Director Switzerland Innovation Park Network West EPFL (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne)
In the course of the 2018 DTIM conference, we spoke with Antoine Jourdan, Director Switzerland Innovation Park Network West Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne – EPFL about the main challenges companies face regarding technology/product foresight and about changing customer behaviour.
Jourdan: Sure, my name is Antoine Jourdan, I grew up in the French speaking part of Switzerland, in Vevey between the lake and the Alps. I have an engineering background (Master in Computer Science from EPFL) complemented by an Executive-MBA in Corporate Finance (HEC Lausanne). I spent most of my career in the private sector, working in Business Development for Consulting, Fintech and Business Process Outsourcing companies. I also founded and managed two startups between 2007 and 2015. For more than a year now, I am fully engaged into Technology transfer and Innovation within the Vice-Presidency for Innovation at EPFL (www.epfl.ch). We basically help companies being more competitive with the help of breakthrough technologies from our labs and spinoffs. I specifically manage a cross academic platform for the promotion of innovation in the western part of Switzerland.
Jourdan: During our session, we will mainly discuss and exchange about the “innovation journey” each company needs to go through. On one hand, technology is a major driver of innovation and will disrupt many well established businesses, on the other hand, the speed and breadth of such technological developments grow exponentially and will force companies to search for external knowledge and partnership, also referred as “open innovation”. Our idea is to focus on such mechanism of innovation, namely how do companies generates new ideas & concepts based on latest technologies? What are the best approaches (also there is no ”one size fits all”) that lead to innovation?
Jourdan: This is a tough question but I think that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will dramatically reshape and disrupt a lot of sectors. Imagine that a computer will soon be able to think (faster) the way you are, imagine that computers will maybe have a better intuition than yours, and this is already happening: computer can today identify and diagnose skin cancer, based on photography, better than doctors… But it isn’t limited to this case, AI will be used in many fields of applications from fundamental research such as in material science or drug discovery (for example to discover new molecules) to the complex decision making using huge volume of Data.
Jourdan: Corporations have been designed to minimize errors and have put in place standardized processes for everything, innovation turns them upside down as it is the exact opposite. There is no standardized process for innovation and this is precisely why so many companies create “innovation center” to think “outside of the standardized processes” to “better accept failure”. On top of that, organizations will need to be more open than ever to external ideas as new technologies are often developed by startups or academic research institutions. Creating an open network of knowledge will thus play a crucial role. To answer your question, companies still need to have an internal rework of both culture and processes to adopt these new concepts.
Jourdan: Companies will need to stay tuned and be more open than ever to external sources of information. They will need to quickly identify new technologies and integrate them to develop new products. To do so, international companies have typically started to build a network of knowledge with the best universities and ecosystem in the world. Switzerland Innovation Park West EPFL typically offers such an ecosystem where startups, large corporations and top notch professors meet to create the future. We have many international companies with a small innovation team of 5 to 15 employees, they scout for technologies, talents and startup.
Jourdan: Most of the time we are in touch with R&D or Innovation department.
Jourdan: We recently launched an new service at the Vice-Presidency for Innovation in order to help companies make a better usage of new technologies. This service consists in a discovery journey which includes ideation workshops, the goal is to identify what technologies and related projects each company needs to focus on. The company benefits from a valuable technological roadmap for the year to come.