Feature Story

Innovate Everywhere Challenge discovers the greatest ideas within Cisco

by Stephanie Chan

Innovate Everywhere Challenge discovers the greatest ideas within Cisco

Cisco's Innovate Everywhere Challenge asks employees to bring their most innovative ideas to the forefront. See the excitement from this year's finalist pitches.

Innovation is all about inclusion, diversity, and collaboration within the company. Innovation begins from the inside out. No one advocates for this statement more than Alex Goryachev, senior director of Innovation Strategy and Programs of Cisco's Corporate Strategic Innovation Group. Sitting front and center at the company's second-annual internal Innovate Everywhere Challenge, Goryachev shares that innovation is all about inclusion, diversity, and collaboration within the company.

In its second year, the Innovate Everywhere Challenge "live finals" took place on June 1, inviting six final employee teams to pitch their industry-changing ideas in front of a panel of judges, a live audience, and global viewership on CiscoTV.

Matt Cutler, chair of the Founders' Forum, an exclusive group of founders from companies Cisco has acquired, hosted the event. He defines innovation as "the act of solving relevant problems in contextually novel ways" which all the finalists inspired to do. As a serial entrepreneur himself, with six startups during his career, he shared it's everyone's job to innovate at Cisco--innovation lives or dies based on the support of the community around it. He encouraged all to get involved in any way that best suits their gifts and calling. 

Cross-functional ideas

The pitch stage was adorned with a background of golden cogs and wheels, representing the ever-turning minds of the employees who seek to innovate beyond their day jobs. Glowing blue lights surrounded the stage and lit the room with the atmosphere of Cisco spirit.

This year, the Innovate Everywhere Challenge accepted 768 venture ideas from more than 1,500 employees. These ideas came from employees around the world and from every single company function. Cisco asked employees to submit their most innovative ideas for the opportunity to gain mentorship, access to Cisco's global Innovation Centers and labs, Cisco partnership in their venture, support, and funds.

See also: Cisco's Innovate Everywhere Challenge White Paper

"Before this Challenge, we realized that while we run competitions worldwide, we didn't have a vehicle for our own employees," says Goryachev, "We wanted to encourage ideation that is cross functional."

As the pitch event began, Vice President of Cisco's Corporate Strategic Innovation Group Maciej Kranz took the stage to give opening statements, stating that innovation at Cisco is not about the individual but always a team effort.

The six teams who presented after Kranz displayed their collaborative nature to the utmost extent— individuals who formed groups across work locations, specialties, and industries. What brought these independent employees together was the belief in a single innovative idea that held the opportunity to foundationally disrupt the company.

See also: Mathilde Durvy helps others realize their innovation dreams

"I want to make sure we treat our employees as well as we treat our startups," says Goryachev, "We encourage participation that promotes diverse perspectives and disciplines –making sure we get people of different opinions."

Employee-based disruption

Mathilde Durvy, innovation program lead, states that the final six teams brought ideas that were potentially game-changing for Cisco, scalable, and novel.

The decision of choosing a winning team is up to the panel of nine judges, who this year were comprised of Cisco leaders like Senior Vice President of Supply Chain John Kern, and Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of DevNet Innovations Susie Wee. They sat alongside external judges like Venture Partner at Horizon Ventures Doug Tsui and co-founder and Managing Director of Global Bridge Capital Jason Lin. 

See also: Cisco Hyperinnovation Labs hosts 48-hour blockchain brainstorm

There is also the "People's Choice" award, where Cisco employees are granted one token to vote online for their favorite idea.

This year's teams and pitches are as follows:

  1. Cyber Insurance Risk Analytics: An analytic platform that leverages Cisco's threat intelligence. This team's solution is comprised of threat intelligence, a risk analytics engine, threat score and impact assessment, and actionable intelligence.
  2. Connected Military Medical Response: Collects and analyzes data from soldiers' body sensors to reduce response time and provide accuracy in medical diagnoses and treatment.
  3. Hypercube Forensic Database: A technology to power security forensics and analytics at faster speeds. To solve Big Data forensics, this team ideates a new approach in database indexing and storage.
  4. iPower: A solution to report energy consumption and track assets, focusing on places like labs and data centers. It is designed to function as a standalone application or as an extension for Cisco Energy Manager.
  5. Network Early Warning: Customers aim for 0% unplanned network outages. This solution predicts problems in the network, and preempts the problems before they occur by leveraging machine learning.
  6. PTO to Give: Allows Cisco employees to donate the monetary value of their unused Paid Time Off to charity. Cisco could withhold all payroll taxes so that the NET given to charity is similar to the "take home pay". 

Goryachev says that because the Innovate Everywhere Challenge is in its second year, teams have ramped up their attention towards proof of concept.

"Compared to year one, I am seeing this very important transformation," says Goryachev, "Somebody said today that engineering is the easy part. We are a tech company, but we must engineer the products that actually sell. The biggest difference this year is that all teams said that they have proof of concept. They can actually foresee customer demand."

The winners

The judges chose CIRA—Cyber Insurance Risk Analytics— and Network Early Warning as this year's winners. CIRA's analytic platform complements Cisco's large cyber security ventures, enabling better and more accurate risk management. The team states that the net effect of this platform could drive an increase in the cyber insurance market.

Network Early Warning also aims to solve a big customer goal—0% unplanned network outages. This team plans to accomplish this by predicting and preempting infrastructure issues and creating a full solution that remediates issues before they happen.  

For the People's Choice selection, employees loved the giving back team, PTO to Give. This group inspired internal minds with their efforts towards solving specific problems—helping Cisco reduce liability around earned PTO, helping employees give to charities, reducing employees' tax burden, and helping to make the world a better place.  

Brain meets world

The logo for Cisco's Innovate Everywhere Challenge is circular—one half of a brain and one half of a world. Cisco's employees' "global brain" is truly the cog that keeps the company spinning and churning out new ideas and innovations.

The Innovate Everywhere Challenge encourages Cisco talent to combine efforts across team and function to join towards one revolutionary goal. With Cisco's collective hub of employee expertise, the best ideas can come forth and truly change the world.