Saturday, July 14, 2018

Disruptive Technologies - Friend or Foe of the CTO - Part 1

Disruptive Technologies - Friend or Foe of the CTO 

Part 1 - The CTO's Challenges

Disruptive technologies have the potential to transform life, business and the global economy . The exponential growth of new technologies makes it critical for the chief technology officer, CTO to stay ahead of the technology trends and be responsive to disruptions. The disruptive potential of these new technologies pose a threat to the CTO who is deeply immersed in current technologies and have a high organizational inertia to respond to changes. However, the very same disruptive technologies offer business growth opportunities for the CTO who systematically scouts for new technologies, assesses their potential, tracks their evolution and have a responsive organization. The CTO has a critical role to play in converting the disruption into a threat or an opportunity. He cannot go overboard with disruptive technologies – he has to strike the right balance in investing in sustaining vs disruptive technologies. During our interaction with CTOs across the industry, we observed that very few are able to stay calm in this VUCA world and make the right technology decisions. The CTOs opined that a framework, that helps that to systematically analyze and invest in disruptive technologies, will be very valuable. Though we have refined our framework over the last five years by applying it for various industries, we use the automotive domain as an example here to illustrate how the CTO can build a portfolio of disruptive technologies to create sustainable mobility. Let us first analyze the challenges faced by the CTO when he has to manage disruptive technologies.

The challenges posed by disruptive technologies

The CTOs of automotive OEMs have a very important role to play, in taking their companies safely past the turbulent phase, when their industry is being disrupted by new technologies and radically new business models. The portfolio, of internal combustion engine (ICE) technologies, that they built and deployed to differentiate their products will become less relevant with the emergence of the electric vehicles (EVs). Their portfolio of technologies on drive comfort and drive experience is fundamentally getting redefined with the emergence of autonomous vehicles (AVs). The emergence of connected vehicles (CVs) makes him work with technology partners (internet, communication, cloud) well outside the traditional automotive industry. The convergence of electric, autonomous and connected vehicle technologies necessitates the CTO to build a new technology portfolio from scratch. The new business model of shared mobility compounds the power of the ongoing disruption . The emergence of new customer value propositions necessitates the CTO to think fresh on where to innovate and how to differentiate his new products. The CTO has to master the science of assessing the potential of these new technologies and quickly re-skill his entire technology organization so that he can take them along when he rides the waves of disruption. The CTO has to make big decisions on technology portfolio, innovation strategy and technical capability building to secure the future growth prospects of his company.

Imagine you are the CTO of an automotive OEM and the year is 2000. You would hold discussion with your R&D head and fund exploratory projects on electric vehicles. You will look at these technologies as lab curiosities with potential to grow incrementally over the years and would not expect EV to disrupt ICE vehicles by 2020. It would not have been possible for you to predict that the price of lithium ion battery storage would reduce by 80% over the next 10 years and bring down the price of EV. You would have looked at autonomous vehicle as real long-term technology development initiatives and wait for the ecosystem to develop before taking it to the market. It would have been impossible for you to predict that the LIDAR, the heart of the autonomous vehicle, would fall from 70K USD (in 2012) to less than 1K USD (in 2016). You would have hardly thought about the legal and insurance aspects of autonomous vehicles. You would have only looked at other Automotive OEMS as competitors - you would not have expected a smartphone maker or a search engine company to compete with you. You would have tracked the price of Steel but not the price of Lithium, Cobalt or the Rare Earth minerals. You were so deep into the ICE Technology and that prevented you from visualizing that 2020 would be so different from 2000. The exponential growth of a few disruptive Technologies and innovative new Business models have entirely transformed the automotive Industries landscape in these 20 years. The future of automotive OEMs depends on the CTO’s ability to build a sustainable mobility solution.

There are four areas that are critical for a CTO to leverage disruptive Technologies and build a strong portfolio of technologies to create sustainable mobility for the future. Through a series of blog posts, I intend to describe a systematic approach and provide a structured framework that would help the CTO to:

(i)               Scout for mega trends across multiple domains (beyond the traditional automotive domain) like IOT, Analytics, Machine Learning, Robotics, Additive Manufacturing etc

(ii)              Gauge the true disruptive potential of a new technology e.g. a new manufacturing method like additive manufacturing or a new material like graphene - and make early investment in new technologies.

(iii)            Create a strategy to build a strong portfolio of technologies, innovations and intellectual property in new technologies that would accelerate the development of differentiated new products

(iv)             Drive the disruptive transformation in a systematic way and take the company smoothly from the current state to the future state.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Innovation and IP Strategy for Sustainable Mobility

I spoke at the Global Intellectual Property Conference ( - at Bangalore, last week - on the topic of crafting an Innovation & IP Strategy for Sustainable Mobility.

There is a fundamental shift on all three dimensions - Technology, Innovation and IP - in the automotive industry with the emergence of electric, autonomous, connected vehicles and shared ownership models.

