Back in the Spring of 2008 my colleagues and I at EMC's Executive Briefing Program in Santa Clara, CA observed a repeating pattern among the topics customers were requesting when visiting our center. Typically, a customer would sit through 6-7 topics of conversation in a day and we began to notice the same 4 or 5 topics were being requested frequently. Our team reached out to partners across the business and to ask if there was a pattern we should be paying attention to. Was there a reason, we asked our field and engineering colleagues, why companies from across a range of vertical industries would want to look at EMC storage, a Cisco switch, VMware software and a then new EMC replication software called RecoverPoint? It turned out there was - when operating together, these four technologies
would allow an application to stay up over a longer distance than was possible if you were to remove any one component and replace it with another product.
Quickly the engineering team - lead by Michael Tan, now at HP - and the field teams - corralled by Michael LaFauci, now of Dell's SAP Solutions team - worked with colleagues from across EMC, Cisco and VMware to build a working prototype of this converged infrastructure solution and we arranged a week-long customer exposition at the briefing center. Customers responded overwhelmingly and within three years EMC, Cisco and VMware formed a joint venture called ‘VCE’ to take the solution to market. By 2012, VCE was a $2.5bn business.
The success of the venture meant that our engineering and field collaborators who drove the initial prototypes with us were whisked away in late 2010 to be part of the new company in a new location and our customer center was left without its primary attraction. We quickly began a search to locate new partners with an equally compelling customer story to tell and it became apparent that the best way to start again was to look at the model we had created with the VCE project.
Communicating what we had achieved and how we had done so was more difficult than we assumed. People loved the outcome but didn’t buy into the methods that we instinctively knew we had. So we began looking for a process that would adequately described what we had done. It was on a late November evening in 2009 in the old Borders Bookstore on University Avenue that I had found the book that would help us describe the model we needed. It was Change By Design, by IDEO CEO Tim Brown, the book that outlines IDEO’s design-thinking methods. It talked directly to the observation methods, the collaborative idea generation and rapid prototyping and testing that we had carried out with our solutions teams with customers at the briefing center. We were excited to hold in our hands a blueprint for how to create proven and repeatable methods of rapid innovation that would be both cost effective and highly creative.
In the spring of 2011 we began to compile our list of observations about what the most common emerging conversations were. Edging ahead of convergent technologies were cloud based storage services and big data. As we didn’t have a cloud-based storage offering at the time but did have several fingers in the big data pie, we began to build a collaborative base across EMC’s big data portfolio to repeat the trick. EMC’s Greenplum and Big Data Consulting teams readily came on board throughout 2011 as were able to provide them with access to customers in the EBC that they were otherwise struggling to reach.
Our big coup came early in 2012, when EMC’s CMO Jeremy Burton agreed to move his Marketing Data Science team into the lab space at the Briefing Center where the old VCE team had operated. We quickly retrofitted the space in time for late 2012, when the EMC Marketing Sciences lab was opened, providing a spanking brand new lab space for the data scientists to work in. The lab also provided customers and sales teams with the opportunity to make sense of the emerging big data conversation by touring the lab and discussing real challenges with the Marketing Sciences team.
One of the interesting studies the lab would regularly undertake was to correlate the trends from the various digital marketing programs and field marketing initiatives looking for causes and effects that could help sales. Once a quarter, they held a ‘shark’ week, focusing on a particular product in a specific market and testing their data and theories for validation.
Our EBC program had helped to create and then successfully replace one major attraction – the VCE converged infrastructure program – with a second, completely different attraction which drew an entirely different audience – the Data Science lab – by successfully deploying a design thinking methodology. There was no impact to the volume of customer visits, no negative feedback from our sales colleagues and in fact the revenue attribution for accounts that visited the EBC increased.
In trying to be innovative in meeting our briefing center targets, we proved almost by accident that the EBC had strong business value to other parts of the company. In repeating our trick, we reframed the value of the program as a business design tool of significance for the company.