Digital World: Corporation Innovation 101

'Large corporations are just as capable of coming up with breakthrough technologies as start-ups are'

Tal Givoly 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Tal Givoly 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Where do new hi-tech innovations come from? From the minds of hi-tech innovators, of course. Okay, but where do those innovators do their innovating? Usually, in the basement or spare room of the innovator's house, or in cheap digs in some industrial zone, where a couple of college buddies get together to come up with the Next Big Thing. They certainly don't come from large corporations that have a business model and a strict, rigorous hierarchy, where workers are busy meeting performance goals, dotting their i's and crossing their t's on the voluminous paperwork required by the various layers of management. Forget that stereotype, says Tal Givoly, chief scientist of Amdocs, which operates around the world and has a large center in Ra'anana. Large corporations are just as capable of coming up with breakthrough technologies as bootstrap start-ups are, he says, and maybe, in the current economic climate, a little more capable. "Sooner or later the economy will turn, and the companies that used their time wisely, investing in innovation, will be the ones that reap the benefits when things turn around," Givoly says. "As a large company, Amdocs has the financial wherewithal to withstand the storm, and we expect to emerge stronger than ever when the economy bounces back." But hold on a minute: Amdocs as a hi-tech innovator? Absolutely, Givoly says. As chief scientist, a position usually identified with technological innovation on a national basis, it's his job to identify needs and recognize trends, and discover and promote ideas that answer those needs and trends. "Once you know where the market is going, you can come out with products and services that provide your customers - in our case, the world's largest service providers - what they're looking for," he says. But... Amdocs? Yes, and yes again, Givoly says, adding: "We've been unfairly typecast as a firm that deals chiefly with billing solutions, but we actually offer more than 100 products and services, many of which have absolutely nothing to do with billing." Besides billing, Amdocs produces systems to manage contact-center systems, customer self-service, mobile portals, operations-support systems and commerce systems for multimedia content, to name a few. "We serve content on 60 percent of all cell phones in the US," he says, to cite one example. That Givoly works at the job he does is a sure sign of the innovative, start-up spirit of Amdocs, he says. "Not every large company has a chief scientist," Givoly says, "and the fact that my job is to identify and act on future needs and trends should make it clear that far from being a 'corporate dinosaur' interested in perpetuating its business model at all costs, Amdocs is an innovator that seeks to meet future challenges and provide the products and services tomorrow's customers will be looking for." To that end, Amdocs recently hosted an "innovation camp," where managers and employees from Amdocs locations around the world - along with well-known Internet innovators such as Yossi Vardi and Jeff Pulver - got together to exchange ideas and concepts, seeking to figure out where the world of media and communications is headed. The gathering was as free-form as you could get. "There was no set agenda, as there are at retreats of this type sponsored by many large corporations," Givoly says. In fact, some of the biggest "innovations" weren't even tech-based, but involved demonstrations of the talents of participants - with demonstrations of swordplay, how to make a "potato rocket" and a musical band where every instrument was based on an iPhone! All with the idea of getting the creative juices of participants flowing. And there was a method to the madness, he says: By the end of the camp, participants had come up with a list of top-10 "hot" issues or ideas, which Amdocs will now consider in detail how to address and preempt upcoming needs. Givoly wouldn't give me the specifics of those trends (like a good journalist, I asked), but he did tell me in what direction he believed the Internet/communications market was heading. "There's been a clear trend on the part of telephone and communications companies to increase their value-added by offering not just technology or methodology, but content as well," Givoly says. As recently as just 10 years ago, he says, a hardware manufacturer would produce a device - computer, cellphone, PDA - and sell it, with the content for use on those devices supplied by others. "The Apple App Store is a good example of the change, and many service providers, including our customers, are working on ideas to sell applications in the same manner on cellphones and devices other than Apple's that will enhance the digital lifestyle," Givoly says. "In fact, we have recently launched an offer to help them do just that." Add to that innovations in instant messaging, massive multiplayer on-line games, social networking and the way kids use media on their devices, he says, and the picture of a digital future shapes up - one that Amdocs is plugged into and intends to capitalize on. The current recession is also going to have a big impact on the way people do business. For example, electronic communication is already becoming far more important to many organizations. "Businesses that need to cut their expenses will be looking to lowering costs wherever they can," Givoly says. "Video-conferencing technology today is good enough to allow multiple groups to get together in cyberspace. But as dependence on teleconferencing grows, there's a greater demand for quality control, ensuring that everything runs smoothly." That, he says, is a good example of how technology evolves even during bad economic times. When things improve, chances are that video-communication technology will remain popular in the business world, and any product Amdocs develops now to help keep conferences running smoothly will pay off for the company now and in the long run. "We have other ideas and offerings we are working on in response to the global economic downturn," Givoly says. "With these, we'll help our customers emerge stronger when things improve." Recognizing the importance of innovation, Amdocs has a number of programs in place designed to discover new technologies, he says, such as Amdocs's Open Innovations programs. They are sort of like "free agents" week in baseball, where the company checks out hi-tech start-ups and matches what they have to offer with the needs of Amdocs customers; some of the companies are invited to work with Amdocs and build a product that the company will market (last year, Amdocs reviewed about 200 companies). "It's a win-win idea all around, because our customers get exposed to great new technologies that can help them, and smaller start-ups get access to an audience of large organizations they probably would not have been able to reach otherwise," Givoly says. In addition, Amdocs actively promotes innovation within the organization, serving up immediate investment to employees who come up with innovative ideas that show promise. "We have over 17,000 brilliant people at Amdocs," he says, "and despite the turndown, we're investing in them and in the future, harnessing the company's collective genius and developing the winning ideas our customers need and want." Recession or no, Givoly says, Amdocs will continue to invest and innovate. "Companies have a choice: If they innovate now, they can emerge much stronger when things improve, but those that don't are likely to see their business erode," he says. "Cutting research and development now looks good on paper, but is a possible sign of the coming demise of an organization." "Innovation is not mandatory" Givoly adds. "Survival is optional. We shouldn't assume survival is a given; it's a choice." Obviously, Amdocs has clearly understood this and is acting upon it with "due diligence."