Satish Dhawan’s advice: “In a project, problems will always occur. You should master them”.
Dr Kalam held the audience spellbound with his charisma and had the entire audience (comprising of grown up researchers) reciting his oaths with childlike sincerity and enthusiasm.
He listed the criteria for building a unique personality. 1. Have a great aim (Small aim is a crime) 2. Continuously acquire knowledge, through great books, teachers, wise people and good internet 3.Work hard and 4. Persevere. He added that IISc will provide a conducive environment to become a “unique you”.
APJ gave the example of Prof Satish Dhwan and listed out the essential qualities a leader should have. 1. Leader must have vision. 2. Leader must have passion to transform vision into action. 3. Must be able to travel into unexplored path. 4. Must have nobility in management 5. Must work with intergrity and succeed with integrity. 6. Must be a creative leader
In conclusion, Dr Kalam asked everyone in the audience to think about what we would like to be remembered for and to write it down on a page. This was followed by a vibrant question and answer session.
Finally, the vote of thanks was delivered by Associate Director Prof Balakrishnan

Voices Press
Illustration: Aravind Krishnan (SERC)

Going Once, Going Twice…

The beauties were lined up.
Each one had already decided which ones they were interested in.
The auctioneer eagerly stepped in.
Let the bidding begin…..

It was Sotheby’s Central at the Old Amenities Hall on the 6th of August. The Students’ Council (SC) along with the Security Section organized a ‘Bicycle Auction’. They decided to do it the classy way – the ‘English way’. As I approached the venue, I realized that the process was already in full swing. Sri Vallabha (Amenities Committee, SC) stood at the apex of a human circle, enthusiastically narrating the high points of the metal skeleton placed in front of him. He would pause, then beam and shout out the quoting price (well, someone has an alternate career ready in case the research option doesn’t pan out as expected…). I thought that there would be a lull and people would be too shy to shout out their candidacy. Boy! Was I wrong. The cycle in question came under the ‘good-looking’ category and so its base price was about 500 bucks (the other category being ‘horrible’, the base price for which was usually around 250 bucks). But, these categories were highly subjective – as they say, “beauty lies in the eye of the beholder”. The offers started pouring in, and students were out bidding each other at lightning speed. In no time, the price had reached Rs. 1600. Going once, going twice, gone! Sold to the guy at the back, in a dusky yellow T-shirt…who couldn’t stop grinning. The cycle was then taken to a makeshift office of sorts, where it was immediately registered (SC is planning to register all the existing cycles, so that the remaining ones can be auctioned in the second round).

Bikes for girls were the ‘rare items’ in this auction (not surprising, considering the obscenely skewed sex ratio in the campus). Most of the cycles were thoroughly rusted, with no bells and no seats (the ‘horrible’ category) but this one girls’ cycle had the bare essentials plus a smatter of paint. Two girls came and stood right next to it, each step towards the cycle reeking of determination. The basal price was quoted. Even before the Gods could raise an eyebrow, the bidding-battle started. Increments of 50,and sometimes 100 bucks, flashed right through. The war was long and finally a victor emerged. Applause.

Some of the students were apprehensive about the condition of the cycles. One student lamented, “The state it (the cycle) is in, I hope it doesn’t break down midway…” Well, serious repairs were in order for all the cycles sold, but, I guess that was the idea – buy a dead cycle from the cycle graveyard (at a nominal price) and then bring it back to life; would probably be more profitable than buying a brand new one. Considering this was the first time something like this was attempted, I believe the process is in a phase of standardization.

The auction started at around 10:00 and went on till 11:30. The junta (‘bidders’ and the ‘lookers’) left. I finally got the opportunity to talk to the SC volunteers. Sri gave me the ownership forms (of the cycles) and explained to me the nitty-gritty’s of the auction (like how the basal price was decided and how the students were asked to exercise caution while bidding and not go beyond a certain price range) and Sree (SC Chairman) talked about how the money collected will be utilized to install electronic air pumps (rumor has it that the SC is planning to put it at the SC office-Stores junction but nothing has been finalized yet).

Some students panned the event; others enjoyed it to the hilt. Personally, I think that it was an adventurous enterprise. Something innovative. It helped ‘recycle’ a mess that we students create (albeit unknowingly). As I wrote before, the process is in a phase of standardization, and hope that the second auction would not be far along.

