How The Corporates Set Up Schools of Excellence in IIITH

Did you know that the current Vindhya block on IIITH campus was previously known as the Corporate School building? It possesses an illustrious history. Not only did it once house six schools set up by top industry players but it has spawned other acclaimed institutions such as the ISB (International School of Business), the National Institute of Smart Government (NISG), the Rajiv Gandhi University of Knowledge Technologies (RGUKT) and more.

IIITH’s early history is replete with anecdotes. For instance, you might have heard about how the go-ahead for establishing the institute hinged upon Prof. Raj Reddy’s acceptance to chair the Governing Council. There are other tales too, of how despite IIITH being a state government initiative, there’s not a single government file on record that links it in any way to the institute. “The model upon which IIITH was founded is not only unique but was also unknown back then,” narrates Prof. PJ Narayanan. He likes to call it a ‘public institution’ that is “of the people, by the people and for the people. Because neither a government body nor a private foundation owns or runs it,” he explains.

In the post-liberalization era, when AP was trying to attract investors to grow its IT industry, one of the biggest constraints to growth of IT was the availability of talent. Hence the idea of trying to have institutions to promote talent and then use talent as attraction for investments was a very conscious strategy which had evolved as part of this thinking of the future and about technology being a main driver of economic growth. The public-private partnership (PPP) model  was adopted to overcome the constraints that the government had with resources. Mr R Chandrashekhar, who established India’s first Department of Information Technology in Andhra Pradesh, and was the Secretary of the Department recollects that the main emphasis was on creating IIITH as an institution of excellence.  This needed many non-conventional decisions around processes, admissions, curriculum etc. Hence, it needed to be outside the government’s purview, although formally the government did help to set it up by providing the land and buildings for the institute. But then it became increasingly obvious that resources – academic resources/faculty and also financial would be a challenge.

Corporate Engagement
Luckily, the industry expressed its keenness in becoming a stakeholder. Before even starting the institute, when the idea was mooted by Mr. R Chandrashekhar, Dewang Mehta (then President of Nasscom) and industry was excited with the proposition. In February 1997, Mr. Mehta even put together a proposal recommending the setting up of a global elite institute for providing IT training from the industry’s perspective. His presentation quoted a World Bank study which concluded that vendors rated India as #1 for outsourcing software requirements amongst its competing countries. It also listed out the need to improve the quality and relevance of education and manpower development programmes with linkages between academia and industry. “The key point that stands out from the proposal even then is the emphasis on industry participation,” remarks Prof. P J Narayanan. The presentation recommended various means of doing so such as industry-oriented courses, technology sponsorships, research through the institute, and so on. The other manner of assistance proposed was via industry funding – one time; through scholarships, sponsorship of labs, equipment, and buildings, as well as recurring funding via sponsorship of technology, R&D through the institute, and company-specific training.

While combing through the institute’s archives, a chance discovery of Prof. Visvanadham’s (Computer Science and Automation dept of IISc) presentation revealed that he had recommended an interaction paradigm between IIITH and industry schools through various short-term, mid-term and long-term activities. “Prof. Visvanadham had worked on the academic model for IIITH then,” says Prof. P J Narayanan. What is remarkable in the proposal is that these partnerships were envisaged to accomplish the goal set for the institute “to grow Science, Technology, Management and Applications connected with important areas of IT and produce trained manpower.”

Since industry was facing challenges with their specific skill requirements, they were happy to assist in garnering resources, financials as well as faculty for the institute, even though the institute’s focus was to be more on knowledge rather than skills. The idea of corporate schools was to help with this knowledge+skill balance. The corporate schools’ faculty would supplement the core faculty of the institute, focusing on skills while the institute faculty would focus on knowledge aspects, teaching and research.

The Structure Of Corp Schools
With the world at the cusp of Y2K and computer programmers in great demand, the institute saw this as an opportunity to engage with industry and give its students the much-needed industry-oriented education to significantly contribute to society at large. The corporate schools of excellence were expected to not just conduct classes in their technologies for IIITH students, but also identify some areas of excellence where joint R&D could be taken up with industry funding, with knowledge support from IIIT faculty and students.

While the fundamentals were taught by IIITH faculty, industry oriented skills were imparted by the corporate partners. Each corporate founder set up their classrooms and labs on campus with 24/7 access for students and ran short-term courses on specific domains. Industry leaders from these companies would visit campus and conduct classes for IIITH students on a regular basis, sharing valuable knowledge and insights into their specific fields. They even offered internships to students, which empowered them to pursue higher studies at prestigious universities abroad like Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, etc., as well as snag plum jobs in Silicon Valley.

The Pioneers
The six corporate founding partners were:

  • Metamor / Keane School of Software Development Methodologies
  • Oracle School of Advanced Software Technology
  • IBM School of Enterprise Wide Computing
  • Microsoft
  • Motorola School of Telecommunications
  • Satyam School of Applied Information Systems

Metamor / Keane School of Software Development Methodologies
Metamor Enterprise Solutions was IIITH’s first corporate founding partner. Its CEO JA Chowdary who is the brainchild behind the establishment of corporate partners at IIITH shares, “Since industries are always working one step ahead of educational institutions, their teachings would be more hands-on and beneficial to students. And it would give rise to joint R&D with industry funding with the support of faculty, as well as co-working on research projects in these areas. That was the whole concept why we started those corporate schools of excellence.  He recalls how object-oriented technologies and reusable components were the need of the hour back then. IIT Madras helped in developing the entire pedagogy and course content for the Metamor School of Excellence which influenced other corporates like Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft to follow suit.

