Making space for innovation within Intel IT’s group
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Making space for innovation within Intel IT’s group

Clare Simmons — December 2013
The key to game-changing innovation is an autonomous, dedicated group, argues Ed Goldman, CTO of Intel IT.

The IT organization at Intel is not unlike that at any company — we're under the same pressures and every year we’re asked to do more with less.

Intel has a history of innovation and change: starting as a memory company, it moved into CPUs, then became a platform company, and now is a platform and services company. Roughly every 10 years we change what we’re doing, so the business is constantly pushing IT to come up with new capabilities. And that forces us to try to figure out new and innovative ways of transforming what we do in IT.

Every IT shop does incremental innovation — if they didn’t, they simply couldn't get better, faster, cheaper and do more with less. This kind of innovation is important, but it happens within all the different units of our IT organization and it’s something we expect day in, day out.


There is another category of innovation that is more about transformational change, where we use different technologies and different methods to drive business value. And innovation isn’t valuable to me unless it does drive business value.

A dedicated set of resources for this is critical, so every company should ask itself “Am I dedicating resources to this challenge, or am I asking my employees to find time to innovate in their day jobs?” Because the latter approach may be great for incremental innovation, but it’s terrible for game-changing innovation.

It’s also about money. Do you make IT teams write a complete business case before they can drive new innovation or do you let them try things out and let that innovation mature?

Another ingredient is culture. Innovation requires failure. You need a culture that supports the ability to fail and not one where all you ever recognize is success. Managing that failure is important because, through those failures, you learn things that are critical to moving innovation forward.

But probably the hardest thing to do is identify the right problem to address. And that needs a diverse group of people to come together and look at a problem from many different perspectives.
Lateral thinkers

At Intel, we run a small group known as IT Labs, made up of just 20 people, which is set aside from the rest of the IT organization and draws on the team’s wide range of talents and skills. It drives innovation through a four-step process:

Basic research  IT Labs employees spend about 10% of their time trying to understand what’s changing in their industry, talking to our business units and doing field trips to customers to find out which problems they’re facing.

Proof of technology  Having defined a problem, they assemble a prototype system with the aim of proving the technology is viable. In that environment I am typically looking at a yield of about 50% — if it were 100%, then that would mean I’m not taking any risk.

Proof of concept  With a proven technology, we bring in the rest of the IT organization and customers to involve them in developing this new area.

Implementation  If that’s successful and we have a clear business case, the development moves to implementation.

One example I like of where we drove innovation into a production environment used the Internet of Things to drive it.

Two years ago, one of our engineers working in that area was looking to meet with a colleague and needed to reserve a conference room, only to find all the rooms in the facility were booked. Like many companies, we have lots of conference rooms that are almost always ‘fully booked,’ but walking around you can always find empty rooms.

So the engineer asked himself, could I develop a sensor-based device that would sit inside a conference room and monitor whether it’s actually being used? He built that at a cost of about $5,000, and Intel installed it in four conference rooms, connected them to our network and started monitoring room usage.

Over six weeks of testing, it proved to be pretty accurate, so the project was presented to Intel’s corporate services team and it was moved into proof of concept. That required us to build a hub architecture as well as a touch-screen application, which was installed right across one of our facilities. After a three-month pilot, feedback from both corporate services and visiting customers who saw the system was really positive. After that initial cost of $5,000, we’ve now been able to outfit facilities for $500 but, as we’re starting to look at what it’ll take to push that out globally, we now think we can do it for under $100. And corporate services is asking us about other sensors that could be used in that environment.

In terms of budget, in an IT organization of 6,500 people, IT Labs doesn’t even register, it’s a rounding error. But it’s all about helping Intel IT drive value for the business.

Ed Goldman, CTO of Intel IT and general manager of strategy, architecture and innovation, was speaking at Fujitsu Forum 2013 in Munich

First published December 2013
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