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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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IoT + Data = Retail Intelligence

In the equation IoT + X = Intelligence, what role can consumer and supply chain data play as the X factor?

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Valued at USD $10 billion in 2017, the retail segment of the Internet of Things (IoT) market is expected to grow at a phenomenal 19% compounded annual rate and hit $35 billion in 2024. New ways of collecting data at the source are enabling this growth. IoT-embedded sensors on shelves and in refrigerators; store beacons that can sense and measure foot traffic; RFID tags on clothes and smartphones with Bluetooth technology are all collaborators in this dance to log and analyze data. Artificial intelligence can then analyze the sheer volumes of numbers generated and give retailers intelligence to increase efficiencies and sales.

The promise of IoT is that it can enable retailers to improve backend supply chain operations and the customer service experience. The following examples illustrate use cases of both.

Frictionless shopping

Amazon Go is a test case for effective use of RFID tags and store beacons to bypass the checkout process altogether. Every item on the shelves has an RFID tag and when the customer walks out of the store, the products he or she leaves with are scanned and billed to the corresponding Amazon account. The IoT at play here delivers more than a seamless customer experience: it also gives the retailer live status updates about inventory, intelligence that can be relayed up and down the supply chain.

An eye on perishables

IoT-embedded sensors in refrigerators can predict when the machine might be about to malfunction based on current temperature and humidity profiles. A similar IoT-driven system used in warehouses alerts vendors about potential spoilage and can prevent waste. While the edge use case of IoT in driving alerts in real-time is an important one, retailers can also extract long-term intelligence about inventory, store traffic and more simply by reading the data and looking for the corresponding patterns.

Interactive shopping experience

At a time when the drumbeats about the demise of brick-and-mortar stores are growing louder, IoT is injecting some much needed theatre into the customer service experience. Digital mirrors in fitting rooms read RFID tags on the garments customers bring in, pull up those items on the mirror and suggest complementary accessories. Customers can also push a button to request the outfits in a different size or colour. 

If a customer has signed on for notifications from a store, in-store beacons through the customer’s Bluetooth can deliver custom product recommendations through push notifications. Such live interactions increase the value of in-person shopping while also delivering intelligence about shopper behaviour.

While IoT dramatically improves backend efficiencies, the customer-retailer interaction can be much more complicated because of data privacy laws. Customers need to willingly opt in to receive notifications and trade data for the value that retailers deliver. 

IoT is already delivering valuable intelligence to retailers. A major grocery store, for example, saved millions by outfitting in-store refrigeration systems with IoT sensors. As the cost-value ratio of IoT devices decreases, expect retailers to leverage the power of IoT even more to deliver crucial intelligence about customer shopping behaviour and increase transparency in the supply chain.

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What challenges face IT leaders in 2020?

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With 2020 underway, digital transformation is still very much a focus for business leaders — but what about the processes being used to hit those targets? According to Stephanie Overby at The Enterprise Project, DX preparation is ongoing, but full culture change is on the horizon for 2020. 

Digital is certainly still a priority with respect to funding, but a recent Gartner report shows that two-thirds of companies not only fail to deliver on their promises but also reveal “enterprise weaknesses, causing organizations to see a gap between expectations and results.”

So what’s holding companies back? For CIO.com, journalist Paul Heltzel outlined the top nine challenges that IT leaders will face in 2020:

The gig economy

It’s hardly a secret that both the gig economy and telecommuting are exploding. With that comes the issue of data and IP security. While the advantages of distributed teams include flexibility and quick-pivoting, the aforementioned Gartner report warns that “A growing remote workforce, in both a work-from-home and co-workspace model will unintentionally expose the organization to vulnerabilities in data privacy and the security of confidential information.” Another gig economy concern? Finding the right talent.

Data privacy

The specific requirements of the GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) need to be addressed by various segments within organizations, at the risk of stiff penalties. Innovative vendors will continue working on unique solutions and features to meet these needs. 

The ROI of new technology

Advanced technologies like AI and automation need to “weigh the benefits of innovation with provable benefits to the business rather than simply adopting trending technology,” explains Mahi Inampudi, CTO and CPO at Envoy Global. “It’s about finding the right business case.”

Security

According to Jake Olcott, vice president of security ratings for BitSight, “Zero-day vulnerabilities receive the most attention from the media, but in 2020, hackers won’t bother with these highly publicized attacks.” Instead, simple strategies will be at work, such as gaining access to a network through a vendor. 

Another concern is the rise on ransomware, with some experts suggesting organizations will need to create a new role entirely, dedicated to combating this new cybersecurity threat.    

Risk management (and expectations)

“Businesses and customers now expect software and solutions to have rapid releases that adapt over time, similar to consumer technology,” explains Matt Mead, CTO of SPR. “CIOs need to manage all IT projects in a way that mitigates risk. Start by making sure projects are using a modern agile approach and place all high-risk activities early in a project’s life cycle.”

