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F C Kohli

Genesis of TRDDC

F. C. Kohli

F. C. Kholi spoke to Shivanand Kanavi about the genesis of the idea of TRDDC

TCS Developed software tools from its early days.  So was a separate R&D Centre also thought of from the beginning?
No. It came out of a need for research in India in new technology.  The idea was very simple. We were playing with technology.  But the technology was out there in the West.  I had contacts with researchers and the IITs.  So we build up Computer Science faculties in some IITs because, in the early 1970s, there was none in India.  Neither were there any computers at the time, except obsolete ones.  All the knowledge India had was in semi conductors and even that was in the Physics faculties, not the Computer Science ones.  We didn’t have the knowledge required to do advanced research in India.  However, my IEEE directorship, during 1973-74, had brought me a lot of contacts with educational institutions in the West, so we were certain that we would get the needed support. When we were trying to decide how we should go about setting up TRDDC, in 1980-81, we took help from Kesavan, Sheridan and Holmes, of the University of Waterloo, and Norman Dahl, of MIT.  These reports made some recommendations and concluded that were was a need for an organization like TRDDC and that the Tatas should establish it.

Mr. Palkhivala asked me to touch base with Mr. Moolgaonkar.  So I sent Mr. Moolgaonkar the reports and, after one or two meetings, he gave his approval.  I must give him the credit for it.  He read both the reports thoroughly and asked me certain questions.  And that’s how we started it.

What role did J.R.D. Tata and Nani Palkhivala play in the evolution of the idea of TRDDC?
They game me a lot of support when I mooted the idea. We realized that there was a need for a centre like TRDDC.  And we believed that if anyone could do it, we could!  So I explored the idea with Mr. Palkhivala and reported on the progress to Mr.Tata. He read widely on technology and had a very keen and searching mind.  I remember preparing diligently for each fortnightly meeting with him by asking myself, “What questions is he likely to ask?’,  and being floored each time because each time he would ask questions I could not anticipate!

Why did you choose Pune ?
Pune, not Mumbai, has the attributes of a metro while being a university town.  Besides, I didn’t want TRDDC to get involved with the day-to-day work of TCS.

But you didn’t limit the scope of research to Computer science.  Why?
We realized that all domains of knowledge must be pursued because, at some sage of design, development or manufacturing, computers would be involved.  We were very clear about this.  The Tata Electric companies had, in the late 1960s, computerized all their operations and management.  A digital computer was controlling an entire grid that had hydro and thermal plants and even a nuclear plant.  Computers would be a tools that all industry would use, willy-nilly, in the future.

Why did you call it a ‘research, design and development’ organization rather than a simply a ‘research and development’ one?
We were convinced right from the start that any research must lead to development through design. That’s why we emphasized not ‘R and D’ but ‘R, D and D’. People bandy ‘research and development’ in the applied research context.  But it isn’t possible to jump from research to development straight in applied research. There is a big process area between the ‘research’ and the ‘development’. And that’s ‘design.’ It’s the largest portion of the entire process.  A single design can lead to so many alternatives and approaches for development.

Clearly, it was not a classical case of corporate R&D.
No. but was TCS, for that mater, a ‘classical’ case?!

F C Kohli  is known the world over for the pioneering role he has played in the IT services industry.  He obtained his BA and BSc (Honours) in physics from Government College, Lahore, BSc (Honours) in Electrical engineering from Queens University, Canada and Master’s from MIT, USA.  He joined TCS in 1969 as general manager.  He grew the company from ten consultants in 1969  to 14,000 in the year 2000, when he retired as its deputy chairman. Prior to joining TCS, Kohli worked for twenty years in the power utility industry in Canadian General Electric Companies, Ebasco International  Corporation, NY and Tata Electric companies, Mumbai.
Besides IT services, he has made significant contributions to system engineering and power engineering, for which he was honoured with the Fellowship of Indian National Academy of Engineering, IEEE, NY; IEE, London; Computer Society of India; Singapore computer Society and several others. He has also been honoured with doctor of Engineering (Honorus causa) from University of Waterloo, Canada; Robert Gordan University, Aberdeen, UK; University of Roorkee, UP and IIT, Bombay.  He has contributed on the board of numerous professional bodies, educational institutions and committees on public policy. The Government of India has honoured him with the Padma Bhushan, one of the highest civilian awards.