Innovation Awards Nominee
Robert S. Poulin
Chief Revenue Officer
What does innovation mean to you?
Like most things, there are different levels of innovation. I like to think of Innovation as being either Tactical or Strategic – and Incremental, Evolutionary or Revolutionary.
Tactical Innovation is usually an Incremental Innovation – Solving a Known Problem. You develop a faster, better, more efficient way to do something.
Strategic Innovation can be Evolutionary or Revolutionary.
Evolutionary Innovation is Identifying and Solving an Unknown Problem. It is looking at and identifying the cause of a problem in a new way and then finding a solution to that problem.
Revolutionary Innovation is Identifying and Satisfying an Unknown Need. Think the iPhone when it was first introduced.
Ultimately, the goal of any innovation is Utility – usually either to save time, save money or be more efficient in solving a problem or fulfilling a need. Innovation is not designing a cool new widget with no purpose or function.
Unlike most innovation or incubator centers, the AEEC Innovation Lab was designed around solving practical client driven solutions that have an immediate ROI and impact, innovation that saves times and saves money for AEEC clients. The iLab incorporates all of the technology experts, expertise and tools to solve our clients’ most pressing issues.
What makes your company/organization innovative?
Groundbreaking innovation costs time, money and resources. For most organizations, the risks outweigh the rewards. AEEC created its Innovation Lab in Alexandria, VA to solve that problem. The iLab is a “sandbox” created for developing and launching innovative technologies with global markets spanning the tech ecosystem – from cloud and big data to cybersecurity and mobile applications. It enables government and commercial organizations to experiment, testing Proof of Concepts quickly and rapidly developing prototypes, with less cost, less risk and immediate ROI.
iLab launched its commercial sector practice and several new innovative tech applications in 2016. It provides a vendor-neutral environment to develop prototypes, conduct demos, discover new technologies, increase capacity, lower costs, and improve performance and processes. The Lab is a bridge between imagination and implementation and enables public and private sector organizations to develop solutions using iLab’s 100-person team, highly developed best practices, with access to a wide variety of free software, technology and strategic partners representing established and emerging tech.
iLab has successfully developed:
- Artificial Intelligence Enabled Health IT.
- Big Data, Predictive Analytics and Open Data for a large government client.
- Software linking government procurement and financial systems.
- Internet of Things mobile-app to accesses/analyze data in real-time.
What or who are some innovative companies or people that inspire you and your team?
I’m inspired by small business entrepreneurs and their teams that need to innovate every day to survive and thrive. The best leaders and teams, like at AEEC Innovation Lab, incorporate elements of the best operational practices of larger successful firms that are leaders in their field. In my opinion, there are three areas where very successful firms can differentiate with innovation, independent of any product or technology oriented innovation; People, Training and Processes. For AEEC, it starts with People. Everyone says they have the best people. It’s a key to their success, especially in a professional services environment like AEEC. However, not everyone can have the best – this is not Lake Wobegone, where all children are “above average”. We emulate companies like Google and Cirque du Soleil, that spend an inordinate amount of time and energy attracting top performers and providing them with training and an environment that fosters and facilitates outsize performance, creativity, flexibility and the ability to adapt to any situation on the fly (sometimes, literally!). I also subscribe to Google’s philosophy about hiring for your own team - someone talented that you would want to spend seven hours together with in an airport terminal.
What about Greater Washington has positioned us as an innovative region?
In a nutshell, diversity. Diversity in the breadth and types of organizations in the area; Federal, State and Local agencies and organizations, Non-Profits Associations representing the vast array of causes, interests and interest groups that represent the diversity of the region and reflect the diversity of the U.S. populace as a whole. The diversity of private sector and technology firms that service the entire ecosystem of customers, audiences, consumers, organizations and other businesses. The diversity of culture in the region that stimulates and influences those that live here and attracts visitors from around the world to experience the most powerful city in the world. And, obviously, the diversity of our citizenry that makes the region a center of excellence in so many areas. Our diversity is an amazing catalyst for empowering change-agents, addressing new (and legacy) challenges and fostering innovation in every facet of business, government, technology and social services in Greater Washington. The healthy discourse that also naturally arises from our diversity of ideas and approaches to problems – whether in business or society – amplifies our ability to innovate. Harnessing and focusing that creative tension leads to evolutionary and revolutionary leaps in innovation writ large.
What advice would you give to up-and-coming leaders striving to be innovative in today’s business environment?
Take risks. Don’t be afraid of failure. Empower people. Listen. The higher you get, the less insulated you have to be. Surround yourself with smart people – smarter than you is best. Surround yourself with good people – who will challenge you. Treat everyone well. Value their opinion. Take time to explain what you are thinking and why you are doing something. Take time to think strategically. Get real feedback from your clients and act on the insights. Understand your buyer’s journey – why does someone buy from you, how do they make their decision? Get input and experiences from outside your industry and your skill sets. Go to conferences and seminars on businesses different from yours – it stimulates your thinking and can give you a new view on how you and your business can and should operate. Ask why? – a lot. Take time to do nothing. Travel to new places. Talk to new people. Do something that scares you – in work and in life. Get more sleep. Read more books. Exercise more. Avoid toxic people. Encourage disagreement – but learn to disagree and work together. Go back and redo and relearn an old skill. Know when to give up and when to press on.