Meera Sampath, director, Xerox Research Center India

As director of Xerox Research Center India I see firsthand how globalization and the rapidly growing emerging market consumer base are creating new paradigms of innovation.  “Reverse innovation” (coined by Prof. Vijay Govindarajan of Dartmouth and GE CEO Jeff Immelt) is a concept that I find particularly exciting.   The basic paradigm of reverse innovation is that if a business can successfully develop and market products in the cost conscious, often highly constrained, developing markets, then it  has a great platform to roll these products out globally.

Reverse innovation benefits consumers across the globe because it isn’t just the emerging market middle class consumer who demands value for cost and seeks simplicity.  These values are shared by consumers across the globe.   I see that these values are shared by friends, colleagues and our customers across the globe”, in fact, the authors of the book Jugaad Innovation  argue why “good enough is better” in their recently published Fast Company blog post . 

The budget constrained developed world customer too often prefers products with fewer features at lower prices; yet it is not just the cost factor that makes reverse innovation click.  Reverse innovation can open entirely new markets and new applications.  

Products and services from the emerging world, when taken subsequently to developed markets, can create new markets by meeting very different customer needs than originally intended.  For example, Clean Tech innovations driven by inadequacies in power and water resources in developing countries can address sustainability and green measures elsewhere; Prof Govindarajan, in his recently published book cites several examples.  General Electric ‘s portable low-cost ECG monitor developed for rural China has proven just as successful in the US, bringing into the hands of paramedics and emergency responders, technology that only hospitals could afford till now, opening new market.  To see this firsthand, please watch this video on YouTube:

The Indian company Mahindra & Mahindra’s low cost fuel efficient tractors designed for small sized Indian farms ultimately made its way into the hobby farming segment in the US.

As Xerox expands its global footprint, this is very relevant for our businesses.  Researchers at our Xerox Research Center India, in Bangalore, are working on “locally inspired but globally relevant” technologies.  For example, stay tuned for a smart banking solution we’ve been working on that is inspired by the needs of the rapidly growing and expanding banking industry in India. This solution can also address the mounting cost pressures of banking in developed markets that are facing closures and down-sizing.   

As John Seely Brown, Xerox former Chief Scientist, so aptly put it in Bloomberg  Businessweek , “it is at the edges, at the periphery, of today’s global business environment where unmet customer needs find unexpected solutions, where innovation potential is at the highest.  Playing on the edge is the best way to gain an edge.”   Reverse innovation gives us an edge – a global edge.

Meera Sampath is Director of the Xerox Research Center India.  In this role, she is responsible for overseeing and scaling up the center, developing and executing its research agenda, and building a strong open innovation network in India.