How Narayana Murthy criticised Indian research to blow Infosys' trumpet

Dinesh C Sharma
Dinesh C SharmaJul 16, 2015 | 16:23

How Narayana Murthy criticised Indian research to blow Infosys' trumpet

It has become a habit with serving and retired members of Indian corporate world to flog national scientific research institutions and their contributions, in order to boost their own image. NR Narayana Murthy, co-founder of Infosys, is an example.

Speaking at the Indian Institute of Science (IIS) in Bangalore, Murthy has made outlandish statements about Indian science and technology.

First, Murthy says that Indians have failed to produce any invention that has had global impact like electric bulb, MRI or GPS in the past 60 years. This is true. By no means, India's innovation and research system is perfect or well-funded, but to say that its contribution to India and the world is zero could either be due to ignorance or arrogance of the person making the statement.

The goal of Indian science, after the independence, was to feed millions of hungry citizens and end import of rice and wheat. We did that with the much celebrated Green Revolution - which then became a model for poor countries across the globe.

Cheap drugs produced in India are saving millions of lives in Africa and elsewhere. People in several countries worship Indian firms for their ability to supply affordable HIV and other lifesaving drugs. In fact, the first wonder drug to treat hypertension, Rauwolfia, was developed by Bombay cardiologist Dr Rustom Jal Vakil, paving the way for development of therapies to treat hypertension in 1949 in the West. Jaipur Foot may not have been as fancy as bionic prostheses cited by Murthy, but scores of war-hit poor around the world thank the Indian invention for keeping them mobile.

While Murthy's firm was desperately looking for clients and struggling to survive in early 1980s, Indian computer scientists and engineers were busy developing unique applications like the passenger railway reservation system, VSAT network for connecting government offices and software for London Underground.

The digital telecom switch developed by Centre for Development of Telematics (CDOT) changed the telecom scene not just in India but throughout the developing world, sending shivers down the spines of Western giants. Development teams for this innovation came from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and the Telecom Research Centre. In the 1990s, CORDECT wireless technology developed by IIT Madras spread far and wide to dozens of countries.

All these are unique solutions that have benefited people all over the world. One is not even talking of India's achievements in atomic energy and space.

Second, Murthy claimed that "the only two ideas that have transformed the productivity of global corporations - The Global Delivery Model and the 24-hour workday - came from the company called Infosys". There can't be anything farther from truth than this statement.

Outsourcing - the concept in which labour-intensive work could be shipped to India for cost advantage - was 'invented' by Narendra K Patni, founder of PCS while he was working in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was in Patni's firm that Murthy and all the co-founders of Infosys cut their teeth into coding and outsourcing work. Murthy copied the idea when he founded Infosys and the client for whom he worked in Patni became the first client of Infosys.

The total annual revenue of India's IT industry - Infosys included - is close to 100 billion dollars, which is almost half of the revenue of just one company (180 billion dollars) - Apple. Why? Indian companies are focused on services based on "Global Delivery Model" and low-end coding business, while American companies sell products. Will Mr Murthy explain why is it so? Why are Indian companies not developing products? Where is the innovation?

Last updated: July 17, 2015 | 09:10
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