The great Indian smartphone game is getting interesting everyday. Foreign players are finding themselves investing bigger in India, be it for manufacturing, design or R&D. Recently, OPPO announced its first R&D centre in the country, in Hyderabad. Paromik Chakraborty caught up with Tasleem Arif, vice president and head – R&D, OPPO India, to understand his views on India’s R&D culture and how fit is the Indian talent pool for taking the ecosystem further.
Q. What is your view on India’s R&D and electronics design ecosystem?
A. R&D is the foundation for development of any country. In a developing nation like India, the government is ensuring relevant investments in R&D across industries, encouraging big companies and brands under Make in India initiative to bolster the growth and development of the economy.
As per Economic Survey 2017-18, gross expenditure on R&D in India has tripled in nominal terms over the last decade. However, as a fraction of the GDP, India underspends on R&D, relative to its level of development. This means that there is a lot of potential and many opportunities in this sphere for brands in India to grow in the near future.
Q. How important is R&D for a business to succeed?
A. Main responsibilities of R&D to boost a business are:
New product research
Before a new product is developed, the R&D department conducts a thorough study to support the project.
New product development
This is essential to pave the way for the development phase.
Innovation. R&D requires analysing competitive products and other businesses that are creating new trends in the industry.
This includes doing quality checks on products created by the company to ensure proper functioning.
Q. How much re-skilling or training of talent is required to fit into R&D centres?
A. The smartphone industry is evolving exponentially, mainly because of the newly-arrived technology cycle. It has brought out new requirements and expectations and, hence, rapidly changing skills in the labour market. Re-skilling gives a competitive advantage in the long run and is much better than hiring skilled workers because it gives us an edge to build on the strengths of existing employees.
Q. What are the limitations in the current curriculum in forming industry-ready engineers?
A. It is widely-known that the current curriculum emphasises more on theory rather than on practical knowledge. This needs to change for which industries and academic institutions should work in collaboration. This will help students get more exposure in the industry and gain hands-on experience.
Q. Which technical areas in the smartphone business require higher number of employees for R&D?
A. Players look to recruit people with forward-looking visions for technology and relevant academic backgrounds, especially in the fields of image (video, visual), voice, semantics, user scenario recognition, 5G components design, technology planning, etc, to build an R&D team of a certain scale. The core teams at OPPO are communication, systems, camera along with localisation and design that have the maximum number of team members.
Q. What are the major challenges that smartphone creators like OPPO face in India? How do you address them?
A. Due to a diverse set of consumers, finding real demand is a challenge. Moreover, the way consumers choose and buy smartphones is continuously evolving, and that means companies need to have a diverse portfolio of products and price points to appeal to a wide range of consumers.
To tackle this issue, we at OPPO keep developing proactive applications and carry out research on technologies that go beyond current user demands to create a technological edge in upcoming products. We regularly invest in market research to better understand trends, consumer demands and behaviours.
Q. What will be your top tip for R&D leaders to succeed?
A. The path to a bright opportunity always comes after facing tough and trying challenges. Moreover, being a team member is imperative. As the saying goes, if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. Now is the era of collaborations, hence, you cannot develop, invent or create anything in isolation.