Crossing the chasm between inventing and innovating has a lot to do with a technology’s diffusion level and depth of adoption. Generally speaking, inventions talk to new forms, functions and applications while innovations have more to do with whether that novelty becomes a game changer.
Innovations qualify as such because of causing a significant industry impact. This is beyond just filing for a patent or making something commercially available. Otherwise, we would just be talking about inventions.
When an emerging technology is first conceived, those of us rallying behind it might do so because we sense and foresee potential. We strive to work with all of the assumptions involved in how it will unfold, evolve and even transform and mutate. But, accidental innovation happens. Moreover, a majority of entrepreneurs would acknowledge that what made a business successful might not necessarily be the source concept they started with.
As Antonio Machado (Spanish poet, 1875-1939) stated in one of his most popular writings: “we make paths as we go.” While NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) has crossed a point of no return and aims to shift from invention to innovation status, we cannot yet benefit from defining maturity levels in hindsight. Moving forward in the midst of changes and uncertainty calls for exercising thought leadership.
NFV qualifies as an emerging technology of great interest in the telecommunications sector, jointly with SDN (Software Defined Networking). When I worked on the the above visuals, my goal was to convey a dynamic service delivery environment resembling neural activity with different but interconnected layers. I see this as an application driven and a constantly morphing system where new connections get instantiated, any needed assets surface just in time and resources get fired up without incurring in self defeating trade-offs, therefore the above right chart.
Note that this is in contrast with today’s rigid network systems where service innovativeness can be either halted or negatively impacted by lengthy lead times and cumbersome operational constrains. Couple that with performance and reliability concerns. As a matter of fact, the way Clayton defines his “innovator’s dilemma” is worth reviewing and understanding in this context.
Having depicted a desirable vision within the scope of what’s eventually possible, when undertaking technology roadmapping my next batch of questions are more about [a] what fruitful immediate steps can be undertaken now, as well as [b] looking for a sense of direction by outlining the journey… while keeping things flexible and agile enough to pivot as needed. The first question’s answer has to do with the notion of “incremental innovation” while the second question can be addressed in terms of “disruptive innovation.”
As an example, the journey (above left chart) starts with getting to leverage tools and technologies that currently exist, such as today’s many virtualization projects, which deliver early success stories. In some cases, this just means achieving better asset utilization levels as new virtual machines can be easily created. This circumvents lead times for new equipment orders and, hence, can also translate into faster time to market. Early success stories are like taking baby steps that build confidence and momentum: learning to walk before we can run.
By looking at how to best address [a] and [b] and zooming in and out in the process, we can also make decisions on what projects should be future proofed at each step, or which ones make sense to continue to exploit as trail blazing bets, yet experimental initiatives.
About a year later I delivered these other two charts that you see right above this paragraph. We are talking about a turning point where pilot virtualization projects where expected to level the playing field already. Time flies in the cloud age and table stakes prompts a need for moving up the value chain. This means seeking the kind of advance and differentiation that convert into new competitive advantages… and whether first movers’ set the pace, can sustain or further them and get a better overall deal.
This 2×2 matrix maps out capabilities (vertical axis) and readiness (horizontal axis) progressing from proof of concept prototyping all the way to live deployments. It also helps discuss two other significant chasms based on what it really takes for initiatives in the lower left quadrant to move forward from the labs and pre-production to live environments, as well as whether they evolve upward toward a pure carrier cloud environment, that being the ultimate end goal.
The spiral on the right evolved from a radar chart. Admittedly, I keep toggling between the above spiral and my source radar chart depending on what I need to communicate. When showing the spiral version I discuss a fast evolving and complete delivery and operations lifecycle. Then by switching to the radar version I can plot how far a given project is on any of those axis. What usually follows in that discussion is drawing a polygon connecting the multivariate data and how the resulting shapes can be different across projects due to product management decisions.
Last but not least, here is another multivariate view for a more recent talk with observations and insights linking how infrastructure, analytics, management systems and services evolve and, once again, where a given project might lay. This time around, my goal was to lead the discussion with four hot and attention grabbing topics such as:  cloud fabrics,  big data,  automation and  software defined elements as a service.
This is an animated chart uncovering a column for each topic. Once completed, it becomes easier to engage in a meaningful conversation on the bigger picture where these four pillars turn to be interdependent. The above display was the result of a whiteboarding exercise where a fifth column outlined ecosystem items and a sixth one was dedicated to human factors and organizational behaviors.
You can see these and other charts in context as part of Alcatel-Lucent presentations such as:
These materials are also available in the “content” section of this blog.