Archive for the Tag 'R&D'

How Xerox Monetizes Non-Core Innovation

Monetize non-core innovation rather than pruning it.

Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox, discussed innovation at her company in an interview at the World Innovation Forum June 9, 2010. She described initiatives to improve the return on innovation at Xerox’s  research centers such as PARC (Palo Alto Research Center). PARC’s ground-breaking inventions like the graphical user interface, ethernet, and postscript as inventions  had a large impact on the world but didn’t contribute enough to Xerox’s bottom line.  Let’s look at why that happened and what Xerox is doing now.

Unpredictability lies at the core of the innovation process.  Not only do innovators not know if an early-stage innovation will succeed or fail, they also can’t know all the possible applications or value latent in that innovation.  Thus, it’s far too easy for an exciting innovation to stray outside the bounds of the company’s core competence.

At some level, reaping the greatest value from a research organization means allowing researchers the freedom to explore.  Burns noted that innovators love working on interesting projects — it’s hard to stop them from doing it.  Rather than fetter its folk, Xerox found three ways to give them freedom while still reaping the value of innovations that fall outside the company’s core.

First, Xerox expanded its definition of what is core to the company.  Previously, Xerox defined itself as a copier company, looking for innovations in how to “reproduce images on paper.” That narrow definition meant that many of the early PARC inventions were not pursued. Since then, Xerox expanded to document management and is moving toward being a more general office information process company.  Rather than fear the paperless office, Xerox wants to help customers implement the paperless office.  Xerox’s recent acquisition of ACS positions Xerox in business process outsourcing — managing the non-paperless back office functions of customers and clients.  The expanding vision of Xerox brings more innovations within the scope of the company’s core. For example, the company now has a use for its smart document innovations that can automate some of the labor-intensive discovery process in legal proceedings.

Second, rather than discarding innovations that don’t fit inside the company, Xerox now looks for partners or buyers for whom the innovation does provide value.  For example, some of Xerox’s innovations in precision printing can apply to the low-cost manufacturing of solar panels.  Xerox isn’t going to become a solar panel manufacturer — that’s too far outside its core. But rather than dismissing the innovation, Xerox partnered with a West Coast firm to incubate a new company that can leverage the value of those innovations.

Third, outside companies can now hire PARC and its portfolio of specialists to tackle tough R&D problems.  CEO Burns said that most PARC’s activities remain focused on Xerox, but the option to sell non-core innovations lets the company maintain the innovative culture of PARC while monetizing its researchers’ outputs.  In short, Xerox is expanding how it leverages the fruits of innovation rather than pruning the innovation funnel.


  • When evaluating innovation projects, don’t immediately rule out ideas outside the company’s current strategies, customers, or core
  • Instead, also ask if an innovation might be more valuable to a non-competing outsider
  • Find complementary partners who can license or buy non-core innovations or innovation expertise to reap the greatest total value from the innovation process.
  • Allow innovators enough freedom to enable breakthroughs.
  • Expand or reenvision the core of the company to leverage innovation.

1 Comment »Case study, How-to, Innovation

How Boston Scientific Accelerates Innovation

Point: Capture, share and reuse knowledge to make R&D engineers more productive


At Power to Innovate 2009, Boston Scientific’s Randy Schiestl (VP of R&D) and Jude Currier (Cardiovascular Knowledge Management & Innovation Practices Lead) described how Boston Scientific is redesigning its innovation processes. The goal: to accelerate time to market, increase the productivity of innovators, and reduce costs and risks.

Boston Scientific is an $8 billion company committed to delivering innovative medical technologies that improve the quality of patient care as well as healthcare productivity. The company has a broad portfolio of 13,000 products. The new products in its pipeline include drug coated stents, bare metal stents, catheter and bio-absorbable technology.

In the past, Boston Scientific drove innovation from business strategy to technology development to product development. In this staged approach, engineers created technology-driven products that were then shown to business units and customers at the prototype stage. The trouble with this process was that the later groups often found gaps or risks in the proposed product late in the product development process. As a result, the company had to spend more money than expected putting out fires while trying to hold to a launch schedule.  Boston Scientific decided to change its innovation process to bring more knowledge and resources into the earlier stages of innovation.

