Research & Development is a line item on a corporate income statement, but, most often, the R and the D are distinct activities. Research is about inventing, and development is about bringing new innovations to market in products and services. Too often, the organizational gap between these two activities results in products and services that don’t meet market needs or arrive too slowly.
With that conundrum in mind, IBM has launched its Services Innovation Lab, a new initiative aimed at weaving the two functions together with the goal of bringing differentiated services to market more quickly and improving the quality and up-take on its new services innovations. “We want to double the impact in half the time,” says Mahmoud Naghsineh, director of the new lab. Naghsineh understands the problems of bridging between research and development. He has crossed back and forth several times during his IBM career.
The Services Innovation Laboratory brings together scientists from IBM Research with consultants and services technology experts from the company’s three services businesses, Global Technology Services, Global Business Services and Global Processing Services. They will co-invent and co-develop new services capabilities. “Research people invent a lot of things, but they don’t always invent things that can scale and be adopted widely,” says Robert Morris, vice president for services research at IBM. “If you put them together with people who live the problems, they have a much better chance of inventing things that scale and are used widely.”
IBM has done this kind of thing a number of times before. In one notable case, scientists from the Almaden lab have worked since the early 1990s with software developers to create successive generations of DB2, IBM’s database software package. The product is a major success.
Services are a very different sort of animal than packaged software products, however. The science of services is still in its infancy, and IBM, the pioneer in this sphere, has only had a formal service research organization since 2005.
One of the problems that appeared after the company began to put a lot of effort into services research was that the researchers’ innovations clearly had great value and there was a great appetite to scale up their adoption by the services businesses much more quickly. That’s one of the factors that gave rise to the Services Innovation Lab.
The new lab is truly global in the sense that researchers and consultants who participate are located in IBM offices around the world. But Naghsineh places researchers and services consultants and delivery engineers side by side as often as possible. The consultants visit the labs for “whiteboarding” and joint design exercises, where they brainstorm with researchers about how to solve specific services challenges. At the same time, researchers work directly with clients and consultants at the clients’ offices.
The lab addresses one of the central challenges facing organizations that are in the services business: that services in general have not always received the same kind of efficiency or quality focus as other kinds of businesses–manufacturing, among them. This poses a big problem as the world economy increasingly becomes service-oriented. Unless services become more efficient, productivity and wealth creation will diminish.
In the past few years, IBM Research has produced a number of important services innovations. One example is a business optimization practice that puts analytics to work to help clients do things like understand their customer buying patterns or improve the ratio of successful diagnoses in healthcare. Another one, used internally, is a Global Delivery Framework that helps IBM’s services businesses assign jobs to personnel and manage the process of delivering services from end to end.
The new lab is intended to improve the quality of services innovations and scale the best of them up rapidly so they’re used by many people within IBM. The lab is initially focusing on four areas of service innovation–cloud computing, analytics, service delivery automation and mobile communications in enterprises.
Cloud computing is the most important one. It’s clear that the cloud computing model offers many advantages to corporations along the lines of efficiency, cost reductions, and increased flexibility. Yet, to accelerate the adoption of cloud computing, IBM has to create automated ways for clients to discover what’s in their existing computing infrastructure, assess which applications should be moved to the cloud and in what order, configure cloud systems for those particular jobs and move the applications into the cloud seamlessly. Once applications are in the cloud, IBM needs to be able to spot potential problems before they occur and make changes proactively. “We want better quality and on a massive scale,” says Naghsineh.
These are difficult challenges. But with inventors and service developers and service delivery specialists working closely together on them–a true marriage of R and D– it’s much more likely that significant progress will be made.