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Companies like IKEA and Accenture are following in Google’s footsteps to stay ahead of the curve

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  • Home Depot, IKEA, and Accenture are examples of major companies with innovation labs.
  • The labs are designed to attract the brightest minds in technology, giving them a place to channel their entrepreneurial spirit with the security of working for an established organization.
  • Companies benefit too, because they’re less likely to lose their top talent to the startup world.
  • Alphabet, Google’s parent company, has a famous innovation lab called X.

“It’s like being an entrepreneur,” said Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, “minus the risk.”

Chamorro-Premuzic, a psychology professor at Columbia University and the chief talent scientist at Manpower, was referring to “intrapreneurship.” It’s a general term for acting like a company founder, but within the confines of an established organization — typically in what’s called a corporate innovation lab. Think X,Alphabet’s research and development team that’s also been called a “moonshot factory.”

Across industries, intrapreneurial opportunities have grown relatively common. And while few are as glamorous as traditionalentrepreneurship can seem— you are, after all, working for The Man — there can be practical benefits for both individuals and organizations.

Specifically, Chamorro-Premuzic mentioned money. As a startup founder, you never know “if you’re going to be bankrupt in one or two years,” he said, adding, “The likely outcomes for founders or entrepreneurs are very bleak.” Working under the umbrella of a major corporation provides financial and job security, since you aren’t constantly hunting for funding.

The business case for intrapreneurship, according to Chamorro-Premuzic, is simply that companies aren’t losing their most driven and most talented people to the startup world. Instead, companies dangle the prospect of relative freedom and creativity and hope that aspiring entrepreneurs will snatch it up.

To be sure, intrapreneurship has its detractors. In 2017, Anderee Berngian listed on VentureBeat all the companies that have closed their innovation labs in the last few years, including Nordstrom, Microsoft, and Coca-Cola. One potential reason Berngian floats: “Google has millions to spare” on failed projects. “Most companies don’t.”

Business Insider took a look at three corporate innovation labs, the kinds of challenges they’re tackling, and the creatives they’re hoping to attract.

Photo courtesy of Space10/ Business Insider all rights reserved.

IKEA’s ‘global future living lab’ aims to head off impending disasters like food insecurity

One of the corporate innovation labs that’s received the most media attention is IKEA’s Space10. A “global future living lab” launched in Copenhagen in 2015, its creations include hydroponic farms and IKEA Place, an augmented-reality app that lets you see how furniture would look in your home.

“IKEA’s overall mission is to create a better everyday life,” said Simon Caspersen, cofounder of Space10. “We are basically set up to see how they can live up to that mission in new ways, that their current business is not delivering on.” That means tackling current and coming challenges such as food insecurity and loneliness in cities, Caspersen said.

Only 25 people have full-time jobs at Space10. The lab then hires project specialists for temporary stints, or “residencies,” as it calls them. Space10 also collaborates with different startups whose interests align with theirs.

Caspersen made the case for working at Space10 this way: “You are put together with some other incredible people that don’t necessarily share your background or expertise,” adding that “otherwise people often work in silos.” An engineer might be working alongside a farmer, for example.

Plus, there’s the exposure that a fledgling startup wouldn’t ordinarily receive. “We do a lot to really highlight and promote the people that are part of the journey,” Caspersen said.

Home Depot’s innovation lab is tapping into college students’ technological prowess

OrangeWorks is Home Depot’s innovation lab, located on the campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. The goal is to evaluate emerging technologies that could change either the customer experience or corporate operations (the lab isn’t looking into products that would wind up on shelves).

The lab was launched in 2015, and since then it’s produced things like a virtual pallet stacker, which moves heavy items around the warehouse. Anthony Gregorio, a senior manager at the Innovation Center, described the technology that led to the pallet stacker as a “3D Tetris for shipping containers that allows us to be as efficient as we possibly can.”

Like Space10, OrangeWorks has a small core team: Just eight people, with varying technical skill sets, work there full time. About 60 Georgia Tech students also pitch in at OrangeWorks. Recently, Gregorio said, the team has been working on ways to use computer vision for inventory tracking and customer-service opportunities.

As for why someone would want to join OrangeWorks instead of starting something on their own, Gregorio said it’s all about the “size, scale, and resources that an enterprise like our own can provide.”

He used data as a prime example: “If somebody’s trying to do something in the data analytics space, readily available data that’ll help them build out their model isn’t always something that’s possible. … Something our size, we’re able to provide that.”

Photo courtesy of Accenture/ Business Insider

Accenture’s innovation hubs are helping their biggest clients avoid ‘disruption’ by getting creative

At Accenture, employees know that their clients — which include many Fortune 500 companies — are at constant risk of getting “disrupted” by new technology. That’s a major reason why Accenture is working on launching at least 14 innovation hubs in the US by 2020, putting some of the most creative minds in digital technology to work serving their clientele.

“One of the things our clients suffer from a little bit is they’re part of large corporations with a lot of cultural inertia,” said Bob Markham, managing director at Accenture Digital. “They don’t always get exposed to a lot of diversity of thought.”

