Tech Breakthroughs Don’t Happen in a Vacuum: Why Open Innovation is Critical in the Data Era

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In 2003, Dr. Henry Chesbrough published a paper that challenged organizations to drive new technology breakthroughs outside of their own four walls, and in collaboration with customers and partners for an outside view. The approach, open innovation, follows a framework and process that encourages technologists to share ideas to solve actual challenges.

I loved it. It was fast, yet pragmatic. It was conceptual, but grounded in real-world challenges that we could solve. The time and resources invested in innovation delivered better outcomes because it was developed with customers and partners.

For me, open innovation is core to how my teams have fostered new technology discoveries and patents that get realized in real-world use cases. It’s an archetype that has proven successful for Dell Technologies, notably as our customers look to modernize their IT infrastructure as part of their digital transformation.

Four tenets govern open innovation: collaboration, “open” in nature, rapid prototyping, and a clear path to commercialization. Our innovation teams have embraced this process, developing new solutions alongside our customers and partners based on the realities of the market landscape over the next three to five years. It’s a thoughtful blend of academic research, advanced internal technology, and developments from around the technology ecosystem.

Each engagement outlines problem statements and the many lessons learned from previous projects, and uses a number of internal and external resources from around the world to collaborate and ideate. Within a few short weeks, we develop and test prototypes and proofs-of-concept iterated in a real-world environment. This gives us the opportunity to learn critical lessons where we need to innovate around roadblocks, with a goal of designing a solution that’s incubated and integrated within 12-18 months, and primed to solve the challenges that lie ahead.

For example, we’ve worked with service providers to advance cloud-based storage container innovation designed specifically for IoT and mobile application strategies, laying the groundwork for an IT infrastructure that can evolve quickly to handle the volume of data that was then anticipated from 5G deployments and edge devices – happening today.

The scope of innovation projects underway today continues to focus on how we drive more value out of the exponential data resulting from more connected devices, systems, and services at the edge. IDC forecasts that by 2025, the global data-sphere will grow to 175 zettabytes, 175×1021 or 175 Billion 1TB drives.[1] Dell Technologies Vice Chairman, Jeff Clarke, recently put that into context during the keynote at Dell Technologies World – that’s more than 13 Empire State building loaded with data top to bottom! Much of that will happen at the Edge. The Edge computing market is expected to grow 30% by 2022.[2]

All of that data has the potential to drive better outcomes, processes and of course, new technology that could be the next major industry disruption and breakthrough. But the key word is potential – these are challenges that require innovation to not simply find a solution, but ensure that solution can be deployed and commercialized. Through the open innovation approach, we’re collaborating with customers and partners to meet the new demands of the “Data Era,” and ensuring that ALL the data, wherever it lives, is being preserved, mobilized, analyzed and activated to ultimately, deliver intelligent insights.

Open innovation enables us to be pioneers in software-defined solutions and systems that can scale to manage the influx of data and ensure they evolve with new software and application updates – and unlock our customers’ data capital.

For instance, we’re working with the world’s largest auto manufacturers to build their edge infrastructures and data management capabilities to support huge fleets of autonomous cars! Through innovation sprints and collaboration, we’ve been able to understand what’s required for data to work in real-time at the vehicle level, driving intelligence and automation through AI/ML, while also ensuring data management in the cloud and data center is equipped to handle Zettabytes of data. It’s our view that the infrastructure powering the future of smart mobility will be the first private ZetaScale systems in the world, and Dell is part of the core journey to make that a reality.

We’ve partnered with customers in retail to develop intelligent software-defined storage solutions that support integrated artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). This automates software updates, which can often zap productivity from IT teams. Using software-based storage offerings provisioned through automation, IT teams can now develop data-driven business applications that deliver better customer experiences.

We’re also continuing our work with service providers and enterprises to build the edge infrastructure required for 5G. For example, we’re working with Orange on specific solutions that look at how AI/ML can manage edge environments. At the same time, we’re helping service providers evolve their multi-cloud strategy so they can seamlessly manage and operate a variety of clouds that exist in public cloud domains, on-premises for faster access and stronger security, and clouds at the edge that enable them to manage data in the moment.

In my experience, innovation with “open” collaborative frameworks and processes delivers pragmatic yet incredibly meaningful fast innovation across any industry. You can’t advance human progress through technology if it can’t get into the market to deliver real leading-edge solutions to problems not previously solved. The single biggest challenge in front of our customers is the risk of being disrupted by a digital version of their business that can better exploit technology innovation. And that’s why our aim is to partner with our customers to innovate at speed through open innovation – ensuring our customers can be the disrupters – not the disrupted.

[1] https://www.networkworld.com/article/3325397/idc-expect-175-zettabytes-of-data-worldwide-by-2025.html

[2] https://www.eweek.com/networking/why-edge-computing-market-will-grow-30-percent-by-2022

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