Skills gap

According to John Ferron, CEO at Resolve Systems, the skills gap in IT will cause organizations to look to automation for solutions. “As we look to 2020, IT teams should expect to see increasing focus on intelligent automation and AIOps to help them truly do more with less by automating repetitive tasks and processes and enabling each IT pro to manage increasingly more infrastructure on a per-person basis.” 

Upskilling

Technologies evolve quickly, and as a result, developing new skills can be a challenge. A culture of learning and development can help improve retention.  

“Cloud whiplash”

“As more and more organizations begin to adopt the hybrid cloud, we’ll eventually see a trend of cloud repatriation,” Adrian Moir, lead technology evangelist at Quest Software says, “which is what happens when companies don’t take the time to invest properly in migrating to the cloud. The best solution? Companies should analyze the data and workloads before moving to the cloud, to determine costs and potential service impacts involved, explains Moir. 

Culture change

More important than a reliance on technology, with respect to digital transformation? A change of mindset within the organization. “In the coming year, business leaders will need to understand that the digital transformation doesn’t end but instead becomes part of how business leaders solve challenges,” says Geoff Webb, vice president of strategy at software company PROS

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The 2020 outlook for artificial intelligence

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While 9 out of 10 respondents to the 2019 MIT Sloan Management Review and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) Artificial Intelligence Global Executive Study and Research Report agree that AI represents a business opportunity for their company, fewer than 2 out of 5 report business gains from AI in the past three years.

According to the report, “early AI winners are focused on organization-wide alignment, investment, and integration.”

Forrester’s AI predictions for 2020 focus on this being the year when “companies become laser-focused on AI value, leap out of experimentation mode, and ground themselves in reality to accelerate adoption,” explains VP, Research Director Srividya Sridharan.

As we look to the year ahead, “CIOs will need to better assess the value of their AI bets and prove that ROI to the business,” explains TetraVX Director of Product Management Kara Longo Korte, to business and tech reporter Stephanie Overby in The Enterprisers Project.

And while this promises to be an active year for AI investment, Overby outlines the 10 biggest AI trends to watch for 2020:

Measuring AI impact

As mentioned above, fewer than two in five companies report business gains from AI in the last three years. But as AI investment increases, this needs to change — and it can be done by altering how we measure results. “Think reporting against things like ease of use, improved processes, and customer satisfaction,” writes Overby.

Think Operationalization

“This year will be a tipping point for the infrastructure needed to support effective deployments, providing integrated learning environments and data ecosystems that support adaptive decision making by AI,” says Jean-François Gagné, CEO and co-founder of software provider Element AI.

Data pipelines

“Next year, the luster of AI and ML will wear off as companies realize it’s not magic, but math,” explains Pat Ryan, executive VP of enterprise architecture at SPR. With high-quality data as a foundation for AI/ML, 2020 will see a “heightened sense of appreciation and need” for everything-data — governance, analysts, engineers, and ML engineers — with a goal of creating a pipeline for continuous data that’ll drive more successful AI projects.

AI innovators in high demand

At 74% annual growth, AI Specialist is #1 on LinkedIn’s top 15 emerging jobs for the US in 2020. “[AI and ML] have both become synonymous with innovation, and our data shows that’s more than just buzz,” says the report.

Data modeling moves to the edge

As Overby explains, “expect a shift from cloud-only to cloud-edge hybrid strategies to enable machine learning (ML) in the next year.” Forrester is predicting that edge cloud service market will grow by at least 50 percent in 2020. “By implementing edge-first solutions, organizations can synthesize data locally, identify machine learning inferences on core raw data sets, and deliver enhanced predictive capabilities,” says Senthil Kumar, VP, Software Engineering for FogHorn.

The B2B benefits of AI

“Machine and deep learning are making it possible for users of complex B2B services to define and match complex requirements to ideal trading partners through an intuitive, needs-identification process and a vast understanding of potential trading partner strengths and capabilities,” says Keith Hausmann, chief revenue officer at Globality.

Human and machine work together

AI can work as a complement to contact service centre agents and teams, providing better/more timely informed responses. The challenge? “It’s important that organizations keep their customer service experiences human,” minimizing a potentially ‘too automated’ look. (The question can then be asked: When will standalone conversational AI emerge?)

Hyperautomation

One of Gartner’s top 10 strategic technology trends for 2020? Hyperautomation — i.e. “The application of advanced technologies like AI and ML to automate processes and augment humans across a range of tools and at a higher level of sophistication.” The goal? “More AI-driven decision-making,” explains Gartner.

Heterogenous architectures will emerge

“Today, AI-enabled applications and networks rely on different processing architectures,” writes Overby. But according to ABI Research’s 54 Technology Trends to Watch, that’ll change in 2020. “AI and ML frameworks will be multimodal by their nature and may require heterogeneous computing resources for their operations.”

Mistakes happen

AI is, of course, not perfect. As a final prediction, it isn’t hard to imagine that high-profile mistakes can be anticipated in 2020, but overall trust in AI will not erode. From deep fakes to the misuse of facial recognition, AI has the potential to perpetuate discrimination and cause harm, offence, and general uneasiness. Ultimately? It comes down to the importance of responsible use.

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