AnindoChatterjee (CNS)

The ‘Meeting of the Month’: What transpired behind closed doors

On the 5th of July, a meeting was organized between the Students’ Council and the Administration to discuss in details, and try to find a solution to the raging debate over the impending hostel accommodation for students residing in blocks E, F and P. Long known as the ‘Concentration Camps’ of IISc, students in these 3 blocks were getting restless about the rooms that they had been promised for a long time. What came to light were the compulsions and pressures under which the Administration was trying to solve the issue and the deep sense of mistrust that had developed among the students towards those in charge.

Representing the Administration were the Hon. Registrar (Mr. R. Mohan Das), Prof. Umarji, Prof. Giridhar Madras and Prof. Anil Kumar. Representing the students (and specially the thirty or so disillusioned ones waiting right outside the Faculty Hall) were the SC Chairman (Sreevalsa, Civil), Gen Secretary (Hemanth, ECE), Pratap (ECE) , President of E-block hostel (Nilanjan, Aero). Covering the meeting for Voices was Anindo Chatterjee(CNS).

Prof. Umarji immediately made aware to those present as to what the ground reality was. Out of the anticipated 575 rooms (in the hostel complex being built) which were supposed to be available by mid to end July, only 180 were presently available and a total of 392 rooms in the complex would be available by August 15th. Students from the three blocks were planned to be shifted to these rooms by mid to end August. One of the main reasons for delay was the Tamil Nadu and the West Bengal state elections, for which a majority of the workers had gone back. Also, it was decided to do a physical verification of the rooms in the other hostels, as more number of rooms should have been vacated than they had been. Also, the coming students would be accommodated in Hoysala and the JNC Guest House and the guests there would be shifted to the Centenary Guest House. All the girls would be shifted to the hostel complex being built and one of the hostels (Mrigasira) would be converted to a boy’s hostel (M-block) and the demolition of F-block would be necessary to complete the girl’s wing of the hostel. No specific date had been decided for the shifting.

120 Undergraduate students would be joining the institute this August, a great majority of whom are boys (around 100). They would be allotted rooms in N-block. To that end, a consolidated bunch of rooms in one floor of the block would be required. The SC assured its support to the Administration in this regard. All the girls would be accommodated in Mrigasira. Accommodation for other students has been arranged in Jalahalli.

The main point of contention, however, was a question of priority.

The Administration wanted the students of E, F and P block to continue living in their respective hostels till the time the new(est) hostel complex rooms are available. Nilanjan argued that the old students should be immediately sent to the vacant rooms in other hostels and the new students should be accommodated in E, F and P blocks till the new rooms are available. Prof. Umarji and Prof. Madras said that the Administration wants to avoid ‘double shifting’, as the new students, in a month or so, would have to be shifted to the new rooms. Pratap and Nilanjan retorted that ‘double shifting’ is not that big a problem and the students who have been living in such dilapidated conditions should be given priority over the coming students and shifted first. Prof. Kumar asked whether the old students who have suffered, wanted the new students to go through the same harrowing experience as they have. Nilanjan made it very clear that he had no plans of becoming a martyr and therefore he had no plans to sacrifice the room that is rightfully his.

Another point of contention was the question of ‘assurance’.

The student representatives were not convinced about the assurances being given by the Administration. What would be the course of action in case the rooms were not ready by mid-August? Sreevalsa pointed out that the Administration had asked the Students’ Council not to interfere in the ‘hostel matter’ and that the issue would be taken care of by those concerned. He produced copies of mails indicating the same, which also showed that assurances regarding completion of the required rooms by July had been given earlier. The Hon. Registrar asked the students to take the assurance in good faith and Prof Umarji held that the authorities are doing everything in their power to provide everyone with the same quality of housing. Anindo suggested that the main reason for not believing in assurances also stemmed from the fact that the authorities do not keep the students in the loop and decisions are made without them getting communicated to those whose lives will be affected by those decisions. To that end, the authorities were asked to mail the Students’ Council official decisions which can then be forwarded to the students at large. Nilanjan believed that once the vacant rooms are allotted to the new students, the old students will have to wait no matter what, so a situation like that shouldn’t be allowed to arise in the first place. Prof. Kumar brought to notice that the present meeting would not have taken place if the authorities were not very sure of the time of completion of the rooms. It was decided that a meeting on the 25th of July would have as its main agenda the charting of an alternate plan, in case things do not go as per schedule.

