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Thad M. Lutgens, Director of Equipment & IT, Longbow Industries (Parent of LPR Construction)
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Harnessing the Power of Prototyping as a Service Is it Right for Your Organization?
By Jose Hernandez, VP IT Business Operations, Information Technology Services, AARP
Hubs of Innovation: World-class universities
We started with a premise that the rate of change in society, fueled by technology, is increasing exponentially, outpacing traditional sources of innovation. To harness the power of innovation and explore its application and implications to AARP’s mission, we needed to look to the core of invention and innovation: world-class research-based universities. More specifically, we look for a vital set of ingredients: student talent, culture of innovation and research that has the potential for commercial application. And we are not alone in this pursuit; university-based research parks have grown exponentially in the past few decades.
In 2016, AARP established a presence at the University of Illinois Research Park. Our initial focus was operational in nature – deliver a prototyping service that is fast, easy to use, and costs pennies on the dollar. From the time the initiative was given the green light by our CEO, we selected a site, designed and built the lab, hired a lead manager, interviewed and hired students, and began working on the first set of prototypes within 90 days. We quickly established a framework that delivers a prototype in weeks to months for a few thousand, not years and millions in investments. That’s what we mean by fast and cost effective. Our business partners bring us an idea and after initial ideation- which at times challenges us to collectively dream bigger and bolder-we are off and running.
We are shaped by our experiences. Everyone is someone’s son or daughter or grandchild. As technologists at AARP, we strive to leverage these experiences and make them applicable to those we serve. The Tech Nest affords us an opportunity to do so. The result is a prototyping service that delivers, is easy to use, with a light touch, and that keeps delivering and allowing us to come back for more. Everything we touch should be built with the elegance of simplicity in mind.
Is Rapid Prototyping Right for Your Organization?
The prototyping lab provides an enterprise capability posing a fundamental question found in product development: Will it work? Key to the question of “will it work?” we also needed to know if it can be answered quickly and economically.
As with any methodology, rapid prototyping as a service is not “one-size-fits-all.” In fact, after you read this article, you may decide that your needs are not for prototyping, but for full product development or somewhere in between. To help you make that decision, here are some elements that will make the exploration of rapid prototyping as a service worthwhile:
Define an internal or external business outcome. Ask yourself, what do I want to effect on behalf of the organization?
Spend time understanding your customer, your market, and work backwards. This may seem simple, but it’s an important step towards defining the opportunity.
Location and scale matters
This old adage comes to mind: location, location, location! As you will find, not all universities act the same or engage industry in the same manner. Depending on your business outcome, seek the university that has the resources and talent that best fit your needs and is readily accessible to your organization.
Now, contemplate how you can combine these elements to address emerging technology with the potential to disrupt a market or business model or to address established/ emerging technology in markets that are waiting for a “network effect.” This is not an exhaustive list of elements for prototyping as a service, however they are a few recommendations to get you started in your discovery.
My parting advice for organizations interested in replicating what we’ve accomplished is to be astounded by the potential of student talent. Whenever I speak to industry leaders about AARP’s Tech Nest, I find myself focusing on the brilliance of our students. Don’t limit yourself by being tied to one particular solution or any solution for that matter. Just show up with a problem and let the students’ unleash their full potential.