Cooperation, co-development, co-opetition. What does it take to succeed in the “co-economy”? Just as the “sharing economy” has changed the basic assumptions upon which the hotel and taxi industries are built, the “co-economy” is changing some of the fundamental ways we think about developing and bringing innovations to market.

Today, I want to focus on the process of co-innovating with customers and partners to succeed in the co-economy. There are as many ways to co-innovate with these companies as there are companies in the world.

MAJ45722In some industries, co-innovation has become a standard way of developing new products and solutions. The cable industry is a case in point. Years ago, for example, Comcast and Time-Warner invested in and provided Cable SP technical direction for a video-on-demand (VoD) solution with a small startup that was later acquired by Cisco. Today Cisco’s Tony George, who was part of that startup, and his colleagues are continuing these types of relationships. A new co-development effort with a large scale service provider is focused on cloud-based DVR solutions. Interestingly, this will be an open-source, non-proprietary solution: the partner SP will use it in its own network, and Cisco will help to make it available to other SPs. According to Tony, “The view is, if more people use the technology, more issues can be fixed, and the better the solution becomes.”

In other industries, open source and co-innovation are relatively new concepts. But this is changing because of the convergence of IT and operational technology (OT) and increased adoption of industry standards.  Fifteen years ago, Rockwell Automation and Cisco might have been operating on different planets. But new customer opportunities have led us to bring together diverse skills and business models in a long-standing strategic partnership.

In a recent conversation, Rockwell Automation’s Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Sujeet Chand outlined the foundations of this successful relationship: “We started with a common vision and commitment to standard Ethernet. We then had a strong focus on the customer—we took lots of customer input up-front, and continue to work closely with our Customer Innovation Council. And finally, we have a great collaboration process between the Rockwell and Cisco engineering teams, with each one bringing their own strength and expertise to the table.”

The transportation and technology industries also used to be worlds apart. But today, the siloes are down and these industries freely collaborate, as cities build smart infrastructures, automakers build smart cars, and tech companies develop self-driving vehicles.

Co-innovating with customers and partners has become such a valuable concept that Cisco has established Innovation Centers around the world dedicated to cultivating these projects. A couple of examples:

Perth Innovation CenterIn Perth, Australia, the Innovation Center has been working with Curtin University and Woodside Energy Ltd. on developing battery-powered sensors for different use cases that have turned out to be surprisingly synergistic, according to Tom Goerke, who leads the Cisco team in Perth. The University is using wireless battery sensors, combined with network data and user survey data to track space utilization and environmental health throughout the campus. At the same time, Woodside is interested in using the same sensor for industrial applications in production facilities. For example, by adding acoustic and vibration sensing capabilities, Woodside and Cisco are developing models to predict the failure of fan belts and bearings to enable proactive maintenance and reduce downtime.

Meanwhile, across the world at the openBerlin Innovation Center, Cisco is partnering with Bosch to develop an optimal way to manage power tools on the shop floor for our mutual customer Airbus. Mitko Vasilev, CTO at openBerlin, calls this project “Connected Factory on steroids,” showing what the right team with a focused objective can do in a very concentrated time frame. The project brought together people from Bosch, Airbus, and other partners for three weeks of intensely focused work, integrating business processes into the technology solution. The team delivered a working demo at Bosch Connect World and have documented and published the solution for other customers to use.

Cisco Hyper-Innovation Living Labs (CHILL) is yet another model for co-innovation, bringing together teams from multiple non-competing customers and partners to develop solutions for a single common issue. In this model, 48 hours of intense collaboration and rapid prototyping actually culminate in a working prototype and an on-the-spot funding decision for the winning concept.

These examples illustrate the vast possibilities of the “co-economy,” where seemingly unlikely partners come together to accelerate solutions for the common good using some of the best practices I have outlined earlier. As my colleague Tony George said, “It used to be that innovation was about building your intellectual property war chest. Today, it’s about the betterment of mankind. The money will follow.”


Maciej Kranz

Vice President and General Manager

Corporate Strategic Innovation Group