Igniting innovation: Collaboration, prioritisation and analytics


Choose wisely: Deciding on which innovation path to take should be based on its novelty, the return on investment and the company's ability to deliver the final product. Photo used with permission from GE.

Choose wisely: Deciding on which innovation path to take should be based on its novelty, the return on investment and the company's ability to deliver the final product. Photo used with permission from GE.

Keeping a business afloat often requires technopreneurs to exercise discretion in order to avoid risks which may threaten the well being of an organisation. However, there are certain risks worth taking, and those associated with collaboration would be among them. 

“The number one collaboration risk that people tend to mention is intellectual property protection,” says Dr Xiangli Chen, vice president and chief technology officer of General Electric (GE) Research and Development (R&D) Centre in Shanghai, China. 

“To mitigate that risk, partners in a collaboration need to agree on an intellectual property sharing framework. What you had brought into the collaboration should remain yours but what’s developed from the collaboration needs to be shared fairly with the people who have invested their resources into it,” he explains. 

Another important area that Dr Chen says collaborators should iron out is their go-to-market strategy. 

“Many times collaboration partners may even be potential competitors so they need to understand which part of the intellectual property will be considered as exclusive rights for each party within their respective industries,” he says. 

Regarding how to select the right partners for a collaboration, Dr Chen says it’s important to look at whether the various companies involved have characteristics that are complementary to each other. 

“Each should bring in their unique strengths into the collaboration,” he advises. “All parties involved also have to trust each other and this can be developed over the course of the collaboration. While it’s important to be aware of the risks, they should realise that if they work together, they will be successful together.” 

Picking out priorities 

Meanwhile, the decision of which innovation agenda should become a priority is also a crucial consideration for organisations seeking to excel within the industry. 

Dr Chen says that one of the main deciding factors here should be whether or not the innovation in question is truly a novel idea and able to boost the competitive advantage for the company concerned. 

“Other things to think about are the return on investment and whether you can actually deliver the product or service. Many times, we may have great ideas, but don’t have the capability to carry it out,” he says. 

Besides this, Dr Chen feels that companies ought to look into how they can make use of the insights that smart machines are able to provide them as he believes this will help them in becoming more successful in the future. 

“Machines produce a lot of data today, but we’re not taking full advantage of the data we have. Less than 0.5% of data created by machines is being used today. The challenge is how to gather and analyse this data so we can turn it into useful information,” he says. 

Dr Chen adds that sensors are readily available and cost very little nowadays. Once connected to the Internet, they would be able to provide companies with operational data on a real-time basis. This, according to him, would be a nifty resource as it would help organisations make timely and informed decisions. 

“We call this the Industrial Internet,” explains Dr Chen. “Its going to be the winning formula for many companies like ours. But we still need a lot of effort in translating big data into knowledge that we can use to either improve the operation of machines or to change the way the machines work or are designed.” 

He highlights that having a proper feedback loop in place would be important in order to create machines that are smarter and more efficient to provide better service to its users. 

With the aim of stimulating greater development of the Industrial Internet, an international partnership of industrial leaders, governments and the academia has been set up. Known as the Industrial Internet Consortium, its five founding members are GE, AT&T, Cisco, Intel and IBM. 

“The Industrial Internet is still in its early stages of development, but it will have a huge impact on society in the future. That’s why we need to work together,” says Dr Chen. 

In addition to its contributions to the consortium, he says GE is also planning to build up more software and analytics centres of excellence, besides the facility it has in California, United States. 

“We’re now looking at other locations so we can have maybe five sites globally. We haven’t decided where and what focus they’ll have yet but you will see continual investment from GE in this area,” Dr Chen says. 

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