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Lessons in frugality from India

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SummaryThe experience in frugal engineering is giving GE’s local technology team an important role in the global organisation amid a greater focus on cost and environment.

Low-cost innovations from General Electric’s technology team in India was the key that helped the American conglomerate gain entry into the country’s potentially large market for healthcare products and medical devices. Now, as cost-control emerges as the primary concern in a world caught in the economic doldrums, the lessons in thrift learnt by GE’s Indian technologists are coming in handy for the $147 billion company.

GE’s 4,500-strong multidisciplinary research and development centre in Bangalore and its teams in cities like Hyderabad are currently on an expansion mode, aiming at a larger say in the company’s R&D activity besides also working on a greater number of homegrown products for the India market.

“In cost, I think we have an advantage because a frugal approach to engineering is something which will come more naturally to us here, so we are being given a very important role,” says Gopichand Katragadda, managing director, GE India Technology Centre. “One of the core programmes which has been picked up by GE on how to do things differently is called Litespeed. This is one of only four programmes across the company which is being used to develop knowledge and to teach the rest of GE how to do it. We have a leadership role from that standpoint.”

In the frugal engineering business, the India arm’s breakthrough product launched four years ago was a portable electrocardiogram built to work in rural areas. The machine, along with other products such as an incubator and phototherapy systems among others, has since found a market in over 70 countries. Katragadda says the target is to develop 30 new products over the next three years and getting at least 20% of his workforce of 6,000 technologists to contribute to India-specific programmes.

“The world is in a new normal. There are going to be new ways of doing things. Two primary aspects of this, including for GE, is much bigger focus on costs and environment,” says Katragadda. “So for the engineering teams, it is to think about cost up-front, not after the product is in the market.”

The company has also recently added more senior-level positions in its centres in a bid to raise the level of expertise and drive more projects, says Katragadda. It now has two chief engineers to head the aviation and energy segments while 30 principal engineer positions have been added recently. Globally, the company has about 15 chief engineers in the aviation vertical

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