Feature Story

Cisco takes Berlin by 48-hour brainstorm

by Stephanie Chan

The 2-day process takes customers, partners, and Cisco employees to the ultimate prototyping lab.

Step inside the Malzfabrik, an industrial malt factory from Berlin’s early 20th century. Black and white tiles line the floor, lit up by sunshine pouring through monstrous windowpanes. The abandoned building, assembled with red brick and chimneys, makes for a perfect backdrop when contemplating everything and anything manufacturing and supply chain related.

Within this historic building hidden in Berlin’s district of Schoenberg, Cisco held a 48-hour Living Lab Experience in  October. CHILL (or Cisco Hyperinnovation Living Labs) curated this Lab on the premise of bringing together non-competing customers, talented engineers, industry experts and our customer’s customers to ideate and co-create industry-disrupting, hybrid business model solutions. Within this two-day process, over 80 minds buzzed and collaborated on the future possibilities of supply chain and logistics powered by IoE.

The customers included aircraft manufacturer Airbus, construction giant Caterpillar, shipping service DHL, and Cisco’s very own Supply Chain.

Kate O’Keeffe, Managing Director and leader of CHILL says the Living Lab is created to promote innovation at its highest level.

“Entire industries come together to shape the future, and the real disruption happens when two really separate industries come together at once,”“Entire industries come together to shape the future, and the real disruption happens when two really separate industries come together at once,” says O’Keeffe, “Very often these big ideas are left to chance—it’s somebody elses responsibility. CHILL is all about how to drive a methodology that can repeatedly and reliably create disruption and disruptive innovation across industries.”

The factory walls at Malzfabrik inspired customers who hailed from around the world to develop with their peers supply chain & logistic solutions that could be deployed not only across their respective organizations but entire industries. 

See also: Go #InsideInnovation at Cisco IOE Innovation Center openBerlin

Cisco Supply Chain’s Global Business Operations Manager, Brian Balistreri says the old brewery was a perfect space for innovative thinking in the realm of manufacturing, supply chain and logistics. 

“It was very open, conducive to engagement, interactions, and networking,”“It was very open, conducive to engagement, interactions, and networking,” says Balistreri, “To have people—and I mean this in a good way—trapped there on the floors, you knew something was going on. Things never stopped.”

The entire Living Lab Experience process extends over 12 weeks, where CHILL begins by seeking customer nominations. They  look for a high level of innovation maturity, which includes agility and the ability to invest in possible outcomes as potential partners for Cisco.

The climax of the 12 weeks occurs during the 48-hour Living Lab, where Cisco meets with customers, industry experts, engineers, and economists to create disruption across industries through rapid prototyping ideas and the inclusion of end users providing feedback live in the room.  In the 48 hour period teams can go through 8-12 cycles of iteration.

CHILL Project Manager Alice Pollard describes the energy created as altogether chaotic and exciting. These labs specifically takes place outside of the boardroom venues and are aimed to take customers out and beyond their comfort zone. Cisco aims to break the formulas of how they have innovated in the past. 

Cisco consultant Stephen Miter, an economist & analyst, who participated in the Living Lab on the Insights team, helped give immediate feedback to teams on how feasible it would be to implement their products or solutions. 

“You can have an idea that sounds amazing, but if the industry isn’t ready for it, or if it doesn’t have a great return on investment, no one will adopt,”“You can have an idea that sounds amazing, but if the industry isn’t ready for it, or if it doesn’t have a great return on investment, no one will adopt,” says Miter, “That’s what drives decision making in today’s corporate world.”

Prototypes of these solutions are then created by the Build team. Lead technologist Justin Muller says, “Our job is to take those low fidelity prototypes and build them into something that’s real. The real value is when customers come in and they can take it in their hands and get a feel for it. You get a whole new level of insight that you don’t get when it’s just an idea on paper.”

After peer-to-peer innovation and rapid prototyping, the customers pitch their  ideas to Cisco executives and  executives from attending companies. Four to six prototypes are birthed by the end of the 48 hours. Post-lab, there are four pathways an idea can take:

1.     The customer  can choose to deliver the solution themselves

2.     Customer can partner with  Cisco to deliver the solution as a service

3.     Incubate the idea internally on a pathway to JV

4.     Externally incubate the idea by venture seeding the creation of startups

This entire process can be easily lost in the theatrics of the 48-hour lab. O’Keeffe reminds us that CHILL serves the purpose of evolving Cisco’s culture of innovation and creating better industry-based outcomes.

“As wonderful as the lab experience is, the whole process is all about the outcomes,” says O’Keeffe, “Yes we leverage theater, we leverage the intensity, the prototyping, the user experience—but we do it in service of better, more rapid outcomes that we can take to market.”