Backing the slew of successful products emanating from the labs of Adobe India is an R&D-based innovation culture that is worth taking note of.
Adobe India, the Indian arm of the well-known technology product company, Adobe Inc, was set up in 1997 with the mission to develop advanced products and technologies.
Given that most of the products Adobe creates are used by millions, defining and subsequently creating a product is a major R&D exercise, says Ajay Pande, VP Engineering, Adobe India.
To accomplish this task, the company continually engages in extensive R&D and innovation generation, and maintains a close and active engagement with its users. But considering its widespread user base, each release essentially comes from the company's research into technological possibilities, user needs and market dynamics, says Pande.
From the start, Adobe India's focus has been on deep technology and complete product delivery. Pande cites examples of some products that have been churned out from the India centre: "In less than three years of getting the centre up and running, we created and delivered a couple of our first full-fledged products. These were PageMaker 7 and a set of PDF readers for mobile devices. Since then, our focus on developing breakthrough products has continued, and today we drive and create over 20 full-fledged Adobe products from the India centre."
Pande takes pride in a few products which, according to him, are "...the icons of innovation and deep technology." These are: Illustrator, Photoshop Elements, Premiere Elements, PostScript, FrameMaker, CondFusion, ShockWave, Director and Technical Communications Suite-all developed completely from the India centre.
So how does the firm achieve this rate of success? Pande says: "Our focus from Day One has been to hire the brightest, most innovative engineers and business leaders in the country, and offer them a chance to solve advanced product and business challenges for Adobe.
From the earliest days of Adobe India, we have tried to focus not just on the R&D needed to develop the next release of the product, but also technologies which are more research-oriented and have a longer term impact," shares Pande.
A peek into the R&D labs
Pande shares details on a few interesting research initiatives that have recently been productised or are in the current pipeline.
Innovating for the mobile phone space: Since mobile devices are becoming very important to computing, Adobe India identified this potential market early and has made several important breakthroughs in the field. It has made its PDF viewing technologies available on mobile devices, and made them available as freely downloadable Reader products.
Image and video compression: Another area of focus has been research in image compression technologies like JBIG2 and
JPEG2000. These were developed in the India centre, and are now widely integrated into several Adobe product lines.
Document security: Research is also aimed at developing technologies to secure documents at the electronic/paper boundary. Pande sheds more light on the subject: "We're going to be living in an era of mixed paper/electronic documents and workflows for the foreseeable future. Each of these have a well-defined security model, but where you move from one to the other, document security breaks down. We are working on technologies that will let document security continue to apply through the transition."
Some of these areas, as well as others, have led to a very strong patent portfolio for Adobe India, reveals Pande. The India centre has now filed more than 100 patents, and sees a strong patent application pipeline from its engineers in the coming years.
Integrating research findings with products
Technology transfer in Adobe is very closely integrated with product R&D -- in the integration of the new technology into a product or in the creation of an altogether new product. The company encourages engineers working on advanced technologies to maintain a close link with the products to which their technologies are linked. Those who have created a new technology often move into the product team for a release cycle, so that they can integrate their technology well into the product. Pande explains: "We believe this is an important learning process for the advanced technologies team. For example, when engineers in India created the compression technologies, they themselves actually worked on the products that used those technologies, so that the best possible integration could happen."
The advantages of being in an emerging market
For all technology companies, emerging markets like India are very important to their future growth and success, and that means increased focus on the innovation and technology needs of these countries. Pande agrees that Adobe's presence in India with a major development centre has given it the advantage of listening to the pulse of a market as huge as India. While a lot of the technologies that Adobe India develops are for the global market and often very similar across both advanced and emerging markets, Pande believes that the company's local presence gives it a much better understanding of the local needs. He adds: "We've already been successful in adapting our technologies to local applications, and we believe some of our areas of focus such as e-governance and mobile technologies, are key technologies for the Indian market."
Adobe India was started by Dr Naresh Gupta, who prior to undertaking this assignment, worked as a researcher in Adobe's Advanced Technologies Lab in the US.
But what led Adobe Inc to head towards India? Pande recapitulates: "We believed that given the strong science and engineering education system in the country, there was excellent talent available to develop the kind of deep technology products that are the core of Adobe's business."
Today, Adobe India has grown to a team of over 1,000 people in product development.
In 2005, Adobe acquired Macromedia, and Macromedia's development centre in Bangalore became part of Adobe. Now Adobe India has two offices -- in Noida and Bangalore.
This India sojourn has so far delivered great results for the company. In the future too, backed by thoughtful research, the company seems all set to continue its pursuit of developing technologies and products that strike a chord with the masses.