The ng Connect Gravity Centers: accelerators of innovation

The opening of the Alcatel-Lucent EMEA Innovation Center at the end of September near Paris – featuring a brand new ng Connect Gravity Center — exceeded our expectations. I believe all parties – ng Connect members, guest service providers and companies as well as Alcatel-Lucent representatives – were genuinely pleased and impressed. But in the following six weeks I found that this success sparked two opposite reactions: enthusiasm and confusion.

Enthusiasm because it is great to see innovation at work and great to see the power of many when it comes to having better ideas, designing great prototypes and executing faster. In the EMEA region, any doubt that collaborative innovation is not only desirable but mandatory to thrive in the connected world has been lifted. Consequently the flow of new ideas and new members has never been so plentiful.

This sudden increase in popularity also raised some questions anew. What is the link between Alcatel-Lucent and ng Connect? What is the difference between an Innovation Center and a Gravity Center? What is the goal of the ng Connect Program? Who can join? What should a member company, Alcatel-Lucent included, expect from the program?

Let me briefly address the questions about ng Connect. The ng Connect Program is a collaborative innovation engine spanning multiple industries and looking to transform the user experience in various fields. This engine is powered by an ecosystem of companies (large and small), entrepreneurs, schools and even non-profit organizations, all acting as peers and on equal terms. It is this diversity of profiles and backgrounds that create original views and disruptive ideas.

Yet we cannot ignore and should not hide the prominent role played by Alcatel-Lucent, a founding member in this program. Alcatel-Lucent provides the program infrastructure and funds its operations, hosts most of the program’s permanent demo centers, lab platforms and collaboration spaces and, last but not least, supports the program with its global presence. Why? What’s the catch? Surely it is not just philanthropy. Well if you take two minutes to watch our CEO Ben Verwaayen’s video you will get the answer. If Alcatel-Lucent relies only on internal and Bell Labs innovations it will miss out on key opportunities, and in a constrained telecom industry, Alcatel-Lucent and our customers alike need all the innovation we can get and all the value we can derive from innovation, even if this may sometimes mean helping competitive solutions as well.

A great example of collaboration and innovative thinking in the form of  “co-opetition” is seen in Canada, where major wireless operators Bell Mobility and arch rival Telus combined forces to build a common wireless network across the second largest country (in terms of land mass) in the world… why?  Because it made sense. Did both benefit?  Yes, they are now announcing a cooperation around satellite TV delivery, so, collaboration, even between competitors can be win-win.

Alcatel-Lucent "plays the game by the rules" as do the other member companies, promoting our own capabilities and engaging other companies in collaborative projects where these capabilities can be monetized. Long time members may have noticed new faces at the recent member meetings, which are Alcatel-Lucent people representing various lines of business and who leverage the ng Connect engine to develop their own business. Examples include public safety, machine-to-machine or small cells. I see this as a great model and a welcome evolution, in that the ng Connect staff can concentrate on facilitation and the right people, who hold the ropes of technology and business decisions represent Alcatel-Lucent’s interest. This goes a long way in reducing some of the confusion.

There is more value today for the Program in staying within Alcatel-Lucent than trying to fly on its own wings. For this to work and to inspire the needed trust, we are aware that the ng Connect team needs to demonstrate great objectivity and great integrity and stand their ground to protect this cornerstone of the Program.  The team has the right level of experience, passion and professionalism to do just that.

Let me now come to the initial topic of this post: the ng Connect Gravity Center. We launched it in Europe on the day we opened the EMEA Innovation Center and another very successful Gravity Center already exists in Dallas, TX. There is some confusion about the two facilities that I will now attempt to dissipate.

We usually define innovation as the realization of novel ideas. In the ng Connect Program this translates into a workflow with three phases: ideation, development and implementation (deployment). An innovation center should offer resources to address all three of them. It is the case in Paris, where the Creativ’Lab run by Bell Labs is dedicated to ideation and the Corporate Executive Briefing Center is a place to showcase and demonstrate working concepts to customers (to commercialize said solutions). The ng Connect Gravity Center completes the picture by offering a collaboration environment to people from different companies to develop and work on their joint project in a single physical location.

The Gravity Center in Villarceaux provides workstations for development with access to live physical platforms and remote access to virtual labs and obviously internet resources. It includes a meeting room equipped with conferencing and remote collaboration for project reviews and discussions, and a space dedicated to project presentations and fast pitches with the idea to create proximity between presenters and their audience. In our Plano location we also have a number of small start-ups and entrepreneurs who are just getting their companies off the ground.  You can see the latest list of residents here: Lastly the Gravity Center offers amenities, places to relax, and generally an atmosphere favoring teamwork and development.

The term Gravity Center was coined just weeks before the opening the Dallas facility. It immediately sounded appropriate. Gravity, in this context, is defined as the force that attracts talented people across the region and gets them together to innovate. Gravity as in center of gravity (or center of mass) which converges different innovation entities in a central location in EMEA is Alcatel-Lucent and specifically, Bell Labs, an already active basin of innovation in France. The center of gravity is also the point of equilibrium between ideas and opportunities – that’s ng Connect, the initiative that enables the right balance and allows members to move at a fast pace, prototyping, developing and delivering new solutions.

We are very thrilled with both ng Connect Gravity Centers. As I write these lines development of some of the latest service concept ideas is just starting in there. Come and join us for a really different, co-located, collaboration experience.

Vincent Weyl

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