Sanjay Sahay

Sanjay is known for creating the Police IT Ecosystem, on which the state police functions: an ERP Software, Statewide Intranet, Tier 2 Data Center which is now on a private cloud. He is a Technology Evangelist and believes that only R&D can transform the nation. He has a multifarious personality; a thought leader, professional public speaker, a writer, a mentor, a Cyber Security expert and a management guru. He is a man in the public domain with large number of professionals following him from all domains.

Research Agenda for the Nation

Research is nation building. The success of the growth agenda of the nation is directly proportional to the fruitful research conducted. While we chart out the growth agenda of organizations and institutions, or of the nation, a parallel blueprint of reaching the commensurate research capabilities and delivery, needs to planned and executed. Growth agenda, individual or cumulative has to be sustained by research and development, failing which, the growth trajectory leads into wilderness, never to come back again on the rails, as anticipated. We are replete with examples of this type, but have decided not learn from our experiences and keep repeating the failed path, to our detriment.

Research is the ultimate service provider to the nation. Modalities of research robust enough to meet the requirements are not even thought of. The single guideresearcher model has brought us thus far; possibly it cannot take us any further. This has been everybody’s experience, given the present day challenges posed to the researchers. Much better and evolved research models are needed, which can match up to the requirements within fixed timelines and is worthy of mass use. Research on research mechanism can be the beginning, getting it created could be the first milestone and the first major success towards the creation of a Research Agenda. This would be the beginning of India’s research transformation. High end technology comes from the industry, mostly foreign. The academic and research institutions have become bystanders. The requirement-research connect is not even a part of our thought process. The lab to field connect has to be firmly established. We should bid adieu to the self-certification industry of the academic world.

Funding, autonomy and supposedly enlightened leadership has not helped in creating research agendas for institutions, leave aside worthwhile research products for the nation. Research approvals are just a jargon circulating around in academic circles with no societal relevance. Seventy years is a long time and wasting any further time for sure would be futile, if we go by our experience but for some shining examples like ISRO. What is dished out in the name of research and validated by the organizations themselves is self-serving.

In silos we come and silos we go, while all our life we sing the collaboration song.
Leave aside the academia-industry collaboration, does the academia collaborate even amongst itself? Collaborative research can be planned based on the researcher’s expertise, facilities available, projects at hand, nature of the research team, timelines and the clearly stated project deliverables. How many inter-IIT projects should happen in a year, is a call to be taken. Short term, medium term and long term projects need are to be decided. There can be bigger projects which have to happen at a totally different scale of resources and at a different level of coordination. This would mean the death of the highly inflated ego which comes in way of a collaborative exercise. Research has to be a team game. Intra, inter and multidisciplinary are the future of research and of the discipline itself. 

An Artificial Intelligence Research Center can be an example. What would be the research projects, timelines, products, testing, field trials and the creation of an ecosystem to support this institution? These cannot be stand alone institutions; they need interfaces with the outer world depending on the project. Another easy entry into the agenda of collaboration would be to tap into the Disruptive Technologies of the day, for our needs. The sectors and problems can be neatly defined for an easy take off. It can be scaled up, as it progresses, depending on the expertise gained. In India, our research projects are etched in stone, with fixed funds, human resources, project goals and completion / success predefined. It is not a continuum.  Whether, it fulfils nation’s agenda, is something we are not bothered about.

The work on Disruptive Innovation can just lead to the creation of an Innovation Hub. Its modalities can surface as the time passes by. By then our own resources will have the potential to create a blueprint of a cutting edge technology institution. A great trait of collaborative research is that it leads to natural growth of multifarious research avenues and also helps create forward linkage institutions. This nature of progressive growth provides an inherent strength to the ever growing research and the institutions. Blockchain Technology is another technology having the potential to redefine the world; the internet of information would graduate to internet of value as well. There are lots of projects coming together, globally, which would help create the roadmap. Hyper Ledger Project and research activities in Estonia supported by NASDAQ may well be the game changers.

International collaboration in areas of our interest and on our strength is certainly preferred. Skills and competencies should be complementary and supplementary and so should be the facilities. Sharing knowledge, know-how and products created is the key. Being equal partners derives equal benefits. Genuine transfer of technology doesn’t happen, as has been India’s and the third world’s experience. Redefining international research collaboration from our side can be a welcome beginning.
Research vision can be the only way to begin. Do we have one or are we in the process of creating one? Whether we want to be creators or users is the question we need to answer. Creators need to have the mind of the DeepMind founder and the capability to create programs of the calibre of AlphaGo / Zero, to catapult to the global path breaking level. If we want to be creators, we have to ideate, innovate own our projects, relentlessly work and proactively deliver. Sanctity of timelines and the research product’s quality and utility, can be the only touchstones. The present research methodology, mechanical as it is, has not served the purpose. Only the researcher and the guide have generally derived satisfaction.

We seem to be obsessed with science and technology, leaving lots of other areas on the backburner, creating bottlenecks to our own growth story. The disconnects in the system have a negative impact. Do we ever give a thought to researching in law, models of governance, changing social alignments, the emerging political narrative, the media/social media amongst many others.  Engaging the best talent of the next generation in a viable manner, for research, can in itself be a research project. A strategy needs to be developed to recruit the brightest and get the best out of them. Only passion can drive a mundane area like research. Energy is its derivative. Life in reality is at the intersection of science / technology and humanities. This has to be understood and taken further, through our research vision and necessary documentation emanating out of it.

A national policy on research with reasonable detailing can be the right starting point. The earnestness, vigour and aggression behind it, should get clearly spelt out in black and white. This policy document will have the entire wherewithal, to develop it into a National Research Blueprint based on our present requirements and the anticipated ones. It would be the roadmap for research. This has to be a dynamic document, with periodic updates based on experience, current technologies and connected changes happening globally. This would be the final document for all the research agencies to align with to get their projects validated. All research projects in the country can have a unique number, with alignment to the items / goals in the Blueprint clearly spelt out.

Research in India is generally a part time job, both physically and mentally. It is generally not seen as demanding. Lots of doctoral thesis is churned out in this manner. Might be because it is a mandatory requirement. But research is neither a one time job nor a short gestation period activity. Research is a permanent endeavor. How many of our researchers have a research mindset? Only focused long drawn research has yielded fruit. Even after the first breakthrough, lots of supplemental research effort has to go on, to make it operational. In today’s world, high end upgrades are a necessary regular feature, which can be sustained through continous research. Concentrating only on low hanging fruits can be self defeating. The country has to get ready for a long haul and the next generation would reap the benefits. Over a period of time, research culture would mature and an ecosystem will develop on the building blocks outlined so far.

Let it start with the grouping of institutions and renowned professionals in any high-tech field for a specific project and with a timeline, treating is as a pilot and a proof of concept. This concept and its operation can be incorporated in the National Research Blueprint; the base document of all research in India. A dynamic magnum opus on Research! This document can become the game changer in bringing forth an India brimming with confidence, based on creativity and innovation, propelled by cutting edge world class research. Our institutions have the wherewithal and an innovative and dedicated research leadership can make it happen