Markham heads up the Chicago innovation hub, which was the first to launch, in 2016. It now has 600 full-time employees and is collaborating with four startups. But Markham said that it can be hard to attract top tech talent in the midwest.

What’s more, Markham said, “our large enterprises sometimes have a mentality that they have to do it themselves.” However, “oftentimes there are startups that have been thinking about the same problem.”

By collaborating with that startup, the organization can have a minimum viable product in four to eight weeks, as opposed to a year, and spend “hundreds of thousands of dollars less than if they were to try to do it on their own,” Markham said.

One example is the Washington, DC innovation hub’s work with Marriott, whose business has been disrupted by online booking agencies like Kayak and Expedia. Accenture invested in a venturing arm that could help Marriott find startups that were thinking bout “travel experiences,” such as a digital concierge.

In return, some startups receive mentoring, and all learn how to scale their product or service in a corporate environment.

Intrapreneurship isn’t for everyone

While a job at a corporate innovation lab might seem thrilling, Chamorro-Premuzic sounded a note of caution.

“Not everybody is well-suited for this. It’s really a minority of people who will thrive and enjoy and be good at this kind of job,” he said. “But I think there’s still an opportunity because many young people who decide to launch their own businesses could be employed by these largest corporations and basically do the same thing.”

This article was originally published on Business Insider. Copyright 2018.

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Technology

Purolator to design tech-driven courier hub in Toronto

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A new national technology hub is being designed and built by courier service provider Purolator in Toronto, reflecting growth in the area’s e-commerce sector. The $339 million project will extend to 60 acres.

Purolator Inc.’s new super-hub in Toronto is set to open in 2021 and the expectation is that it will triple the capacity of the courier provider’s network. The development of the hub forms part of a wider $1-billion investment the company intends to inject into Canada across the next five years. Included in the plans is the intention to upgrade the vehicle fleet, taking advantage of more advanced technology. The central hub will help to coordinate Purolator’s 172 operations facilities and 111 shipping centres.

Also included in the scheme are plans to focus on the customer. This includes improving the online experience by making the main website easier to navigate. There will also be innovations in automation and the hub will be designed to meet environmental standards, meeting the Toronto Green Standards program (which details Toronto’s sustainable design requirements).

Quoted by Bloomberg, Purolator CEO John Ferguson says that the announcement “is one of the most ambitious in our company’s history and will future-proof our business. Purolator has experienced record growth over the past three years. We picked up and delivered over one quarter of a billion packages in 2018 and we expect our growth trajectory to continue.”

The Purolator hub is just one of several innovations making use of Toronto’s growing technology infrastructure. E-commerce company Shopify plans to increase its operations and to employ more staff over the next three years in the city.

Toronto’s cultural and economic diversity has fueled the city’s rapid growth in a number of high-tech areas, particularly for startups and developments in areas like artificial intelligence. This reflects the Canadian government’s plans to build and keep successful startup ecosystems, especially in the Toronto area.

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Investment

Connecting with ‘US:’ The necessity and value of the Internet of Things

Done right, the Internet of Things is the Internet of Us, connecting the physical and digital in a human-centered way that improves the world intelligently.

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By Frank Antonysamy, Vice President of Cognizant’s Global IoT and Engineering Services

U.S. food safety has been a concern since the days of Upton Sinclair’s classic novel about the stockyards and meatpacking industries in Chicago. Public reaction to The Jungle compelled Teddy Roosevelt and the U.S. Congress to pass food safety laws and establish the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1906.

More than a century later, threats clearly remain to the safety of domestic and global food supplies and the purity of water sources. Recently, we’ve learned about significant, ongoing, even deadly threats to our food and water. Food recalls have ranged from romaine lettuce to beef in the last 12 months; the tragedy in Flint, Mich., reminds us that poisonous chemicals still make their way into our water, as well. Faulty equipment or poorly executed processes often are to blame.

[Read more: The State of the Union for IoT Intelligence]

Solving Safety Challenges with Internet of Things

It doesn’t have to be this way. As the Internet of Things (IoT) begins to permeate our global infrastructure, sensor-equipped devices will soon outnumber the global population. There’s no reason to wait until communities face a food- or water-borne threat before fixing malfunctioning equipment or improving safety procedures.

Today we can automatically and rapidly glean information from IoT-enabled devices – about temperatures in IoT-equipped food storage and transportation equipment, for example, or the chemicals sensed by the pumps that filter and move our water, or the monitoring capabilities of the medical devices we increasingly rely on in hospitals and the home. With such intelligence, communities and businesses can address problems before they become a threat.

[Download]: Advancing Smart Manufacturing Operations Value with Industry 4.0

Increasing Food Safety on a Massive Scale

Recently, I had a conversation with Internet of Things maven Stacey Higginbotham on one of her Stacey on IoT podcasts. We discussed Cognizant’s work with Internet of Things adoption, and the ways in which these solutions can help businesses and the people they serve.

