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Does your company need an innovation lab?

John Brandon | March 8, 2016
Bi-modal IT may be tech buzzwords du jour, but creating a separate department (often in its own physical space) to do nothing but pure R&D is still an enticing prospect for embracing the innovator’s dilemma.

“Research needs to stay in touch with production without having it interfere too much with real innovation, which often isn't pretty in its early stages,” says Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates who covers IT trends. “The housing problem is a balance between having research and production mingle freely and randomly, which sounds like a good thing, and letting researchers pursue their projects independently. The messaging, subliminal or otherwise, coming from production can be pretty distracting.”

3. Autodesk Pier 9 

This 12,000-square-foot creative workshop located in San Francisco is intended to blend the virtual software created at Autodesk with the physical world, says Greg Eden, the vice president of brand and communication. One of the projects involved creating a 3D printer called Ember as a way to show what is possible with 3D printing. They produced a model of the entire downtown San Francisco area (or 115 city blocks). 

One of the most interesting differences with Autodesk’s Pier 9 is that it is not intended as a showcase for products. Eden says they already have “showrooms” at their corporate offices, so the 3D printer project was not intended as a way to see how their software works. He says it’s critical to the long-term success for any company within tech or outside of tech. 

“We can all list off the companies that have created amazing products and then managed their slow decline with dot releases after dot releases, making small incremental steps,” he says. “These spaces unlock the creativity for us but also for customers and the wider community” 

Interestingly, Eden says it is important for a company building an innovation lab to make sure they do not underestimate the value. Autodesk has been surprised by the interest in their facilities and are currently building new labs in Toronto and Boston. 

Where you locate the lab is also key. Pier 9 is located close to Silicon Valley and downtown, and it’s easily accessible by light rail. Their Toronto lab will be close to the University of Toronto, and their Boston facility is in an emerging tech center (the new home of the GE headquarters).


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