The negotiations, which started with pleasantries and patient nods, over the course of an hour and half evolved to a passionate debate over the issue of ‘trust’. The Administration had made an offer and the students were not buying it. It was finally and unanimously decided that the talks had reached an impasse and that the Administration representatives will have a meeting with the higher authorities and present the case from the students’ perspective, and get back to the Students’ Council.

The same afternoon, another meeting was called. Unfortunately, there was no representative from Voices for that meeting. The issue had been discussed with the higher authorities and the demands of the students had been accepted. The students were assured that a list of vacant rooms would soon be released and the process of shifting would then commence.

The Students’ Council wishes to express their deep gratitude to all the Admin representatives present and also convey their thanks to the authorities for a positive and constructive dialogue which helped in carving out an appropriate solution to the problems faced by the students. They also appreciate their efforts to admit and accommodate as many meritorious students as possible and understand that the authorities are doing their best to ensure a peaceful campus life.

Anindo Chatterjee (CNS)

Does India Need a High Technology Industry

IISc Faculty Association hosted a lecture on April 13, 2011 by Dr. Arogyaswami Paulraj at the Faculty Hall.
Dr. Paulraj started by stating India’s economy is broad based and spread across variety of goods and services. He stated that most economic and demographic metrics favour sustained growth of the Indian economy for several more years and added that the current growth would not have been possible without the absorptive power within the country for capital input thanks to well-developed financial, telecom and transportation sectors.

He then enunciated the three characteristics of high technology industry. First, the need for highly skilled scientific and engineering manpower – both at entry and experienced levels. Second, high R&D intensity – roughly R&D investments as a fraction of sales. Third, need for large initial investments.

Such investments are possible only if the market is global and not surprisingly, the high technology industry is dominated by few companies which must fiercely protect their market position to survive. This makes successfully breaking into high technology industry very difficult without Government backing.

Examples of Government support to high technology industry in US and China were given and it was made clear that India also needs a high technology industry. Reasons include national security, economic growth and even political stability.

Examples of high technology industry in China like commercial jets (EDAS) and telecom (Huawei) were given. India’s poor record in high technology was stated by the fact that we have no EDAS for passenger jets, no Huawei for telecom, no Qualcomm for wireless and no TMSC for semiconductor fabrication. An example of two similar start ups was given. Huawei from China and Midas from India. Both countries enjoyed a huge internal market in telecom, Huawei could exploit it and Midas could not. In the late 80s when both the companies were started, India had significantly superior technical entrepreneurial and management skills. But China used its market power and a determined national policy to build a global telecom company.

Addressing the issue of what India should do, Dr. Paulraj stated that India can be successful in high technology too, at least in sectors like telecom. Our core engineering skills in areas like telecom design are very strong thanks to years of learning through off shoring and out sourcing to India. Our knowledge of English is a big advantage for operating globally. Our IITs and NITs graduate a sizable number of undergrads in science and engineering. So both human and organizational capital for a telecom industry is in place.

He made it clear that the right kind of investment capital – private capital is hard to attract given the high levels of investment and very high risk. He said attracting private capital will not be possible unless government provides policy and institutional support to attract private capital, but keep away from investing itself.

Given the current priorities and make up of our political system, it is unlikely that the source of national determination can unilaterally come from the political level, he stated. And that the direct stake holders in high technology – the industrial, scientific, defense and other communities will have to push for a policy framework. India should actively enlist the help of Indians abroad who are leaders in high technology and willing to devote substantial time for this effort. Their input is important because they can bring a realistic understanding of the challenges involved and help craft pathways to success.

Dr. Paulraj concluded by saying that India needs a high technology industrial capability to build a secure, vibrant and competitive economy. Building this is a huge task, but the good news is that we have most of the ingredients for success. All we need is imagination, will power and the effort of people like the audience to shape an effective policy framework to get us started on this journey.

Voices Press

Students’ Council General Body Meeting

As the new Students’ Council (2011-2012) took charge, the General Body Meeting was held on 12th May, 2011 at 6 PM in the Satish Dhawan Auditorium where the new Students’ Council laid out their agenda for the year ahead and solicited feedback and suggestions for modifications from
the student body.

The attendance was dismal with an attendance of less than 50 from a student strength of over 2000. The unexpected rain did save student apathy from taking the entire blame.
Proceedings began with ex-General Secretary Suman Devadula (CPDM) introducing the newly elected Students’ Council Chairman, Sreevalsa Kolthayar (CIVIL), General Secretary, Hemanth G (ECE) and Women’s Secretary, Kamana Porwal (MATH).

