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IoT Disruptors: Announcing Innovation Grand Challenge Semi-Finalists

I am thrilled to be the first to announce our 15 semi-finalists in Cisco’s second annual Innovation Grand Challenge. Culled from more than 3,000 entries in over 100 countries since June, I can sum up the semi-finalists’ innovations in one word: Disruptors.

Innovation signI want to congratulate all the semi-finalists for making it this far. It gives me tremendous pleasure to identify them below. I wish all of these bold pioneers much success in the weeks ahead as we begin the countdown to the three winners in early December at the IoT World Forum in Dubai.

Will One Be the Next Uber?

Will one of the semi-finalists emerge as the next Uber, Airbnb or Pandora that disrupts and transforms whole markets with unforeseen business models? By looking over these entries, which leverage the possibilities of the Internet of Things (IoT), I can easily imagine this distinct possibility.

These IoT trailblazers also validate my view that today’s daring new developments can come from anywhere in the world. These 15 are dispersed throughout North and South America as well as Europe, including Argentina, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Another observation is the power and potential of converging technologies around IoT have captured the attention and imagination of the entrepreneurial community worldwide, reflecting the growing trend of globalization and diversity of technical talent.

Global inclusion and diversity are igniting innovation. Our semi-finalists are ingeniously connecting everything from sensors, to software and analytics, leveraging Fog and Cloud Computing and the network as a platform. And they’re focusing on manufacturing, transportation, smart cities, the environment, cyber security and more to radically disrupt all kinds of markets with better business outcomes and public benefits.

IoT Innovation Examples

Here are just a few semi-finalist examples that captured my imagination.

One startup says its cloud-based streaming intelligence and anomalytics platform is disruptively cheaper, simpler and more comprehensive in detecting abnormalities, whether it’s malware or operations. Another says it will “overthrow” established computer vision systems with its higher performance version of vision sensors inspired by the human eye.

Cloud apps imageOne semi-finalist targets austere environments with no or overloaded network infrastructure and proposes a distributed platform based on mobile devices to provide cloud-like services such as dynamic workflows, secure databases, real-time mapping and 3D-modeling . Still another says its solution cuts air pollution in cities “250 times more efficiently” than any natural solution with lab-cultured moss enabled by IoT technology.

I cite these entries as representative of all the semi-finalists and in no way to foreshadow who will make it to the finalist round. That will be up to the collective evaluations of our judges. All 15 semi-finalists will be evaluated through the end of October and the six finalists will be announced on Nov. 23.

All six finalists will make their Shark Tank-like pitches at the IoT World Forum before the finalist judges, and three will walk away with $250,000 in awards and invaluable development and go-to-market support to turbo charge their ventures.

Again, congratulations to the Cisco Innovation Grand Challenge Semi-Finalists:

Chronocam Paris, France
CONNECTHINGS Barcelona, Spain
CyberFlow Analytics San Diego (California), United States
CyberLighting, Ltd. Espoo, Finland
Eigen Innovations, Inc. Fredericton, Canada
Green City Solutions Dresden, Germany
Humanitas Montreal, Canada
Igor Johnston (Iowa),United States
Inston, Inc. Los Angeles (California), United States
Jolt Provo (Utah), United States
Less Industries Buenos Aires, Argentina
Notion Denver (Colorado), United States
Novelti Madrid, Spain
Nwave Technologies London, United Kingdom
Simularity Point Richmond (California), United States


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Where is Technology Innovation Heading?

Today, in universities around the world, leading professors are looking for top notch PhD students and researchers to push the boundaries and explore areas that will enable tomorrow’s technology innovation. To have a preview of what the future could look like, we at Cisco asked 60 leading academic professors in Electrical Engineering (EE) and Computer Science (CS) in 25 top universities worldwide the following question: “What areas of research will you be focusing on going forward?”.

Here are 4 things, which we learned from their passionate and fascinating answers:

Moore Law

#1 – The Pending End of Moore’s Law 

The Interviewed Professors generally see Moore’s law coming to an end in the next 5-10 years (predictions of the end of the law are almost as old as the law itself…). It looks like smaller transistors can still be developed but at a high cost. Although not really about physical limits, but rather an economic issue, significant research is taking place to find alternative improvement mechanisms beyond reducing size. For example, replacing signal wires with optical signals, increasing energy efficiency, or using smarter data processing allocation between devices and the cloud.

