EMC innovation strategy thinks beyond storage

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — EMC Corp. no longer refers to itself as a storage technology vendor, but rather an information infrastructure vendor.

“The idea and era of application-centric computing will come to an end and will enter into an era of information-centric computing,” said the company’s president of content managment and archiving business, Mark Lewis.

Companies used to define themselves by their hardware, then by their operating system, and in the last decade, by the applications they use, but this fundamental change, he said, is what’s driving the concept of information infrastructure.

Lewis, along with other EMC executives discussed the Hopkinton, Mass.-based company’s plan to continue innovating through research and development, acquisitions, integration, and partners at an EMC Innovation Day Wednesday.

Changes in the technology industry are in part what drive the direction of innovation at the company, said Jeff Nick, EMC’s chief technology officer. Specifically, he said, that focus is moulded by exponential information growth, and a greater complexity in IT infrastructure, applications, and the interaction between all parties, be it users or technology. “These are some of the areas in which we are incubating, innovating, doing research and crafting our strategy going forward,” said Nick.

This year, EMC spent 12 per cent of its revenue on R&D, and an average of $2 billion a year acquiring 30 technology companies over the last four years, with the goal of providing customers “best of breed innovative products and solutions for their information infrastructure needs,” according to EMC’s chairman and CEO, Joe Tucci.

But the company also maintains strong partner relationships as part of its strategy to continually innovate. Actually, those partner relationships have seen considerable improvement over the past few years as EMC has moved away from an “opportunistic” approach to a more altruistic one, admits the company’s president of global services and resource management, Howard Elias.

Microsoft Corp., a panel member during the event’s partner innovation discussion, noted that the innovation process was facilitated by the fact that it and EMC arrived at a solution to handle the often sticky issue of intellectual property ownership. The partnership worked, said Elias, due to both parties understanding the business model and IP ownership, and that there was a framework for the project and a mechanism for ensuring it was adhered to.

But EMC is also taking a different approach to innovating on its customer offerings, said Nick, by taking current products and integrating them with third-party products and with services. “It’s not just about products to market, but solutions to market,” he said, adding the company has dramatically grown its services arm around offerings that combine its technologies.

Given the company’s multiple business units and global presence — a human resources complexity derived from past acquisitions — Nick said it maintains innovation among staff across the broad and varied platform by way of internal programs, such as one such succession program that aims to incent and inspire its IT talent to “stay as technical leaders in their growth path.”

Externally, EMC also collaborates with academia to conduct research that benefits both parties involved, including reaping the advantage of attracting fresh talent to the company.”It’s a very, very powerful and viral way of building out your neural network of capabilities and areas for exploration,” said Nick.

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