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Ford vs. Cisco: Two ways to approach innovation

Rob Enderle | Jan. 18, 2016
Columnist Rob Enderle compares Ford’s innovation approach with Cisco’s and concludes that a combination of both would work best. Here’s why.

speed of innovation

Last week, I talked about how Apple could likely learn from Ford’s approach to innovation, which favors promoting experimentation and shifts focus from blame for failure to encouraging and rewarding experimentation. This week I attended the opening of Cisco’s new Innovation Center in Toronto [Disclosure: Cisco is a client of the author] and it struck me that the differences between Ford’s Research and Innovation Center in Silicon Valley and Cisco’s efforts were very different, but not necessarily mutually exclusive. It also stuck me that a technology company might find both approaches useful. Given that Apple is moving into the automotive space we may, at some future point, see a blending of the concepts.

Ford’s Research and Innovation Center

At CES Ford spoke of its relationship with Microsoft [Disclosure: Microsoft is a client of the author] and how their personal relationship with Bill Gate’s and his company allowed them to jump start their in-car technology efforts. FORD Sync, once tied to Microsoft’s technology, and now tied to BlackBerry’s QNX [Disclosure: BlackBerry is a client of the author], became a huge competitive advantage for the firm. Recognizing the power of having tech people and auto people work close together Ford decided to build their Research and Innovation Center in Silicon Valley to create a stronger competitive advantage tied to tech. Silicon Valley remains the technology center of the world.

This type of Technology Center is inward-focused. It is designed to bring innovation in (from companies like Cisco) early in the car planning process. Because it takes up to half a decade to get a car though the planning process, making sure advancements are contemplated early can go a long way towards assuring that late changes don’t damage either time to market or manufacturing line setup costs adversely.  

This also works against the “not-invented-here” mentality that often plagues legacy car companies by force feeding advancements from outside and both enabling and encouraging collaboration to anticipate and resolve issues in a timely manner and create more compelling solutions.   This will likely be critical as we move from cars driven by people to cars driven by computers.  

Cisco’s Innovation Center

Cisco’s effort is largely focused outside and they use their centers as both a showcase for what can be done and a place for their customers to come and work with them to solve problems focused on particular industries. Toronto is focused on smart cities/buildings, healthcare and finance.   What is created in these innovation centers is eventually shared with other Cisco customers, which lowers the cost and risks associated with the efforts by spreading them across companies.  


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