Analytics-led innovation has become essential to respond to the rapidly evolving digital economy and associated consumer expectations. A preliminary reading of our Innovation at Scale study suggests that it is essential to access data across internal silos and organisational boundaries. Part of the solution is innovation spaces that encourage collaboration and free thinking. Some of my colleagues recently unveiled a space for innovators to play and discover. I caught up with Bruno Maia, Head of Innovation of SAS in Latin America, and Igor Dsiaducki, from Bruno's team, to understand why this is creating a buzz with customers.
What is the business need you want to satisfy?
Bruno: In our work with customers, we saw there was a need for a physical place totally dedicated to experimentation with new technologies. It needed to be a place away from normal work, where teams could feel they could be creative and focus on particular projects. We wanted to create an environment where companies could work in partnership with the community, partners, startups or intrapreneurs.
How did you approach the design of this space?
Igor: Our priority was to encourage both experimentation and collaboration. To help people experiment, we wanted to show possibilities that would provide food for thought and trigger creativity. For collaboration, we designed a variety of workspace layouts to suit different teams, and maybe even different moods. Our environment now contains a number of different spaces and an updating carousel of experiments. At a high level, we separate them into the SAS Garage and the SAS Experience Zone.
What is the difference between the SAS Garage and the SAS Experience Zone?
Bruno: SAS Garage is basically an innovation lab that acts as a shared environment for customers and partners. The main goal is to stimulate the development of data-driven ideas and analytics and bring technology closer to people. This has been particularly popular with startups. SAS Experience Zone is a showroom where participants have access to a set of experiments focused on the Internet of Things, machine learning and computer vision. Technology and business professionals can immerse themselves in the experiments and demonstrations, and consider how they might be able to take these ideas back to their own workplaces.
What have you found to be popular sessions?
Igor: Beyond these physical spaces, we are also facilitating activities such as hackathons, design thinking workshops and domain-specific meetups. The expertise and experience of SAS subject matter experts have been as attractive as the physical space to support customers who want to accelerate the pace of innovation.
Could you give some real-life examples?
Bruno: We did a design thinking session with a big public bank about the opportunities and challenges related to credit cards. We are also creating a new business model to give some tips to football team managers in real time and another to give tips to professional gamblers. We have done four meetups: on deep learning, machine learning and time series analysis; data preparation; feature engineering and KNN for recommendations; and data science and data visualisation. We are planning a hackathon for a big private bank about open banking and open source. In the SAS Experience Zone, we have done more than 30 presentation sessions, for more than 50 customers, including telecom companies, financial services organisations and startups.
What have been the most important things you have learned?
Bruno: I think the most important is that you have to get your idea off paper and start actually doing. That means that you are better off starting with something small and building up over time, rather than trying to send a rocket into space on Day One. It helps to just keep moving on, even if something doesn’t really make sense, because looking for perfection is never going to work. Just keep going gently, and you will get there. Having said that, you also need to focus. We’re a small team and we can’t do everything. We have lots of ideas, but sometimes we just need to concentrate on one thing at a time.Read my conversation with colleagues of mine to understand why this is creating a buzz with customers. Click To Tweet
Igor: I have also learned that innovation spaces that help collaboration bring some unexpected benefits. For example, we were working with two different startups, one on computer vision and the other on football data analysis. They are now working together to bring a solution to market.
On a similar note, I’ve also learned the importance of networking. Maintaining good professional relationships is essential for any business, but the results of business work can be improved when the right people have access to the product and offer their opinions. I’ve seen that customers get a different impression of innovation and SAS when you have something that is visible to them. It doesn’t really matter whether we are talking about demonstrations that help them see how they could use something in their day-to-day lives or sessions that help them create solutions to their internal challenges. The point is their view changes.
What are the next steps for you?
Bruno: The first thing is to deliver our startup accelerator program for intermediate and mature stage companies. We also want to create an internal intrapreneurship program, and finally, we have plans for a design sprint program to create faster MVPs with our customers.