Sreevalsa began by thanking the old Students’ Council and thanked the IISc student community for electing them unanimously and stated that every student is by default a member of the SC and that the members of various committees are a dedicated group of volunteers to look after various activities through proper coordination.

General Secretary Hemanth later laid out the details of the SC structure and duties of various committees and appealed to the students to come forward and be a part of it. Some of the plans they have for the year ahead were spelled out. Some of the major plans mentioned were, a push for having a doctor 24 hours in health centre and having cultural festivals once a month. Hemanth added that they require at least two representatives from each department in their team (one member in Academics Committee and one member in Student Support Network).

Women’s Secretary Kamana, spelled out the Students’ Council’s plans for new facilities. Full fledged canteen/café near Aerospace, completion of road construction near Faculty Club, complaint/suggestions box near amenities and formation of an online complaint cell for redirecting the students to concerned authorities, air filling machines for hostels, shoe repair shop on campus, rain water harvesting and LAN in hostels are some of the facilities. In addition, the Students’ Council has plans to have an orientation programme for freshers, to follow up and ensure immediate functioning of new cycle shop in the campus, ensuring accommodation to married students (else provide HRA to them), and to have guaranteed accommodation for parents of students.
Subsequently, the floor was opened for feedback and suggestions and this led to a very healthy and active discussion session.

A suggestion came up to bring all regional samithis under the Students’ Council.

Questions were raised on how the new undergraduates would respond to stress and it was made clear that there would be a special orientation program for UG students and a new dedicated committee would be formed to take care of UG students. It was decided to give a platform for UG students to enjoy their college life while simultaneously ensuring discipline.

Problems faced by the previous councils in dealing with the married apartments issue were brought up. Speeding issues on campus came up and one of the suggestions from the audience was to put up barricades instead of speed breakers.

Questions were raised about closer working and communication between gymkhana management committee and students’ council. Hostel issues and the difficulty in getting even one representative from each hostel came up.

Students’ Council office hours were fixed at 6:00pm to 6:30pm on all weekdays.

Privatisation of mess issue came up and Srinidhi (ECE) articulated the problems faced by the mess committee and told about the lack of response from the students. The enormous work load on the mess committee was discussed and it was deliberated whether mess committee should be brought under the Students’ Council. The day to day burden on the mess committee members was made clear to those present.

While it was heartening to see the enthusiasm of the new Students’ Council and the active participation in the discussion by almost all who were present in the GBM, it would be nice to see participation from a greater number people. The question that remains is: what will it take for the average IIScian to take a more active involvement in these matters?

Voices Press

The tale of two lectures

Satish Dhawan Auditorium and Faculty Hall, March 3, 2011. IISc hosted two luminaries who are important actors in the Indian socio – economic – political stage on a single day. Shiv Shankar Menon, National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of India, delivered the IISc Golden Jubilee Lecture on ‘Science and Security’ at the Faculty Hall. P. Sainath, Rural Affairs Editor, The Hindu, interacted with the audience after the screening of the documentary, Nero’s Guests., at the Satish Dhawan Auditorium. The documentary screening was organised by Concern along with Vikalp Bengaluru and Maraa.

Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell

P. Sainath, Rural Affairs Editor, The Hindu interacting with the audience at Satish Dhawan Auditorium. Photo – Concern

Nero’s guests addressed the issue of farmer suicides happening in the country over the past decade or more. The plot of the documentary is Mr. Sainath’s investigations into the farmer suicides in Vidarbha, one of the leading cotton producing region in the country. The documentary was named after the grand party organised by the Roman Caesar, Nero, for the citizens of Rome as described in Tacitus’ Annals. During the party the prisonersof the state were burnt to provide lighting with hardly any dissent from the guests. After the documentary, Mr. Sainath interacted with the audience largely comprising of non IISc-ians.

On growth

Mr. Sainath argued that the measure of growth is an indicator of the economic activity of the state and does not guarantee social well being. Looking at developing countries in South America, he claimed that growth is not essential for HDI. For a country with third largest number of billionaires, the HDI rank is poor (119). Unlike John Kenneth Galbraith’s and Amartya Sen’s argument of growth with justice, the aim should be growth through justice with equitable distribution of wealth. According to the third National Family Health Survey, the percentage of malnourished children in our country is over 46%, this is worse than that of Sub Saharan Africa.

