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Solutions in search of a problem

One of the challenges we face is that we frequently get really interesting solutions in search of a problem. Or put it another way, there is some cool technology but we don’t know how to put it to use in a productive way. This is a common problem with invention. Thomas Edison invented the phonograph (at the time, a wax cylinder capable of recording sound). He thought that the target market for this idea was for terminally ill people who could record their last will and testament. (you can tell he was an engineer and not a marketing person: not much of a repeat customer base here). :-) Sometimes you just need to come up with the better problem (e.g. people want to listen to music on-demand).Here are some others that we’ve come across. Any ideas on what problems they’d solve?Home automation: I can turn off appliances, measure their energy consumption, automate certain activities (e.g. turn off all the lights at night). But given that it’s often much more effective to add insulation, buy double-glazed windows, or replace an old appliance with a newer one (more energy efficient)-why bother with automation when I can do the things I just mentioned and can turn things off when I’m done?Thin client computing: Not that the problem of complexity and data loss on PCs aren’t real, it’s just that as the PC keeps getting cheaper all the time, are people really willing to give up on a fully-featured PC vs a terminal?RFID: Bar codes work pretty well in controlled environments (like warehouses), and RFID read accuracy is not (yet) good enough to make it in noisy places. Active RFID (with batteries) works better--but batteries wear out so then the tags go dark.I’m not trying to appear as a doom-and-gloom naysayer--I’m by nature a technology optimist and believe that sooner or later some (or all) of these will ‘pop’. Feel free to ask my opinion on any of your favorite ‘unloved’ technologies!

CEO John Chambers on the Cisco I-Prize

We just posted a new video from John Chambers discussing the Cisco I-Prize…enjoy!p.s. If you’re looking for our Emerging Technologies CTO, Guido Jouret, on FaceBook, you can find him here

Some interesting sources for potential innovation

Here are some interesting categories of ideas that are emerging in I-Prize:1. Energy (Green-save)2. Healthcare (aging of the workforce)3. Wireless Connectivity (unwire the world)4. Automotive (connect my car)These are areas we’ve already started to look at inside Cisco. I thought I’d share some of our early thinking on these themes. Hopefully this will spark some additional insights!Energy:If the electricity grid could be made intelligent (i.e. know what is connected to it as well as potentially turn things down/off) this could result in huge cost savings in terms of generating just enough electricity. Pricing signals could also be built in to the grid so that consumers can elect to buy appliances or plug-in hybrid cars that could benefit from lower rates. The electricity utility companies are busy putting in more intelligent electricity meters outside your home, which could form the backbone of this. A related area is Broadband over Power, which is all about turning the electricity companies into internet service providers. Despite much early enthusiasm, there are few working deployments today, primarily because power transformers (which are used to convert high-voltage to lower voltage for use in the home) act as filters, blocking high-frequency signals that encode the IP traffic.HealthcareYou’re not getting any younger so sooner or later you’re going to need medical care. Healthcare costs are over 12% of GDP in Western Europe (16% in the USA). Delivering some form of remote care to aging patients is a great way to cut costs and move healthcare towards more preventative care. In the emerging world, telemedicine may be the only way to provide medical expertise to outlying areas. The challenge in emerging countries is that unfortunately they not only lack doctors, but they also lack connectivity, electricity, and technical expertise that would also be required to deliver telemedicine. So any ideas in this space will require insights on solving the entire value chain problem. In the more developed economies, the biggest barrier in this area is not technological but regulatory: many rules and regulations prevent innovations in delivery of healthcare (e.g. rules requiring doctors to be physicall present on the premises).Wireless ConnectivityWiFi in its latest release (802.11n) is delivering multi-hundred megabits per second over the air over short distances. WiMax technologies promise multi-megabit connections over longer distances. 3G LTE (Long Term Evolution) promises similar benefits as an extension to current 3G mobile technologies. Inside the home, Ultrawideband promises higher speeds for next-generation HD video (cameras, displays). For low-power mesh networking inside the home, Zigbee and Z-Wave are looking to connect your future consumer electronics. Clearly there’s a lot of innovation happening in the wireless area. You can assume that connectivity will get faster/cheaper/better. So what new capabilities would be enabled by all of this connectivity?AutomotiveThe average car has over 50 microprocessors embedded in it. Most of the major car makers are looking to provide Internet access to your car by 2010. The current thinking is to create a WiFi hotspot inside the car and then to connect that to the Internet via 3G and/or WiMax. The key applications are in three areas: entertainment, safety, and telematics (monitoring the insides of your car). There are some creative ideas for car-to-car networking too, but it appears to be much simpler (and more reliable) to connect to existing 3G or WiMax uplinks. An interesting idea is to use the data being gathered by cars for the benefit of others: accident info, traffic congestion, road conditions, temperature can all be gathered in real-time and fed back to a central website.The best ideas are the combination of a particular technology that solves a real (and often painful) customer problem. Any takers?

Who’s participating in the Cisco I-Prize?

I thought you might interested to see just how flat the World has become. The Cisco I-Prize was intended to be a global competition to comb the globe for the best and brightest innovators. We truly believe that innovation exists everywhere and that by collaborating globally we can build a HUGE new business together.So how has it turned out so far?We have participants from 66 Countries on 6 continents and 38 states in the US. Here’s the full list: Read More »

What is our track record on Innovation?

How are we doing on Innovation so far? All groups in Cisco are interested in Innovation (of all types: line-extension, services, new processes, etc.). Cisco’s Emerging Technology Group (ETG) is specifically responsible for incubating new growth markets, which is why we are sponsoring the I-Prize contest.ETG has brought 4 business units to market so far (we have 5 others that are still busy working on their products). The 4 publicly announced business units are:1. TelePresence: the next best thing to teleportation2. IP Interoperability & Communications Systems (IPICS: radio & telephony interoperability)3. Digital Media Systems (desktop video & signage)4. Physical Security (video surveillance)Each of these business units has been incubated in our group, which means we hire the founders (half from inside Cisco, half from industry), build the product, and then sell the product. From idea to product takes between 12-18 months. We then continue to incubate the new business unit for 2 to 3 years. Once it grows up nice & strong, like all children, it leaves home (and finds a home elsewhere inside Cisco).This incubation process is relatively unique in industry, because we are responsible from idea to successful launch. It’s not enough to have a good idea, we have to execute well also. We expect our first business units to graduate within the next 12-18 months. This lets us make room for new ones. We’re always looking for the next billion dollar idea, so if you have one, go to and enter our contest!