#2: Research is Focusing on 4 Areas

The vast majority of research taking place at the top university institutions in Electrical Engineering (EE) and Computer Science (CS) falls into one of the following four areas:  

  1. Artificial intelligence: deep learning, mining of unstructured data, multi-agent communication, autonomous vehicles, robotics, human-computer interface, computer vision. 
  2. Process optimisation: software & systems engineering, processor improvements, power engineering, hardware improvement. 
  3. Cloud computing and networking: wireless communication, network engineering, software-defined networks, internet of things.
  4. Computer and information security: cryptography & encryption, network security, mobile security

#3 – Technology is Proliferating 

With the advent of the Internet of Things resulting in a growing number of connected devices impacting our life, technology is becoming increasingly embedded in society. Technologies such as big data and machine learning are in reality already playing a massive role (sometimes behind the scenes). Research will continue to drive improvements in Human-Computer Interfaces, creating new technologies that will increasingly co-exist with legacy, human controlled systems. As IT technology spills over into distant domains, it continuously expands the innovation boundaries of other industries such as healthcare and transportation.

#4 – Interdisciplinary Research is Key

Where is technology innovation heading?In many cases professors indicated that the key to unlocking the potential of technology applications is in combining research with other disciplines such as neuroscience, mechanical engineering, and social sciences. Professors also highlighted the difficulty in obtaining funding for such cross-disciplinary projects, because funding mechanisms usually expect proposed projects to fit into specific disciplines. 

In the following weeks, we will explore in more detail some of the themes that are emerging from this survey hopefully giving you out of the box ideas about the future they could potentially unlock.

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Drones: Just Buzz or Real Business?

“Why Cisco?” I was asked repeatedly after speaking on a panel about drones. “Why not Cisco?” was my passionate response.

Drone 1The occasion was the recent NASA UTM Convention at Silicon Valley’s historic Moffett Field to explore creative traffic management solutions for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), popularly known as drones. At Cisco, we see a full spectrum of public, enterprise and consumer opportunities, as well as an amazing ecosystem of partners evolving around “connected” drones. This isn’t just buzz, but a real business opportunity.

After all, drones capture and transmit “ungodly amounts of data,” as Cisco’s Helder Antunes noted during his keynote session and CNBC interview. Cisco’s network backbone, solutions and applications enable the Internet of Everything (IoE) – the connection of people, processes, data and things – and drones represent important, mobile, data-rich nodes on the network. Please also read Helder’s blog on drones and the IoE here.

drone 2When it comes to drones and many other remotely connected and mobile devices, it’s really all about Collaboration, Cloud, Fog Computing – and Analytics, whether at the edge, across the network or in the cloud. To seamlessly transform raw data from sensors and images into actionable insights, an end-to-end platform is needed to optimally capture, store, share and process data most anywhere.

For example, one of the biggest challenges for drone operations today is to efficiently collect and effectively transfer colossal amounts of data over weak or non-existent network links in remote areas. Many times, these processes take days or weeks before the collected data can be processed and meaningful insights can be derived.

High-value crops such as grapes may suffer significant business losses due to such time-lagged decisions. Again, what’s needed is the connection to a reliable, high-speed platform. Cisco’s hardware and software technologies enable virtually real-time decision making without experts having to physically download and tackle the data deluge challenge on-site.

drone 3

Precision Agriculture, Safety & Security and Field Asset Inspection are some verticals that could immensely benefit by leveraging unmanned aircrafts due to their unique abilities to navigate in complex remote environments.

At the NASA event, Angelo Fienga of Cisco Italy and I demonstrated an interesting use case of how one can utilize Cisco’s collaboration infrastructure to unleash “remote expert” capabilities using drones. We successfully exhibited that by relaying the live camera feed of the drone over to WebEx and TelePresence infrastructure, allowing an agronomist thousands of miles away across the globe to precisely observe, guide and control data collection operation in the field.

drone 4

So all this and more is why “Cisco and drones” make a lot of sense. I’m excited about the possibilities here, and will share some more ideas during my keynote address at the upcoming InterDrone conference in Las Vegas from Sep 9-11, 2015.  I hope to see you there.

Meantime, what applications do you think are better suited for a drone business?

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Not always disruptive, not always technology driven. Which innovation type is right for your organization?

Today’s conversations around innovation – particularly within the IT industry – tend to paint it as something disruptive, technology-based and radically changing markets.


This is a partial picture of it. It’s not always necessary to be radical, and it is not just about introducing new products or services into a market. There are several types of innovation that are equally effective and can bring enduring sources of competitive advantage.

Having a clear framework around the different dimensions of innovation can help organizations develop the right strategy and succeed in their innovation journey.

One of the innovation frameworks I use at Cisco categorizes innovation across four dimensions:

Products & technologies – This entails introducing totally new products and/or services often based on the latest technology developments. The category is indeed also about innovating existing products by making them better in terms of performance, features, forms and functionalities. For instance, a new BMW has better features, safety, and fuel efficiency than an earlier model, despite the fact that both models are, in essence, just cars.

Processes – Organizations can create or improve processes, making them more effective or efficient at delivering what they have to offer. The current transformation happening in the retail industry is a good illustration of this: thanks to real-time analytics, retailers are radically transforming their operations. They are now better at managing stock levels, doing more accurate demand prediction, and monitoring customer sentiment in real-time.