As part of the new innovation process, Boston Scientific began bringing in key “voices” into the innovation process earlier. By getting these voices — the voice of the customer, the voice of the business unit, and the voice of regulatory bodies — earlier, the company uncovered its knowledge gaps and risks much sooner. The second part of Boston Scientific’s innovation process redesign gave employees access and pointers to relevant information, whether that information resided in a document or in the tacit knowledge of an expert. The goal here was to reduce the amount of time engineers spend looking for knowledge. Schiestl said engineers spend 30% of their time looking for relavant knowledge. To improve upon that, Boston Scientific used Goldfire (innovation software from Invention Machine) to capture, share and reuse knowledge.  Goldfire’s semantic technology automatically categorizes concepts can and ties relevant intelligence to specific innovation initiatives. For example, engineers used Goldfire to identify past research and then validate whether that research could be repurposed. The result: Boston Scientific engineers who used Goldfire spent only 10 percent of their time researching intelligence, compared to 20-30 percent by non-Goldfire users.

Boston Scientific’s new innovation process illustrates what Mark Atkins, CEO of Invention Machine, called an innovation intelligence ecosystem.  This ecosystem represents the aggregate of information, communities, and processes that collectively contribute to innovation. Here’s how it works: using innovation software like Invention Machine’s Goldfire, companies capture and reuse information and intellectual capital created by employees as well as by external sources. Goldfire further enables collaboration by accurately reconstructing a user’s past thinking and research process, making it visible and explicit to other users. Employees avoid reinventing or duplicating research already done, thus saving time and improving innovation productivity.

Boston Scientific shared two examples of its success using Goldfire and the company’s new innovation processes. First, the company improved the design of cardiac stents to reduce a patient’s injury-response to the device. By combining knowledge from across the innovation ecosystem, the company mapped key clinical knowledge about heart disease and how different heart artery conditions affect the patient outcomes with different stent designs.

In the second example, Boston Scientific used Goldfire to solve a technical problem in manufacturing that was reducing product yields.  Using Goldfire, Boston Scientific found that previously undocumented thermocapillary effects were leading to clogged spray nozzles. By understanding the physics of the cause, Boston Scientific was able to make a simple change to the manufacturing line to eliminate the clogging and thereby improve yields.


  • Uncover all the “voices” that have a say in the success of innovations (the voice of the customer, voice of technologists, voice of manufacturing, voice of regulatory compliance, etc.).  Connect key people and communities in a more collaborative, sharing-oriented environment
  • Identify, organize, and access information (internal and external) needed by these communities to do their innovation-related work.
  • Develop knowledge and innovation processes that find and resolve knowledge gaps or risks early in the innovation process.

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Kraft: the “$40 Billion Start-Up” Spurs Innovation

Point: Open innovation can accelerate new product development

Story: When Irene Rosenfeld took over as CEO of Kraft, she saw an anemic innovation pipeline. IrenePhotoThe company had 2000 corporate R&D staff — scientists, engineers and chemists — but new products weren’t flowing rapidly enough.   Her solution to encourage innovation?  To get everyone to “Think of Kraft as a $40 billion start-up,” she said at the World Business Forum on October 7, 2009.  One way to emulate start-up thinking is to be open to new ideas from anywhere and quickly turn them into something valuable. Kraft reached out beyond its corporate R&D to enlist the help of employees across the whole company, as well as suppliers and partners, to spur innovation.

For example, Kraft runs an online “Innovate with Kraft” program whereby anyone can submit product ideas.  Although skeptics call such programs gimmicks or fads, Rosenfeld maintains that they’re not gimmicks if the programs and the ideas generated from them are being used.

Kraft’s recent new product introduction, Bagel-fuls (frozen bagels pre-filled with Philadelphia brand Cream Cheese), for example, came from an unsolicited idea from a third-generation bagel maker in a niche market. The idea was a win-win for both companies: it solved some technical challenges that Kraft had faced in delivering a bagel and cheese combo, and it expanded the bagel-makers product beyond his niche.

Rosenfeld also mentioned the value of platform-based innovation (ideas that span multiple brands and geographies) in the innovation process.  Now, “Our innovation pipeline is quite full,” Rosenfeld remarked, with new products coming out in four core areas: Snacking, Quick Meals, Premium and Health & Wellness.


  • Look for ideas in the corners: reach out to employees and suppliers, especially niche people, to uncover obscure ideas that merit more widespread use
  • Celebrate the use of submitted ideas to show the value of participation in innovation submission programs.

For more information:
Irene Rosenfeld at the World Business Forum on Oct 6, 2009 #wbf09

Staggs, Sandy. Foster Innovation at Kraft Foods, Oct 27, 2008.

New York Times, Sept. 9, 2009

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