EMC = Innovation?
Is that what springs to mind when you think of EMC? Isn’t it HP that = “invent”? Well, yeah, that HP marketing campaign was very successful but marketing or no, HP’s simply known for that innovative spirit. But EMC – what are they known for? Storage systems? Great sales force? Yes and yes. But innovation?I admit, this isn’t likely to spring to mind but, at least for me and I suspect many of my colleagues, this is changing. I just got back from a week in Franklin, MA where EMC held its second annual innovation conference and I’d like to tell you a bit about it. First, it is an internal conference – last year it had attendance of approximately 300 – this year over 1000, more than half of which were via remote participation including video conferencing (so frankly, I think parts of it were attended by far more than 1000 people). There are several significant elements to this event.First, is the Innovation Showcase. In the June timeframe a call for papers goes out (internally) where employees are encouraged to submit their ideas. From the submissions 30 finalists are selected and those are presented at the conference, both for “official” judging and for people’s choice. Of those 30, one people’s choice award is selected, and the top 4 are selected by that official panel of judges. Last year there approx 450 submissions were made, this year 984 from 19 countries. The cool thing is that ideas come from many different functions, in many cases individuals submit ideas that are not specifically related to their day jobs. By and large the ideas are mostly technical, though some of the finalists presented process oriented ideas as well – one of these won an honorable mention this year. The spirit of friendly competition is fantastic and the ideas are just superb. Very, very fun. (And I just saw a PR go out on the conference – you can see more of the details on the showcase and other things here)The agenda includes internal speakers, at least one strategic customer and a set of talks from our university partners. Of those sessions, this year there was one that was quite a highlight: on Thursday morning we had a “round the world tour”. This session had a moderator in the room in Franklin who kicked off by giving us all an overview of the Centers of Excellence within EMC. We have them in China, India, Isreal and Russia and in some locations the number of employees is significant. After this overview we switched from slides on the screen to video. The first stop was China and when the camera came up on a room full of probably two to three hundred people (mind you, it was between 10 and 11PM in China!!) with one representative standing at the front with a headset on, something very cool happened. All of our China colleagues waved. And we waved back. I know it seems simple and perhaps no big deal, but it was really, really cool. There were folks in the room with whom I have been working for months via online collaboration and frequent conference calls. Particularly since I telecomute and am used to working with people remotely, I already feel I know these folks pretty well, in spite of never having seen them. But to have a video connection was somehow powerful – we really connected!! That session was quite the buzz – my impressions seem to have been shared by the bulk of the audience. I’m looking forward to our next concall with my China colleagues to get their impression.Innovating as a big company with many established products and customers is never easy. Not only is balancing investment in those existing products and customers with investments in the new stuff is a challenge, the cultural differences are also a challenge. EMC made the committment a few years ago to take a different approach to research, creating an Innovation Network instead of autonomous research centers. The Innovation Conference, along with other things such as a EMC Fellow and Distinguished Engineering Program and lecture series are making a big impact.Yeah, EMC is a wicked cool place to work.