Position – Innovation can occur by repositioning the meaning of a current product/service in the eye of the consumer and by opening up new market segments. A good example is Nestlé’s move from the food segment to the healthy nutrition and wellness segments.

Business model – Along this dimension, companies innovate around what the organization does and how the business works. This innovation type can entail several aspects of a business, from reframing an established value proposition, to rethinking a company’s role in the value chain. An interesting illustration of this is Michelin (Fleet Solutions), who innovated their business model by providing a tire management service (based on kilometers driven) instead of just selling tires. This changed their revenue stream and cost structure, and addressed customer needs in much better way.

Among these four dimensions, there are strong interdependencies and overlaps. One innovation form can trigger others. For instance, business model innovation profoundly shapes innovation in products, processes and position. IBM’s business model move from hardware to software triggered a shift in the company’s product and technology strategy. In a similar vein, new technology developments can give rise to new innovation opportunities in business models.

When innovating across any of these four dimensions, companies have to choose another key ingredient – the degree of novelty of their innovations. When introducing a new product, process or business model, they face the decision of whether to adopt minor incremental improvements, to embrace radical changes, or to rather drive disruptive shifts.

ChoicesNeedless to say, each innovation form opens up different business opportunities and requires very different resources, leadership commitments, and investment timeframes. Clearly, it is one thing to come up with an improved version of a product; but something else to reinvent the company’s business model.

When looking at the innovation space, every leader should be sure to consider the relevant questions: Which innovation types are right for my organization? Which ones should be pursued? What is the optimal combination among product, process, position and business model innovations?

To find the right answer, several factors – internal and external to the organization – need to be taken into account. Such factors will range from the industry context and market evolution, to the company’s standing and organizational culture.

Only by embracing a holistic approach to innovation, can companies grasp the opportunities available in today’s fast-moving markets.

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The innovation imperative: Why does innovation matter?

Innovation has become an imperative for society at large. Whether it be entrepreneurs starting new ventures, large established corporations trying to defend their market position, or countries facing increased global competition, everyone is attempting to innovate. What does this mean? It means they turn new ideas into widely used practice.

The reasons are clear: the benefits from innovation are highly promising.

At a macro-economic level, the capability to innovate fuels countries’ global competitiveness. According to academic research, between 2010 and 2020, roughly a quarter of US productivity will be generated by innovation. And, as the economist William Baumol points out in his book The free market innovation machine “virtually all the economic growth that has occurred since the eighteenth century is ultimately attributable to innovation”.

There is strong consensus among policy makers that innovation is a main driver of economic progress and social well-being. It is a powerful tool to tackle societal challenges from resource scarcity and global warming, to poverty and health. Indeed, innovation has become a central pillar of national and regional economic policies. Horizon 2020 is an example. The European Union settled nearly EUR 80 billion of funding over seven years to boost research and innovation across different industries. This will undoubtedly help strengthen Europe’s global competitiveness.

And if innovation is important for countries’ competitiveness, it is an imperative in the corporate world. From mature and regulated sectors to young and volatile industries, every company needs to engage in some form of innovation. In 2014, The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) surveyed more than 1500 global senior executives, and 75% of them reported that innovation is among the top three priorities for their companies.

There are many reasons behind this trend.

Innovation is a key source of current and long-term competitive advantage. Evidence shows that those companies who pursue innovation are likely to survive longer and provide higher returns to shareholders. Through different forms of innovation, companies can put competitors at bay, increase barriers to entry and better fulfill customers’ present and future needs.

Innovation poses big challenges

Given all the potential benefits, it does not come as a surprise that innovation has become an imperative. The bad news is that innovation is not easy: making it a replicable process is challenging and many companies struggle to make it work. According to the BCG 2014 Innovators report, three in four companies rate their innovation capabilities as average at best. Companies aim to innovate but they lack the capabilities.

One could argue that innovation has always been challenging. Since the Industrial Revolution, companies have been forced to think and reinvent the way they create new products and services in order to survive. The trouble with today’s innovation is that the overall context in which the game is played keeps changing. Shifts in how knowledge is produced, in how markets are virtualized or how consumers are engaged are posing further challenges to companies pursuing innovation.

Sharing best practices to spur innovation forward

Given the imperative to innovate in today’s world and the challenges around it, sharing best practices, trends and unique insights on innovation becomes highly valuable to advance innovation and fully capture the value from it.

The innovation section of Cisco’s blog will fulfill this need. We will share our views, collective experiences and unique insights on innovation. You’ll find best practices from our company, from IT and other industries that will support your work and inspire you as a leader and innovator!

Enjoy the reading!

Stephan Monterde
Director, Corporate Strategic Innovation

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