I travel frequently to EMC’s global R&D locations to monitor innovation activities. One of the most common questions I receive is: Do you notice cultural differences in a particular region’s approach to innovation?
It is difficult to get an accurate feel for any culture unless you live there for an extended period of time. A more appropriate way of asking the question would be: What are your observations about innovation at EMC’s global locations?
I’ve thought about my observations in these areas and tried to come up with a word or two that describes what I’ve witnessed firsthand.
China: Cutting Edge
I’ve written several articles that chronicle my own personal experience managing EMC Labs China. Over the past few years, as the high-tech industry has evolved, this team (and EMC China employees in general) has prided itself on education, prototyping, and knowledge transfer of the trends and technologies that are on the precipice of exploding in the industry. In 2007 they began researching cloud computing, followed soon after by “trust in the cloud.” Several years later they were among the first in the company to begin researching Big Data and analytics technologies such as Hadoop. They regularly publish papers and attend conferences on emerging technologies. Employees in all countries collaborate with them, and every year their ideas are chosen as some of the best in the world to implement internally.
In May of 2011, three months after the Egyptian revolution, I visited our Cairo facility and was asked to help them build a stronger culture of innovation in the region. I let them know that it could take several years to see tangible results. In less than two years, the employees in Egypt have built a local innovation program which is as mature as any that I’ve seen within the company. They submit more ideas per capita than any geography, and increased their employee idea submission ratio by four times year over year. Six employee ideas were chosen as “best in category,” and one of them was chosen as “best in show.” They opened two cloud-computing labs at local universities (the first in the world that I am aware of) and have strong partnerships with local government initiatives.
For several years at EMC I ran the corporate innovation contest (known as the Innovation Roadmap). I have observed that the enthusiasm for this program (and for innovation in general) in India is unbounded. The numbers bear this out: India has regularly been one of the top three countries in ideas submissions for the last three years running. In addition to increased submission rates (up 24% in 2012), the quality of their submissions is amplified by a quality committee; nearly all ideas are “improved” through a local process created exclusively by local employees. Dozens of ideas originating from employees in India have been selected as finalists over the years.
Our facility in Cork, Ireland, has long welcomed customer visits. As a result, I’ve witnessed a strong emphasis in Ireland on innovating with EMC’s customers. These customers come from all over Europe on a regular basis. I recall a compliance problem that European customers were having trying to return failed disk drives to EMC. Information leakage concerns resulted in a quick response by employees to create an electronic shredding solution that successfully overcame the problem. Employees at the facility are trained to lead idea-generation sessions. One such session focused on improved first impressions and hospitality for customers visiting the facility.
Many people know that Israel is viewed as one of the most innovative countries in the world (e.g., read the book Start-up Nation). I was excited to visit Israel for the first time last year and witness my co-worker’s approach firsthand. What stood out to me is that local EMC employees function as part of a strong local ecosystem, and augment this with consistent and high-quality knowledge transfer to other geographies within EMC. When my Israeli co-workers hosted EMC’s sixth annual Innovation Conference, the entire building (nearly every floor) was filled with exhibits and ideation from external startups, university partners, local corporations and businesses, and government initiatives. It was extremely impressive.
When we opened our Russia Center of Excellence in 2007, we asked our new co-workers to start building some of the newest and most complex high-tech products that EMC had produced to date. They quickly delivered (e.g., the VNXe and Unisphere products). When they set about to build a local university research ecosystem from scratch, they displayed the same sense of urgency and delivery of results, building one of the most advanced set of research partnerships that EMC has in any region around the world. They have also had success converting fantastic research results (e.g., compression) into functional, shipping code that runs inside certain EMC products. Recent efforts also include a push into the Russian startup market.
It’s this last point that has led to an investment into a global innovation analytics framework. The company needs an automated way to keep up with the pace of activities. My colleagues from all of these locales designed centralized innovation repository as a way to share and analyze the massive amount of innovation activities occurring worldwide at EMC. A tool was built using the six-step approach and is taught as part of EMC’s Data Science curriculum.
This tool, internally known as GINA (Global Innovation Network Analytics), is another example of cutting-edge, over-achieving, enthusiastic, customer-centric, collaborative, and speedy innovation!