On net percapita grain consumption

Quoting the economic survey, Mr. Sainath argued that in the 1950s, the per capita grain consumption of the country was 444 gms. In 1991, it was 510 gms. However, with a declining population growth, if the per capita grain consumption falls to 436 gms, the argument of growth is debatable.

On agriculture

With a country having 43 million people registered with the employment exchange, depending mainly on IT (which is not a great creator of jobs) is a bad strategy. In India, women are not classified as farmers. This adds to the plight of thousands of agricultural households in the country. A hit in agriculture means a hit in the allied sectors also. Agriculture needs to be declared as a public service. The definition of Poverty line is fraudulent in the country. According to National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector study, there are 836 million people in the country who live on less than INR 20 a day.

On Geneticaly modified crops

Mr. Sainath described GM crops as Agriculture on steroids. Using GM seeds reduces the soil fertility by 25%. Following the Punjab model as described by the RBI governor (D. Subbarao) will be disastrous.


Knowledge is power, power is Science

Shiv Shankar Menon at the Munich Security Conference in February 2011. While delivering the IISc Golden Jubilee Lecture, Mr. Menon mentioned about how he was asked to talk on cyber crime as he hailed from a place known for its IT competence. Photo – Sebastian Zwez.


Science is changing the security calculus of the nation, commented Shiv Shankar Menon, the National Security Advisor to the PrimeMinister. Mr. Menon commented on the two revolutions that has changed the security system of India in recent times. First, being the introduction of the nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapon is a political weapon and leads to a doctrine of deterrence. In 1998, when Pokran – II was conducted, India sought minimal deterrence and was not interested in an arms race. The fear of the enemy is what prompts a country to possess the nuclear weapons.

The second revolution is the emergence of Information Technology. The progress in Information Technology has made the country aware on cyber espionage and cyber warfare. The two success stories of recent times are the succesful completion of the 2010 Commonwealth Games and the improvement in maritime security using GPS navigation.

India should develop its own technical competence just like the case of telecommunication and space technology. It is in the hands of researchers to work towards the security of our country by focusing on innovative technologies across disciplines that would enable India to protect itself. Answering questions raised by the audience, Mr. Menon stated that diplomacy is not a beauty contest where being loud or popular matters. Popularity is not the measure of the effectiveness of the foreign policy.


[A Voices Press initiative]

An IISc centenary lecture in the IBM centennial year

Director of IISc (left) with the Chairman of IBM (right), Feb 9, 2011

The IISc centenary lectures were instituted in 2008 when the Institute stepped into its 100th year, facilitating the hosting of talks by experts from academia around the world. The first time a speech was delivered by someone from industry was on 9 February 2011 when Samuel. J. Palmisano, Chairman of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer of IBM, addressed a fully-packed J. N. Tata auditorium. This lecture was also part of IBM’s series of lectures and conversations initiated at the start of its centennial year in 2011 – in partnership with universities around the world and intended towards ‘exploring how the world has changed in the past 100 years—and how it will change in the decades ahead (’, drawing lessons from its legacy.

Palmisano joined IBM in 1973, became its President in 2000, CEO in 2002 and Chairman in 2003. Among other honours and awards for business leadership, he is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His lecture on the 9th was titled ‘The ideas that shaped a century, in technology, business and society’. He started with an extract from a speech in 1962 by Tom Watson Jr, the son of their Founder, when IBM had turned 50: ‘… corporations are expendable, and … success – at best – is an achievement which can always slip out of hand.’ Fifty years later, Samuel said: ‘Tom was right – success is fleeting. Of the top 25 companies on the Fortune 500 at the time of Watson’s lecture, only four remained in 2010.’

The history of IBM has educated them on the ‘source of any business or institution’s continued success and impact’. IBM has continually changed – from making clocks, cheese slicers, typewriters, personal computers, software… – all this has been done by one company. And they have proceeded, from operating in one country to around 170 countries. Samuel spoke of the need for continual forward movement in the case of IBM and never to define themselves by the things they make, no matter how successful they may be at present. But though they have continually changed, they have been doing exactly the same thing for 100 years. In 1962, Tom Watson Jr pointed out that an organization must have a sound set of beliefs, faithful adherence to these beliefs, and it must be prepared to change everything about itself except those beliefs. Samuel said: ‘…I would argue that the need for a foundation of belief and values is greater today than ever before, because change is faster than ever before, and the arena is larger and more complex than ever before. In a globalizing world, with work spread across vast networks of organizations and individuals, people need something that holds them together, that provides a touchstone for their actions and decisions.’

