Alum Ventures: itihaasa Research and Digital – Dr. Dayasindhu N, FPM 2002

Documentation has a lot of importance in human evolution, we find answers, solutions or simply find a way forward for many of our questions. itihaasa, the brainchild of Dr. Dayasindhu N is doing similar work of documenting Indian IT & Tech, its origin and its evolution. While many IT historians, from outside India, have documented and studied Indian IT, itihaasa is the only Indian company to do so in the country.

itihaasa is not for profit company and the reports generated on the various topics are available to all. History of Indian IT, itihaasa’s flagship project is chronicling the six decades of the IT evolution. Assessing the Impact of Covid-19 on IT Companies in India is another research done by the company which many will find useful under the current circumstances. There are other reports on the Landscape of AI/ML and Brain Research, which are one of its kind, that provide deep insight on the subject among many others.

An exclusive interview with Dr. N Dayasindhu on his journey from a corporate to an entrepreneur.

  • Can you please tell us something about yourself.

R&D and innovation management researcher, business and technology historian, consultant, US patent holder, physicist, long-form author, dad of two wonderful girls. Let me elaborate. The work I do right now and have been doing is on R&D and innovation management especially focused on information technologies (IT). I have developed an interest and expertise in the history of business and technology-focused on IT, particularly in the Indian context. In an earlier avatar, I was a consultant advising MNCs setting up high-performance R&D and IT organizations. I was a researcher in the R&D arm at Infosys and hold a couple of US patents including one on a system that helps decision-makers choose an innovation project among many competing projects. My basic qualification is masters in physics. Some of friends always find it amusing that I was working on fabricating and testing holo-lenses or holographic lenses in the early 1990s before it became a brand name for a mixed reality product. I like writing long-form articles that focus on the intersection of technology with business and policy. Last but not the least, I’m a dad of two girls who keep teaching me something new and fun every day.  We love playing card games and there is some mean competition at home.    

  • What prompted you to leave your corporate job and venture into entrepreneurship?

At some point in our careers, we have an urge to align it with what we really like to do. I was fortunate to be part of Infosys and the Indian IT industry in Infosys during a time of super-growth and also at a time of recalibration post-2008. Post Infosys, I had a short stint in a boutique consulting firm. Consulting was fun but it was also very hectic. So, in 2014, I decided to go freelance and pick and choose projects that I would be interested in and at a pace I’m comfortable with. 

It was at this same time that a good friend of mine, Krishnan, was also getting into freelancing. We complemented each other well and decided to partner and do projects together. Krishnan and I went to the same school, later to IITM, and were in the same hostel in IITM – though at slightly different times. We worked together in the R&D labs at Infosys. I’m a strong believer in the power of the university and company alumni networks to forge life-long relationships. We decided to meet with Kris Gopalakrishnan, co-founder Infosys and a distinguished alumnus of IITM to seek his advice.

On Kris’ suggestion, we brainstormed the idea of studying the evolution of Indian IT. We went back to the drawing board and developed a plan and methodology that was the genesis of the History of Indian IT project. Kris mentored and supported us through this project. After the successful launch of History of Indian IT, and based on the feedback from external stakeholders Kris felt that that should we start a not-for-profit company that will focus on the evolution of Indian business and technology.  So, the three of us started itihaasa Research and Digital in 2016. For Krishnan and me it was also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to work directly with Kris who is one of India’s most successful entrepreneurs, corporate leader, and startup ecosystem creator, and philanthropist.

  • Can you please tell us about your venture – itihaasa Research & Digital? What is the purpose of itihaasa? How can people benefit from it?

ithaasa focuses on two aspects. First, analyzing new technologies, their potential impact especially in the Indian context, the R&D capabilities required to nurture these emerging technologies, and industry adoption. For example, we are analyzing how AI/ML (Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning) and Brain Science R&D can be nurtured in India. We also focus on related themes like how current and emerging technologies will impact the Indian industry and Indian governance.  We have also done work on the ethics of AI/ML. Last year, when Indian IT services were grappling with how to transition to a “work from anywhere” model, we came up with one of the first reports on this topic.       

Our reports have been used by policy makers and corporate leaders since they provide an unbiased and in-depth analysis. An example, our research on the Indian AI/ML R&D landscape is cited in NITI Aayog approach paper AIRAWAT – Establishing an AI specific cloud computing infrastructure for India. All our reports are free to download and History of Indian IT is free to watch online. We are invited to anchor strategy sessions for executive leadership in companies that are grappling with some of the issues that we research on.    

