Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

Alpha Projects: making innovation as easy as ABC

December 20, 2016

History tells us that innovating becomes more difficult as an organisation grows – or, perhaps more accurately, when an organisation gets comfortable.

The past few years have seen tech start-ups emerge seemingly out of nowhere to disrupt entire industries. Remember Blockbuster? Or hailing a taxi from the roadside with a wave of your arm?

With Alpha Projects, we’re taking a start-up approach to innovation. We’re taking a proactive, positive approach to disruption. That is, we’re here to disrupt Cisco before someone else does.

In the past, product development could be a slow moving and expensive process, and that expense would ultimately be passed on to customers.

Alpha is addressing both the speed and expense of delivery – to use that Blockbuster reference again, if you think you can get to the shops and back with a DVD in your hand before I’ve fired up Netflix and tucked into some popcorn then be my guest…

Scaling down to scale up

It’s all about having a small team working together on new solutions. We’re able to really play around with product ideas to find out what works, and then invest and grow from there.

Rather than using all our resources to bring a product to fruition, we can spend more time assessing the market landscape and developing in line with those findings. You wouldn’t want to spend all your time and energy building a train that turns out to be too big to fit into the station, would you?

For something like this to work, it has to be a grassroots project. A CEO can’t just decide they or their company is going to be innovative; you have to create the right environment for creativity and innovation.

Being granted this kind of autonomy as a small team means you become personally invested in the project and really want to see it flourish. It becomes your baby, as they say.

The team is very much a part of Cisco, but operates from offices outside of the main campus – not unlike our CREATE premises in Camden. Sometimes it’s easier to see things in a different way when you’re looking from the outside in.

One of the major benefits of remaining part of Cisco, of course, is that we retain access to resources not commonly on tap for start-ups.

So what’s next for Alpha?

Just like a traditional start-up, the aim is to grow.

From an initial group of around 40 staffers – collected together to work on our Tetration Analytics platform – the intention is to reach a total of around 120.

This is still a pretty small number compared to a standard business unit (which would typically encompass thousands of people), but it’s important to remain agile.

Staying small even within a much bigger organisation can come with its own risks, though.

It’s important to avoid becoming siloed off from the rest of the company. As such we’re already working to replicate the Alpha team approach within the extended Cisco family.

It’s crucial, too, to properly integrate new Alpha solutions into the wider Cisco portfolio – effectively scaling new product offerings to a global audience at a rapid rate.

A good idea is better shared, after all.

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