A decade ago at IBM, they identified shifts and transformations that would play out in future. As CEO, Samuel started an initiative to re-examine their core values; and they came together online in the form of social media. A value was shaped: ‘Innovation that matters – for our company and for the world’. Samuel said that translating good beliefs into actions differentiates a good company from others, and this is done through a continually recreated culture.
The cult of personality in business is a powerful lure. What happens when a prototype leader – Tom Watson Sr – is no longer there? – ‘The challenge becomes how to perpetuate a culture through time.’ Samuel again cited Tom Watson Jr in 1962 saying that this must be done if an organization is to meet challenges. Samuel talked about two forces that will change the future, viz. technology and global integration. He pointed out that technology has, over a century, moved from being a set of tools to an industry to a science. Technology is how we see the world today, how we understand the dynamics of complex systems, and how we decide the course of action. It is not just a succession of gadgets and websites – it is the way the world works. The vast amounts of data being created can be turned into insight. For example in New York, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly uses data to fight crime. Samuel said that leaders of today must understand, not the mechanics of technology but its implications.

Speaking of global integration, Samuel said that this would create new economic opportunities. Over the decade, IBM has changed from a ‘20th century multinational model’ to a ‘globally integrated enterprise’. They have lowered their operational centre of gravity: where do they locate expertise and decision-making? – globally networked; and where do they integrate their company? – at the point of client interaction. Three years ago, they launched a corporate citizens services core; teams of IBMers go to different cities in emerging markets such as Ghana to make them smarter cities. They come back and share their experiences with other IBMers through social media.

The key lesson from IBM’s history is that: ‘If you want long term success, you have to manage for the long term.’ Samuel also noted that: ‘… building for the long term is not for the faint-hearted. It often compels the enterprise to act when that isn’t obvious, to place bets that seem risky in the near term, and to combat corporate inertia when times are good.’ It involves clearly defined behavioural cycles, how and where to allocate resources, how and when to take decisive actions, and talent development. It shapes the way you see your company and its role in industry and society. IBM has always had progressive workforce policies. In 2005, for example, they were ‘the first company to put genetic information off-limits in employment-related decisions.’ Samuel said he came to work every day thinking that IBM would outlive him and that they would leave a better IBM than the one they inherited. He emphasized that the measure of any organization such as an industry or an institution is what was its impact and how is the world different because it existed? He believed that the past century and the next one was and would be better because of IBM.

On the collaboration between academia, business and governance, Samuel indicated that this could address many questions of society; but cooperation is hard due to the human aspect in addition to the scientific impact. Considering combined work, personnel at IBM and researchers at IISc have collaborated on projects and as many as seven faculty members of the Institute have received the IBM Faculty Awards which are intended to ‘foster collaboration between researchers at leading universities worldwide and those in IBM research, development and service organizations; and promote courseware and curriculum innovation to stimulate growth in disciplines and geographies that are strategic to IBM. (’.

Certain points in Samuel’s speech struck a chord of remembrance for the valedictory speech on 16 December 2008 during the IISc centenary conference by P. Balaram, Director of the Institute. He also spoke of learning from the past: ‘… It is only when you understand the past will you really understand the present; will you really be able to take yourself out of the very little, personal involvement in your own careers, and be able to look at a picture which is somewhat larger, and which requires the attention of young, energetic and imaginative people.’ On the history of the Institute, he noted: ‘… the one thing that we have, and we have in abundant measure, is an extraordinarily romantic history – a history that makes one understand how institutions grow in an environment which is completely barren. How do they grow over an enormously turbulent century that has actually seen two World Wars and one cold war? Of the Institute, he praised: ‘…I suspect that some of these laid-back qualities of the Institute are in fact to be prized and protected in an era in which people are running faster and faster, but to destinations that they do not know.’

Regarding future planning and management, Balaram said: ‘…we should build an agenda for the future, which is our own agenda. We should also build a kind of implementation mechanism which will take this agenda forward.’ He talked about the vision of the Founder, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata – ‘to have an institution which would transform the scientific landscape of India; which would give to a nation that was yet to be industrialized, its first research institution.’ That was the vision of Tata over 100 years ago. ‘Today, if one wants to have a vision for the second century of the institution … it must be a very practical vision that is guided by the realities of the present, and also, what might be projections for the realities of the future.’ said Balaram.