Automotive industry has been disrupted in the past - it took less than twenty years (1900 - 1920) to replace horses by automobiles.

The automotive industry is going through the second wave of disruption now - it is swifter and fueled by faster adoption.

The technology innovation will involve many players across the industry - cross collaboration is the key strategy to success - need to synchronize innovation & NPD cycles.

There is a shift in IP strategy also - some of the lead players are opening their patents - Tesla in EV and Toyota in Hydrogen Fuel Cell - the old 5+ years patent grant cycle is not supportive of the fast product development. Elon Musk has famously removed the wall of Patents at Tesla and replaced it by a posters "All our Patents are belong to you".

Elon Musk emphasizes the urgency for bringing in sustainable mobility technologies - electric, autonomous and connected vehicles - with a powerful analogy of throwing the water out of a sinking ship - we need to share the bucket design with others to save ourselves - no one can do it alone. This is a powerful thought.

It was a great experience to attend the 10th GIPC conference along with my team members - thanks Ram, Jeremy, Bala, Dayan and Mahesh - for your excellent research and analytic support.

Thanks Professor Heinz Goddar for chairing the session and moderating the panel discussion.

Creating Abundance through Innovation - DESI approach

Recently I was invited to speak at IIT Madras for a Conference on Design Education organized by Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).

I met some old friends like

Prof Amaresh Chakrabarti (IISc)

Dr Ramanan (Medical Stents Innovator and old GE friend) -

and made some new friends (Prof Peer Sathikh, NTU, Singapore) .

I described four thinking skills that we need to train our young innovators on so that they can create abundance through their innovations.

I spoke about human centered design first - cited the popular example - GE Doug Dietz and the MRI machine.

Then I described the power of exponential thinking - introduced the 6 D Framework of Peter Diamandis -

I went to talk about Systems thinking - cited the Aravind Eye Care case study.

Finally, I concluded with my favourite piece on Inventive thinking - TRIZ - Ideality, Function Maps and Technology Evolution Trends.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Creating Sustainable Mobility Technologies – Opportunities and Challenges

Image result for urban mobility India

This is the second in a series of Blog posts on the Urban Mobility Challenge. You will the first post here -

Sustainable mobility for the future is all about creating automotive technologies that are clean, safe and fast. If we look at the urban mobility scenario today, there are three problem areas that need attention (a) pollution due to vehicular emission (b) vehicular accidents and (c) loss of productivity due to difficulty in navigating through dense traffic. Electric Vehicles are emerging as the future clean vehicle technology and will remove concerns around rising vehicular emissions. Autonomous cars have demonstrated accident-free performance for more than a million miles. Connected vehicles that can proactively communicated with signals, parking lots and other vehicles on the road are fast emerging as the solution for handling traffic jabs in the cities.

The opportunities in the short-term include introducing battery powered electric vehicles (that are powered by a mix of solar and fossil fuel), autonomous tractors and border patrol vehicles and connected vehicles whose location and performance can be monitored remotely. In the medium term, electric vehicles fully powered by solar, autonomous trucks that can move on dedicated tracks on the highways to transport goods and connected vehicles that can talk to signals and parking spaces. In the long term, we visualize emergence of electric vehicles that will not need energy storage (create and use electrical energy on the go), autonomous cars on the road and connected vehicles that can talk to each other, plan their route and coordinate their movement.

The challenges in realizing these three technologies – electric, autonomous and connected vehicles – are three fold. The first is the materials challenge – the scarcity of materials such as Lithium for battery, Rare Earth minerals for magnets in the motors, Cobalt etc may become bottlenecks for scaling up these technologies. The second challenge is about Intellectual Property (IP) – since these technologies are exponentially growing and converging, there is a need to accelerate the creation and commercialization of IP. For instance, if it takes more than five years to secure IP for a technology invention, then the technology may become obsolete by that time. The third challenge is to get the ecosystem ready for effective diffusion of these technologies. For instance, electric vehicles will need charging infrastructure, autonomous vehicles will need favorable legal framework and connected vehicles will need seamless internet availability.

We will describe the potential opportunity to create sustainable mobility for the future by investing in the development of electric vehicle, autonomous vehicle and connected vehicle technologies. We will also discuss the challenges associated with critical materials, intellectual property and ecosystem readiness.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Inventions created by Artificial Intelligence in Manufacturing - Managing the IP

I was a panelist at an International Conference on Intellectual Property organized by CII in New Delhi recently (Nov 2017). The theme was AI in Manufacturing. I made three points

1. The adoption of AI in manufacturing is too important to be slowed down by the complexity of handling IP. Just because we don't know how to handle the IP, we cannot delay benefiting from AI and Automation in Manufacturing. Additive Manufacturing, Robotics, AI and Machine Learning are set to change the landscape of Manufacturing.

We can greatly accelerate innovation in manufacturing by partnering with AI.

2. The creation of patentable ideas by AI is not new.

The Creativity Machine is the brainchild of Dr. Stephen Thaler and is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) product that not only imitates original and creative thinking, but produces it. Thaler's machine has already been credited with the invention or improvement of a number of products and the creation of a number of original music compositions.