When Metamor was acquired by Keane, the School of Excellence became part of Keane and was renamed Keane School of Excellence. The courses were enriched and enhanced. Keane brought their flagship course of Six Productivity Management Principles (developed in collaboration with Harvard Business School Professors) to India. The trainers for this course had to go through a tough certification process. This was a very practical course and the principles are very relevant in all periods of time and applicable to all kinds of projects in any domain. Also the Keane School of Excellence pioneered the conduct of Leadership courses based on games and involvement. At one point, they were invited to conduct an hour-long training program for over 200 participants from a Fortune 500 organisation.

Oracle School of Advanced Software Technology
Shekhar Dasgupta, MD Oracle India Private Ltd 1998-2005 recollects, “In 1997 Oracle was working closely with the AP govt on E-governance projects, and most projects were based on Oracle technologies. During the course of our discussions with the Chief Minister Shri Chandrababu Naidu, he shared his vision with us of a world class technology institute. He was keen on partnerships with industry. All in all, it was a very well rounded vision. The person I recall who actually approached us on whether we’d like to get involved was Mr Ajay Sawhney”.

This led to the setting up of the Oracle School of Advanced Software Technology at IIITH. Oracle was a  pioneer in this unique venture to set up a physical space on campus. Krishna Sistla, Country Head of Oracle University spearheaded the formation of the school as well as its execution, making it a great success. “We saw this as a great opportunity to build Oracle skills in the country, especially in Hyderabad where we were building a large-scale development centre that needed the right resources. The School was built with world-class infrastructure including classrooms, a conference room, and a library where people could access the resources and software that was made available to students and faculty. The use of advanced technology was still in its infancy but over a period of time they started using these resources”, Sistla recollects.

Sistla, who was based in Delhi, would visit IIITH every three months and spend at least a week overseeing the School since Oracle had invested in a very focused kind of training for recruitment opportunities for the Oracle economy, making the School top priority. He would also attend IIITH’s meetings regularly to stay abreast of its developments and was closely involved in deliberations of the institute’s structure and curriculum. Dasgupta was part of IIITH’s governing council and would attend its quarterly meetings. He recollects the meetings being well attended by all members, with fruitful goal-oriented discussions.

Interaction between students and corporates was encouraged to hone their corporate skills for working in the industry at a later date. This proved to be  a great learning experience for both parties. There were multiple discussions while creating the curriculum structure and introducing new technologies. The seamless set up of the School made it easy for Oracle to visit campus,  participate in activities, and ensure that their recommendations were adapted as part of the syllabus. Oracle was involved in the entire process much before the launch of the institute. Dasgupta fondly remembers the grand inauguration of the institute in the presence of CM Chandrababu Naidu, Randeep Sudan, special secretary to CM; Ajay Sawhney, Secretary IT for AP government, and Narendra Ahuja, Director, IIITH.

IIITH students gained immensely from Oracle’s trainers as well consultants from multiple locations within India. The faculty was a mix of Oracle’s own resources as well as its partner resources who would visit India to guide the students on Oracle applications and advanced technologies. “Whenever we had Oracle senior executives from across the country or management from Oracle headquarters in California visit Hyderabad, we’d always take them to see the Oracle School at IIITH”, says Dasgupta with pride.

IBM School of Enterprise Wide Computing
Randeep Sudan recollects CM Chandrababu Naidu’s meeting with Mukesh Aghi, President for IBM Asia Pacific in Singapore. The CM convinced him about establishing a corporate partnership with IIITH. So when IBM committed to being part of IIITH and IBM being a global brand, it gave credibility and weight to corporate partnerships taking the association to  different level altogether. In 1998, at the brink of Y2K, IBM mainframe access was in big demand, so it made commercial sense for them to set up a corporate school at IIITH since they already had an education wing and conducting specific training programmes on campus was mutually beneficial.

Pawan Kumar, president of IBM Global Services was also actively involved in the setting up of the IBM school. IAS officer Mr JRK Rao who was one of the architects instrumental in the setting up of IIITH and the first Director-in-charge of the institute recollects that 60% of the credit of the corporate schools at IIITH goes to IBM. Mr Pawan Kumar was very keen on setting up an office in Hyderabad and actively started to engage with the AP government as early as 1997, which ultimately led to the establishment of IIITH.

IBM made its India debut through its school at IIITH in 1999, and then later went on to set up an office in the city. Interestingly the only mainframe computer in India was located at the Vizag Steel Plant, and IBM brought in the second one in Hyderabad thanks to IIITH! The AP government had given IBM the assurance that the school at IIITH would be used for work in all other institutions including UoH and ISB. They bet big on a new line of business that they thought could grow significantly. After seeing the success of the Oracle and IBM schools, Microsoft, Motorola and Satyam soon followed.