Geethanjali Monto,
D-215, New housing colony,
Indian Institute of Science,
Bangalore 560 012.

Union Budget 2011: A Review

A Panel Discussion on the Union Budget was conducted by the Department of Management Studies on 8th March 2011 at the Faculty Hall, IISc. The event was moderated by Ms Maya Sharma, Chief of Bureau, NDTV, Bangalore. The highlights of the event are as follows.

Mr. V. K. Varadarajan, Former Deputy Editor and Chief of Bureau of The Hindu Business Line said that the budget has been partially good and specifically good for the Social Sector. He said that rural infrastructure, cold storage facilities, etc. should be put in place for the budget to benefit the Agriculture sector. The total allocation under Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) has been increased from Rs.6,755 crore in 2010-11 to Rs.7,860 crore in 2011-12 and this combined with the Rs 400 crore allocation to India’s Eastern region is a positive note for the sector. He also noted that this was not a fine tuned budget and that China has been following a more structured approach in its reforms. Though the allocation is satisfactory, implementation of the various schemes doesn’t reach the people.

Mr. M. Muthuraj, Senior VP – Operations, TVS Motor Company Ltd noted that the budget has been good for the Manufacturing sector. But on the infrastructure front, though there were huge allocations last year, they were not completely used.

Prof. Vivek Kulkarni, Adjunct Professor, IISc, and Managing Director, Brickwork Ratings India .and former IT&BT Secretary, Government of Karnataka opined that the budget has been bad for the Information Technology Services sector referring to the new taxes for the companies in the SEZ regions. He noted that with the end of STPI tax holiday schemes, SEZ parks were created with the promise of providing a tax exemption for the IT companies located in them. But the current introduction of Minimum Alternate tax of 18.5% on developers of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and units in SEZ will negatively impact the growth of the IT sector. He also said that China policy reforms were much more stable in comparison to India.

Ms. Krupa Venkatesh, Senior Director – Indirect Taxes, Deloitte Touche Tohamatsu said that though the SEZ law has been in force only from 2005, there have been too many changes in it. The creation of the SEZ region as a tax exempt region and then introducing tax on its units shows the adhocism of the government’s decisions. She said that there is a lack of vision in implementing reforms and noted the absence of large hearted statesmanship in the country.

Mr. D. T. V. Raghu Ramaswamy, CEO, Infrastructure Development Corporation Karnataka elaborated that there are 4 steps to infrastructure development, i.e. development and promotion of contractors, building reliable mechanisms of transacting with the contractors, financing the infrastructure projects and building capacity required to deliver the huge infrastructure projects. The move to raise FII investment cap into corporate bonds, issued by companies involved in the infrastructure sector is one mechanism to improve the financing of the infrastructure projects. But more needs to be done on the Infrastructure Development side.

Ms. Revathi Venkatraman, President, Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Karnataka (AWAKE) said that nothing specific has been done for women entrepreneurs. Though the Union Budget has proposed to set up a “Women’s SHG’s Development Fund” with a corpus of Rs. 500 crore and an “India Microfinance Equity Fund” of Rs. 100 crore, she was wary of the effectiveness, reach and implementation of the Microfinance schemes. She stressed the need for good road connectivity between cities, towns and villages as a prerequisite for any kind of entrepreneurship.

Prof. G. Thimmaiah, who has been a member of the Planning Commission, GoI said that the budget has been very good for the infrastructure sector and that the move to raise FII cap on money inflow to corporate infrastructure bonds will aid in bringing back the black money lodged by Indians in foreign counties. He stressed that the Government needs to focus on the sectors of health and education and also use the revenues for the development of the social sector. Commenting on the rising inflation, he said that this situation has been caused by government’s mismanagement of food distribution and the supply side shortages .He also noted that though there has been no tax induced inflation, the Government must keep the money supply within 16 % to 17 % in order to tame inflation.

On the whole, all the panelists shared a common view that the Government needs to do away with adhocism in decision making and must have a stable approach towards policy making. They stressed that increased allocation itself will not yield desired results unless the funds are used. The panel also answered many questions from the audience before closing the event.

Sharada B. (MGMT)