EMC development chief sets out innovation roadmap

Customers' storage needs are changing as mash-ups, wikis and other applications become more common in IT departments

A completely new kind of approach to innovation is required to ensure EMC doesn’t lose its way as storage needs grow and change due to companies adopting Web 2.0 applications, service-oriented architectures and software-as-a-service offerings.

That’s the view of Mark Lewis, EMC’s executive vice president and chief development officer, who spoke at the recent Red Herring East 2006 conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“It isn’t all about us,” said Lewis, who joined EMC from HP five years ago and maintains a blog to share his thoughts on a regular basis. “But it is about building communities and ecosystems around different business needs. . . . It’s not just about a bunch of engineers inside the firewall or here in Hopkinton.” The Massachusetts town of Hopkinton is EMC’s world headquarters.

Fostering innovation isn’t about overly structured processes either, he said.

“We have a great Six Sigma programme and while I love it [when it is] applied properly, I told those guys if they ever come near our creative process I’m going to shoot ‘em,” Lewis said. “Those kinds of processes for creativity are some of the worst [things] you can do.”

Six Sigma is a set of practices developed by Motorola to improve business processes that are now in widespread use at other companies.

EMC has been able to innovate in recent years through more than two dozen acquisitions and upwards of US$10 billion (NZ$13 billion) in R&D spending, Lewis says. These efforts have enabled EMC diversify well beyond being a one-trick pony selling Symmetrix boxes to large organisations. It is now a horse of many colours in which services revenue is roughly the same as that from hardware and software sales. Addressing the new storage, security and data management needs brought about by customer adoption of new collaborative and rich media applications will require new offerings from EMC, Lewis said.

In the light of such developments, big changes have been taking place in such areas as EMC’s developer environment, which “used to be characterised by a small cadre of folks developing around our product sets such as Documentum or Smarts”, he said. EMC has since evolved that into “a hugely collaborative environment” that now has more than 25,000 people writing Documentum code.

Last month, EMC introduced a formal effort to coordinate its internal research and development personnel better with those at university labs and elsewhere.

A big goal for the company is to shortcut the traditional product development model by involving potential partners and customers much earlier in the process. Under the new model, proofs of concept and research prototypes (technologies in pre-alpha and beta stages) will be put into customers’ hands, and products will evolve from there.

To encourage participation from a broader development community, EMC plans to run more contests that will reward code-writers with prizes for their efforts. (Lewis cited a contest to build metatagging for photos.)

EMC is also innovating through the development of a common platform strategy to better integrate the many technologies it has either developed itself or obtained through acquisition. This should greatly cut the cost of building security, management and other components used by many of its products, Lewis said.

“Inside EMC we are community-sourcing more and more code for our internal community, just like you would open source on the outside world,” Lewis said.

“It saves us in R&D [and provides] more consistency for our customer base.”

EMC expects that the concept of “software appliances”, or virtual machines that run on various platforms, to gain momentum through this effort, Lewis said.

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Tags technologyemcWeb 2.0

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