Second, studying history of technology and business evolution in India. Our flagship is the History of Indian IT project. It is the definitive oral history on video of the evolution of Indian IT. itihaasa chronicles the history of Indian IT from the installation of the first modern computer in India sixty years back to charting Indian IT’s spectacular growth.

  • Can you please tell us about your flagship project on History of Indian IT?

History of Indian IT is more than an homage to the past or a nostalgia-tinged walk. Indian IT is probably the only world-class and world-scale industry in India, directly employs about 5 million Indians, and makes a meaningful contribution to India’s forex earnings and GDP. India needs to nurture more such world-class and world-scale industries.

The success of Indian IT changed the way the world perceived India – from a land of snake charmers to a nation of smart and technology savvy people. Today, the success of Indian IT is inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs. History of Indian IT is the oral history of fifty-six leaders who shaped Indian IT including F C Kohli, Prof. Rajaraman, Prof. Mahabala, N R Narayana Murthy, Azim Premji, N Vittal, and others.

The videos are edited into self-contained byte sized snippets of about 5 minutes duration each. Everyone can access the videos on itihaasa’s website using the time-line, by leader, by organization or by playlists, and also search by key-words. Let me share some data points to showcase richness of the content in History of Indian IT. We have about 50 hours of original videos broken into about 700 video segments. We have 400 photos and documents that capture the milestones in the history of Indian IT. These include photo of the building that housed Infosys’ in Pune and extracts of the World Bank funded report published in 1992 which for the first-time forecasts that Indian IT services industry has a potential to grow to USD 1 billion in exports. All these video, photo and document artifacts are easy to search since there are over 5000 unique tags that are associated with the artifacts. For those who are curious, please go to itihaasa’s History of Indian IT website and search for IIMB to get stories about how the Internet came to our institute and the genesis of NSRCEL. History of Indian IT is covered in the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, the top ranked journal in this field.   

  • What is next in line? What kind of research is involved in publishing these reports?

We are studying on how to build the Indian human resources capability in AI/ML. This is important since AI/ML is transforming society and industries. It is imperative for India to have skilled professionals at all levels and with different types of expertise to win this era. This includes all from those who clean data used for AI/ML to computer science researchers developing new models and algorithms. In between, we need developers working on AI/ML products, professionals in other domains in various industries and sectors who will be using the output of AI/ML, social science researchers studying the impact of AI/ML on society at large, etc. Professionals in various application domains fields including management, need to be aware of different aspects of AI/ML and its impact. Only with our own models, algorithms, products and services powered by AI/ML can India become as dominant global player. This way, we can better create and appropriate value from AI/ML.

Our reports are primarily based on in-depth interviews with experts in the domain we are researching. We also do exhaustive of secondary research to identify the underlying theoretical constructs and the relevant state-of-art from around the world.

  • How has IIMB been a part of your entrepreneurial journey?

My mentors among the IIMB faculty are very supportive of my decision to freelance and startup. At every stage of my career, I got some sound implementable advice from them. I always keep brainstorming ideas with them, and value their insights. The IIMB library is a very good resource if one is working in the domain like ours. In fact, the archives of Indian newspapers and trade magazines in the IIMB library played an important role in our History of Indian IT research.  We do select leadership training for blue-chip Indian companies on leveraging technology like AI/ML. The foundation of my teaching and facilitation skills is my experience of working as a teaching assistant IIMB faculty. Needless to add, my friends from IIMB are my biggest supporters and harshest critics. Overall, my training in IIMB helps me to appreciate the multi-disciplinary approach of knowledge and use this approach to study relevant problems.

  • Any fond memories from your days at the institute?

Many. First and foremost, the academic freedom in IIMB. I enrolled for my FPM in what was then the Quantitative Methods and Information Systems area, my advisor was from the Marketing area, and my thesis was largely in the Strategy domain. IIMB gave me the opportunity to get into many rabbit holes of interest ranging from economic geography to the Indian space program. Faculty were always generous with their time, and they still are. I have benefitted immensely from their expertise and experience. I was fascinated when I joined IIMB since we had unlimited Internet at a blazing speed of 2 Mbps for the entire institute! I’m enriched by my interactions with my peer group – FPM and PGP students. Broadened by general perspective and introduced me to new genres of books, music and movies. I also got to know some of the IIMB staff well and learnt useful life-hacks from them. Privileged to be part of the “F top” family who are ten incredible PGP 1999 alumni and me.  We had and have fun – and this is an understatement. My fondest memory is that I met my wife, Kavitha Narayanan (PGP 2001) in the institute.

Please click here to visit the itihaasa website to know more..