Although Microsoft did not have a physical school on campus, it partnered to help the institute and established a Microsoft Faculty Chair at IIITH. This was awarded to Prof V U Reddy in 2005, perhaps the first such in the country. The chair position played a big role in attracting Prof B Yegnanarayana from IIT Madras to IIITH in 2006. Several IIITH students got the opportunity to work at Microsoft’s IDC at Cybercity – its first offshore centre outside its main Redmond Campus. “Even though Microsoft didn’t start a physical school on campus, they did even better than that. Some of our students started working with them on part-time jobs at the end of the first year itself and continued working with them for the next 20 years,” says Prof. P J Narayanan.

Satyam School of Applied Information Systems
Satyam’s was by far the most impressive looking corporate school on campus, built by a young architect who followed the brief of literally creating a ‘temple of learning’, replete with an imposing entrance, elaborately carved wooden doors and panels and a central courtyard with huge columns in the Chettinad style. Even the main door to the school was a repurposed antique temple door! Dr. Balaji Utla, Senior VP of Satyam Computer Systems Pte Ltd was appointed by Mr Ramalingam Raju to oversee the setting up of the school.

Satyam worked closely on language technologies with Prof. Rajeev Sangal and his team. Dr Utla recalls deploying a team to work out of IIITH campus and guide the students: “We were keen on a two-way knowledge transfer and executive training but back in those days the IIITH campus was considered to be too far out and our employees were reluctant to go all the way there, and missed out on a great opportunity.”

Not only did this unique model work well for the institute, it also helped attract top notch faculty without a burden on institute finances. This unique model was followed for about 4-5 years before fizzling out. By then the institute had evolved into a more research and knowledge focussed one. Even the corporates had set up much larger offices in Hyderabad by then and priorities had shifted.

Silver Jubilee Corporate Founders Day
As part of IIITH’s Silver Jubilee Celebrations, the institute celebrated its Founders Day on 15 July 2023. The event was attended by industry leaders and included the felicitation of IIITH’s 6 corporate founding partners – IBM, Oracle, Metamor, Microsoft, Motorola and Satyam,

It was encouraging to see the presence of 250+ industry leaders from across tech industries from Hyderabad and across the country come together for interesting conversations around research trends, and to witness a showcase of IIITH’s emerging technologies. The industry has played a key role through IIITH’s 25 years in funding research, and innovation and also hiring IT students.

Congratulating IIITH on its 25th milestone, Ms Debjani Ghosh said, “Nasscom partnered with IIIT Hyderabad, as a founding partner during its inception in 1998, to put the plan in place towards making India a true talent hub for the rest of the nation. The vision was to build a dedicated institute that would focus on technology learning and research with very strong industry partnerships. The pedagogy was designed to prepare students with experiential learning and entrepreneurship approach. Overall I think the lack of legacy combined with the innovative governance model that was available in the PPP model tremendously helped us. And while India now has 20 IIITs, IIIT Hyderabad is the only institution where Nasscom is a founding partner and we are very proud of this association, this partnership and the journey that we have been on together. It is just fantastic to see what this institute has achieved over the past 25 years under the leadership of Prof. Raj Reddy, Prof. P J Narayanan and the entire team”.

Benefits of the corporate partnerships
Speaking about the benefits to IIITH from these partnerships, it helped immensely by not only bringing visibility to the institute with participation of big names like  Oracle, IBM, Microsoft and such, but it also brought about the active participation of senior leaders who were directly involved with the initiative. This helped bring in a lot of direction, perspectives and factual guidance with thought leadership directly stepping in. Thirdly, the actual resources and assistance given to teaching and research helped the institute as well as company stocks. So  the institute gained in all three areas – visibility, the translatorship from a directional standpoint and the resources in kind. Prof Narendra Ahuja, the first director of IIITH (1999 – 2002) says that though the industry, IIITH and IT have changed a lot over the past 25 years, IT industry collaboration today makes more sense than ever. “I do not still see as much of it across India as there is potential for. So it is a good idea to revive the interaction, and reshape it for best two-way impact”, he muses.

When IIITH was launched, the Internet was in its infancy, but is now omnipresent. The kind of delivery that’s possible today is very different. The institute too has evolved and is now one of the most prestigious technology institutes in the country. Given its legacy, Dasgupta opines not only will IIITH benefit from such partnerships, but the institute’s technology research could benefit corporates too. It’s a win-win situation. He adds, “Now that IIITH has completed 25 years, I’m sure it has its own long term goals for the future and knows what it wants to gain from such private partnerships.  I would recommend selecting like-minded companies who can actually share that vision with you”. On what lies ahead, Prof. PJN has this to say: “IIITH has established creative and flexible models of engagement with industry, ranging from nurturing an area to co-creating technology to companies fully owning the IP. We should exploit and expand them to facilitate deep engagement with the industry, continuing the original spirit of the corporate schools. Changed times demand changed models”.

Sarita Chebbi is a compulsive early riser. Devourer of all news. Kettlebell enthusiast. Nit-picker of the written word especially when it’s not her own.


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