Re-Defining Innovation Labs: the Need for Education, Partnership and Mostly, Customers Jun 06, 2017 Ed Fox VP of Network Services MetTel The concept of “innovation labs” has proliferated for over a decade, yet over the last few years we’ve seen a few big-name companies shutter them for some reason. Surely it can’t be that innovation wasn’t important anymore to brands like Disney, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, or Adecco? The problem isn’t with the idea or concept behind an innovation lab, but rather the approach.Innovation labs have lately come under fire as marketing fluff, where the best and brightest teams were isolated in their hipster playground work spaces to come up with the coolest new thing associated with the latest tech craze like AI, whether it’s strategic or not.. The result: they spent money, they spun wheels, they hyped, but they didn’t really help the business.The problem with this approach is that every organization wants to be a technology company, regardless of their industry. They want the halo effect of developing the coolest cloud app or having the best DevOps platform. All too often, they don’t start with a business goal in mind other than just “to drive innovation.” Without a focus on a clear business objective or real market (read “customer”) insights, R&D is not grounded in the fundamentals of the marketplace.Further compounding this, the pace of change not only from technology disruption but also from M&A. The lines have blurred in our sector from mergers and acquisitions involving telcos, IT firms, media companies, cable operators and others such as AT&T and Time Warner to CenturyLink and Level 3, all the way to Google and WebPass. A lot of people aren’t even sure how to define telecommunications anymore and what it means to be a key player in the space.Considering MetTel just launched our Customer Innovation Labs, I wanted to give my thoughts on the matter and discuss the approach from our perspective. The goal is always going to map to a customer need and innovation should be a partnership. MetTel has spent the last 21 years servicing the telecommunications and IT network needs of companies of all sizes. Being a smaller provider without the legacy bulk of the big US carriers, we’ve been forced to innovate to develop creative and alternative methods of solving customer problems. Many of these work-arounds – like our Gartner-recognized SD-WAN configurations — are now industry best practices.We see companies across every vertical trying to make sense of the latest technologies and determine if it’s relevant to them. How do they know if it’s worth the resources? What other company systems and processes would it impact? What new technology products, services and skills do they need and how do they budget for it? The questions are endless. This is really the crux of why MetTel Customer Innovation Labs was born. There’s a definite emphasis on the word “customer” for a reason. We decided that we needed a focused way to address these questions for our customers – innovating together for tailored solutions that provide business immediate value. We’ve pivoted our traditional business model from reactive trouble-shooting to focus more on being a strategic communications service provider and consulting partner to our customers. Given our technology-agnostic approach and the depth and breadth of our portfolio, we’re well positioned to educate our customers and help them make sense of the latest tech trends and how to navigate the cluttered, confusing and constantly changing IT infrastructure landscape that supports them. Our lab personnel are on the front lines with our customers and there are always new questions popping up as technology continues moving ahead at light speed. So, we collected all of these questions from our customers – across healthcare, retail, energy, manufacturing and other industries – and knew that we could make tailored solutions based on collaboration and innovation since we don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach. The funny thing is this is how MetTel has been so successful – our approach has always been to put the customer first when advising and implementing the right solution. Our Customer Innovation Labs have really been operating within the company for several years now but we decided we’d officially give it a name – and for good reason! MetTel Customer Innovation Labs are working on a number of solutions such as our emergency kit, which addresses sales spikes, mergers and acquisitions and unforeseen incidents like natural disasters that could impact a company’s networks. The Kit is an out-of-the-box solution that revives network functions instantaneously. Other projects we’re working on range from programmable telecom services to omni-channel contact centers, an expanding set of real solutions to real business challenges and opportunities. At a time when technology innovation often distinguishes competitors from one another in every industry, it’s more important than ever to support R&D. But investment is only one part of the equation. Focusing R&D on……….wait for it — practical innovation — may make all the difference in supporting your business while ensuring your business (and customers) support you.