Why every company needs its own tech lab

October 7, 2015

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The importance of a having a lab that where you can run experiments and perfect existing systems to improve the business.

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Innovation is central to any organization’s success and relevance in the marketplace. Unfortunately, many organizations lack the structure, processes, and commitment to foster a culture of curiosity, exploration, and yes—even failure. This contradiction creates the need for structured innovation, providing a consequence-free zone to experiment without hampering the creative process.

Here at PwC, we practice structured innovation through our Emerging Technology Lab (“Lab”) where we leverage new and existing technologies to build prototypes that solve our clients’ problems.

  • When a client had trouble tracking their fleet of branded refrigerators, we built a smart fridge by packing it with sensors and created a centralized method to monitor individual units.
  • When a client wanted to discover customer insights from their call center recordings, we built a speech-to-text application that mined call logs.
  • When a client had trouble engaging their executives around cybersecurity, we built Game of Threats™ to pit Hackers against companies in a cyber-breach simulation to virtualize the entire experience.

An essential ingredient in the innovation recipe is rapid prototyping, quickly bringing ideas to life through exploration and experimentation. We try, we fail, we learn, and repeat the process until we understand a new technology and its market impacts. Through iteration, we create prototypes and tools that demonstrate ideas and their relevance in the business landscape.

At our Lab, each of our prototypes has gone through multiple iterations and returns to the proverbial drawing board. At one point, our smart fridge was full of components ripped out of a disassembled bathroom scale, and our call center insights tool was not much more than a humble meeting minutes scribe. With every iteration of every prototype we’ve built, we have had the opportunity to assess our progress and pivot when necessary. Creating a culture where experimentation and failure are acceptable enables teams to quickly test ideas, helping them confidently move away from failures and build on top of successes.

Innovation does not always mean exploring bleeding edge technologies; sometimes innovation comes from finding new applications for existing technologies. We worked with a team that was struggling to collaboratively analyze large datasets. We started by creating a larger-than-life screen comprised of off-the-shelf displays, we developed an application that enabled simultaneous inputs from multiple users, and we added touch and gesture controls to encourage user participation. All of the components we used were already available to the public, but we found a way to combine them solve an existing problem.

There are many technologies that are poised to change the world, but we have yet to see them used to their full potential. Although most people are aware of these technologies, many are unsure of how they can be applied to their own businesses. By focusing a lens on leveraging these new tools, a Lab can be the best way to quickly discover and create solutions capable of disrupting industries.

We live in a world where established companies are routinely upended by fresh startups. Access to new and open technologies has leveled the playing field, making it not only easier for new entrants to disrupt old markets, but also for existing companies to reinvent themselves and stay ahead of the competition. Now, more than ever, it is critical that companies establish centers for exploring how the latest technologies are shaking up their industries. Innovation requires structure, processes, and commitment, and it can all start with an experiment in your very own Lab.

 


Trevor Tan contributed to this article.

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Contacts

Chris Curran

Principal and Chief Technologist, PwC US Tel: +1 (214) 754 5055 Email

Vicki Huff Eckert

Global New Business & Innovation Leader Tel: +1 (650) 387 4956 Email

Mark McCaffery

US Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT) Leader Tel: +1 (408) 817 4199 Email