Luck had it that I got hold off a free registration for the SDForum’s Open Innovation and Research Fair in Santa Clara, CA on September 18, 2009.
Being so close to home, I managed to shuffle my work schedule around and attend the morning part of the event to listen to the keynote speakers talking about how innovation happens in their corporations.
Albeit the conference was not very technical and I clearly was not the typical attendee (senior and manager are not part of my job description :-)), I find this events rather interesting and a good opportunity to step back from the computer screen and the news reader and look at things from another perspective.
The keynotes were delivered by representatives from Nokia, HP, IBM, Paypal, Forbes and EMC and it was clear that every company has a different perspective, or approach, on innovation. The ones I got the most value from were:
- Nokia: John Shen leads the Systems Research Center at Nokia Research Center in Palo Alto, CA. John’s talk covered Nokia’s approach to innovation from a very academic perspective. Innovation is only possible when there is a culture, people and vision towards innovation. To innovate, you need to hire the best! But what defines the best? For John, it is someone (with at least one PhD :-)) that can grasp not only the science behind the research topic, but also quickly create a marketable solution for the innovations created. At the end of the day, the decision makers need to run the business and please the stock holders, so it is important that a research team which just came up with the most exciting technological innovation can also create the most exciting business plan to convince the decision makers. “Innovation is the intersection of business and technology.”
- IBM: Deborah Magid, from the IBM Venture Capital Group. Being that IBM has several research centers across the world, including one right here in San Jose, I was expecting someone from research would come and explain what makes research at IBM special and responsible for the company’s extensible list of technological innovation achievements in the last century (yes, getting close to the 100th anniversary of incorporation). Instead, I got to learn how a complete different part of IBM, the Venture Capital group, drives innovations mainly through partnerships in the field. It basically consists of creating innovative solutions out of existing technological components/solutions provided by partners. The most recent example of such partnership is the focus on Smarter Planet. Through a diverse partnership, from utilities companies, to semi-conductor producers to software providers, IBM is creating solutions that will provider smarter management of cities, food, healthcare, water, traffic, etc…
- HP: Rich Friedrich, the Director of the Strategy and Innovation Office at HP delivered a keynote on how his company is applying the concept of Open Innovation to amplify and accelerate research results. Through research collaboration programs with universities, HP has been able to invest in University research and then successfully monetize on the innovations created. Definitely a good example of collaboration between industry and academia. A couple of interesting notes from the session are OpenCirrus, an open cloud computing research testbed and the fact that when you manage innovation inside a large company, your new projects need to generate billions to have any significance in the overall company revenue and be considered successful.
The message from these keynotes is that there is no secret or standard recipe to create innovative technologies. It can range from a very science focused internal research strategy, to an shared activity between a company’s research departments and the academia, and it can even happen outside of research, when you join technologies together to create something better than the sum of the parts.
And a honorable mention to University of Minho, Braga, Portugal, that has been participating in the HP Open Innovation program doing research projects on cloud computing.