We talked about how one of the world’s largest sellers of fresh and frozen foods uses IoT-enabled refrigerators and freezers to reduce food spoilage across its global supply chain. Such spoilage not only results in financial losses due to food waste, but can also present risks to consumers. Although the business had already implemented alarms on the refrigeration systems in its distribution centers to signal malfunctions, it could take 36 hours for the maintenance operations team to respond – clearly too long when it comes to food safety and waste. There was also no mechanism to proactively monitor the refrigeration units and ensure timely service calls.

Our solution minimizes energy consumption and seeks to ensure consumer safety. It ties together sensors, cloud-based monitoring, algorithms that trigger alerts and warnings, reminders in handheld applications and a direct link of performance data to individual employees to encourage compliance with the company’s internal food safety protocols. The system covers hundreds of freezers, thousands of deliveries, 600 million data points and millions of pounds of food.

The results have been impressive. After rolling out the system to 100 of its stores, the business reduced priority response times from 36 hours to four hours, and decreased food loss by 10% in the first year by predicting refrigeration failures. The company aims to expand the system to 5,300 stores, with the potential to reduce operating costs by up to $40 million while ensuring the safe storage of food. (Hear more about this solution in the three-minute podcast recording below.)

[Download]: Designing Manufacturing’s Digital Future

From Providing Pumps to Offering Insights

These same principles guided our solution for a global manufacturer of high-technology industrial water pumps used in a range of applications, from providing drinking water for cities and villages, to processing waste water, to clearing and filtering the huge volumes of water moved during deep-sea drilling.

With the movement of all that water through its sensor-equipped and self-monitoring pumps, the manufacturer had access to a flood of information on everything from performance-based data on pressure and volume to the chemical composition of the water. By collecting and analyzing this information, the company could leverage and monetize its insights into not just equipment performance but also the safety of the water it delivers. If a certain chemical spikes in the water supply, for example, alerts are triggered, and municipalities can investigate. If water pressure or volume falls outside set parameters, precautions can be taken, including automatic alerts and even preemptive shutdowns.

Buyers of the pumps want this information. So, while using this data to improve the performance of its products, the business can also share insights with its clients on a subscription basis, opening up new revenue streams. The business is no longer just providing world-class high-tech pumps; it’s offering customers critical insights from the pumps it sells, as a value-added service. (Hear more about this solution in the three-minute podcast recording below.)

[Download]: Advancing Smart Manufacturing Operations Value with Industry 4.0

Connecting Things; Connecting to Our Needs

What links these two examples is their prioritization of real human needs as part of the solution. Clean and safe food and water are vital to human health, and companies that help provide themadd value.

For many years, large industrial enterprises have lived in two separate worlds: the world of all their physical assets (factories, equipment, buildings, people) and the world of their digital assets (software, workflows, algorithms, reports). Through sensor technology, network capability, security advances and IoT platforms, these two worlds are now becoming seamlessly integrated like never before.

Today, the shorthand for this ongoing integration is the Internet of Things. In reality, though, it’s the Internet of Us. Technology offers us a path to connect our physical world with a digital one, in which we occupy a new space and a new future: a place where the physical and digital come together, enabling businesses to transform their operational and business models, in a scalable way, through intelligence. (Hear more on the Internet of Us in the three-minute podcast recording below.)

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Healthcare

AI technology from IBM detects breast cancer risk before it happens

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IBM has taken a step forward in disease prevention by designing an artificial intelligence technology that can predict the risk of breast cancer developing up to one year before the first signs of cancer appear.

With this new step in medical diagnosis, IBM has developed an artificial intelligence model which is capable of predicting malignant breast cancer within a year with an 87 percent accuracy rate (when the output from the machine is compared with expert radiologists.) In addition, the technology could correctly predict 77 percent of non-cancerous cases.

The prediction methods uses both mammogram images and medical records in order to make the assessment, based on a data review of the medical evidence. This is the first application of AI to draw upon both images and data to make a prediction in relation to breast cancer.

At the heart of the deep neural network technology is an algorithm, which was trained by IBM technologists along with medical professionals from Israel’s largest healthcare organizations. The training of the artificial intelligence took place using anonymized mammography images which were linked to biomarkers (like patient reproductive history) together with clinical data. The training data-set consisted of 52,936 images from 13,234 women who underwent at least one mammogram between 2013 and 2017.

The aim of the medtech is not to replace the physician, but to act as a ‘second pair of eyes’, providing a backup in the event that something has been missed through conventional patient assessment. This could prove especially useful in areas with staff shortages where a second medical professional is not available to provide a second assessment.

An assessment of the technology has been published in the journal Radiology. The research paper is titled “Predicting Breast Cancer by Applying Deep Learning to Linked Health Records and Mammograms.”

In related news, IBM is applying artificial intelligence to catch Type 1 diabetes much earlier. IBM’s other health technology project could help identify patients at risk and help chart a course for tracking the condition. The predictive tool is a joint project between IBM and JDRF (formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation).

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