As early as 1997, Inventors have generated ideas with the help of AI and applied for patents - many of these patents have been granted - and the products have been sold in the market. The Inventor of the AI machine became the Inventor of the Ideas generated by the AI machine.

AI generated Inventions have been patented.

3. How can we improve the quality of IP by using AI

One of the key criteria for granting a patent is Non-Obviousness. The Idea shoudl be non-obviosu to a "Person of ordinary skill in the art " (POSA). This POSA is supposed to have a knowledge of all the prior art (in all the relevant domain). While it is difficult for a human being to have this vast knowledge, AI can easily serve as a POSA. Thus an AI POSA can accurately evaluate the non-obviousness of an idea submitted for patenting.

Let us use AI enhance the quality of the granted patents.

Recent Trends

Did you hear about - and

All Prior Art is a project attempting to algorithmically create and publicly publish all possible new prior art, thereby making the published concepts not patent-able. The concept is to democratize ideas, provide an impetus for change in the patent system, and to preempt patent trolls. The system works by pulling text from the entire database of US issued and published (un-approved) patents and creating prior art from the patent language. While most inventions generated will be nonsensical, the cost to computationally create and publish millions of ideas is nearly zero – which allows for a higher probability of possible valid prior art

All The Claims is a sister project to All Prior Art which is attempting to algorithmically create and publicly publish all possible new prior art, thereby making the published concepts not patent-able. The concept is to democratize ideas, provide an impetus for change in the patent system, and to preempt patent trolls. The system works by pulling text from the entire database of US issued and published (un-approved) patents and creating prior art from the patent language. While most inventions generated will be nonsensical, the cost to computationally create and publish millions of ideas is nearly zero – which allows for a higher probability of possible valid prior art.

Materials Innovations for a Sustainable Future

Materials Innovation for Electric, Autonomous and Connected Vehicles

When I was invited to deliver the keynote address at the International Conference on Materials and Processing, I was very excited to a global audience of fellow material scientists. I decided to speak on creating a sustainable future - sustainable energy and mobility technologies. Sustainable mobility is all about creating technologies that are clean, safe and fast.

The sustainability of electric vehicles depends on the availability of the battery storage material lithium - when lithium availability becomes a bottleneck, materials scientists need to discover alternative materials for lithium or create process for effective recycling and reuse of lithium from batteries. Most motors of the electric cars need strong magnets that are made of rare earth minerals - Neodymium. When Neodymium becomes scarce, innovators need to create motor designs that can work without RE magnets or find alternative magnetic materials. Fast charging of the electric cars need Supercapacitors (aka Ultracapacitors). These supercaps need a variety of materials - metal oxides, carbon and polymers. 

The Autonmous cars have a LIDAR and these are MEMS devices for laser light emision, micro mirrors and photodiodes - need semiconductors, metal oxides, metal etc. The price of LIDA has dropped from $70k to $1k in 2015 and steadily reducing further. The sensors that enable connected cars needs a variety of metal oxides and semiconductors.

The Materials Scientists have a key role to play in creating a sustainable future. The technologies that enable sustainable energy and mobility technologies have strong dependencies on certain critical materials. Innovations that open up these material bottlenecks can lay the path for a sustainable future.

The simultaneous emergence of electric vehicles and falling price of solar PV direct our attention on storage batteries - as both technologies would need them. Batteries will unite the mobility and energy industry. Lithium ion battery price is steadily falling and alternative materials are being continuously explored - promising new battery materials are in the horizon.

Only a DESI CTO can Manage the Technology Disruptions

I was invited by CII as a keynote speaker for their first CTO Summit (Mumbai, Nov 2017). I designed my talk around two themes (a) the challenges that a CTO faces in managing the disruptive technologies and (b) the new skills that the CTO has to acquire to lead successfully in a  VUCA world.

I discussed the technologies disrupting the Mobility and Energy industry - Electric, Autonomous and Connected Vehicles, Renewable Energy etc.Analyzed their exponential growth and potential for convergence. New business grow through technology platforms rather than technology pipelines - it is a paradigm shift for the traditional CTO who has been building technology pipelines for many years now. The closed innovation model is giving way to Open Innovation model - saves cost and accelerates the development.- the CTO has to manage a distributed innovation team and handle shared IP.

The CTO has to acquire four thinking skills to lead technology in this VUCA world - Design Thinking, Exponential Thinking, Systems Thinking and Inventive Thinking. The CTO has to practice human centered design thinking and use empathy to drive decisions. The CTO has to learn and practise 6 D Framework (Peter Diamandis) to handle exponential technologies. CTO has to deploy Systems and Architectural Thinking to align technology development with fast new product development. The CTO has to be an inventive thinker - train his team in systematic innovation (like TRIZ) and build expertise in technology trends analysis.


Thus the VUCA world needs a DESI CTO to effectively manage the disruptive technologies.