Using AI to accurately predict up front when a product is going to launch is good, being able to predict and solve problems from the outset is great. "You can see if changing a printer, supplier or project manager at the outset will stop the process going wrong instead of fixing problems when it is too late."
Evans describes this as an example of where Sun's innovation culture allows it to position itself ahead of competitors, even if customers aren't forced to purchase immediately. "Our customers can look at us and say: 'There's a market, that's definitely of benefit to us. We could use that tomorrow.'"
Virtual reality is another area in which Evans and his team see potential. He says they are working with Hololens around packaging, development, and 3D printing. And that this work is not just about products they can sell today.
"This is about establishing credentials as leaders in the market in terms of what we're thinking about, rather than having a product offering ready to go," says Evans. "We can go into retailers and we can show them Hololens virtual reality versions of their packaging and they can do 3D approvals."
Evans stresses that this is considering the needs the company and its clients have right now, and solving them better today. But more important is anticipating what clients will need in two or three years.
"3D head sets right now are not that big a deal. Nobody's going to go out and buy a 3D headset to go online shopping. It just doesn't work. But if people start to buy 3D headsets for gaming we will need to tap into that market."
Evans describes walking a 'tight rope' between Sun's retail customers' needs today, and what those customers will require in three or five years. The company can't afford to push so hard now that it alienates clients who are comfortable with their working practices, but needs to be seen to be a future-proofed partner. "We're trying to align what we offer to both meet the needs now but also be in front of the curve. It's an interesting challenge."
Using 3D imaging to showcase potential packaging solutions is a big opportunity. But it's not something customers are asking for. "The investment is too much to benefit from right now. So we're introducing it to our customers as a solution that could solve their current problems, but one that we know they are not ready to buy. As more use cases come along they will know to turn to us."
This is a critical point that will be familiar to all disruptive technical leaders. Evans says that for his business it is specifically relevant because of the products it makes for its clients.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.