Russ: Hi I’m Russ Capper and this is The BusinessMakers Show coming to you today from Downtown Houston in the offices of Accenture and we’re in the Innovation Hub, and my guest today Brian Richards, the Managing Director of the Innovation Hub. Brian, welcome to The BusinessMakers.
Brian: Thanks Russ, great to be here.
Russ: You bet, tell us about the Innovation Hub.
Brian: So the Innovation Hub is really to help bring innovation to life for our clients. So it’s about 6,000 square feet where clients can learn, experience and develop their own innovations. So what we found in the market is that there’s many trends like Blockchain or AI or things like that that people aren’t as familiar so they need to learn about them. Then they want to see it and touch it so we’ve got many different experiences around here for them to do that. And then they need to develop their own solution – so prototype, rapid development – so we’ve got about 20 folks working on that.
Russ: And there’s so much innovation going on these days it seems like an ideal time to do this because people do hear about it, they read about it, but they don’t necessarily get to see it, touch it and feel it.
Brian: We’re really fortunate here, especially in Houston, to be just a few floors below Station Houston; so tied into the community, tied into what the startups are doing, working with our clients, kind of co-creating or collaborating on things.
Russ: It’s interesting that you mention Station Houston because so much of the innovation today seems to come really from the startup world, but has the ability to play a huge improvement role in large corporate America.
Brian: That’s right so we kind of see our role historically has been about developing the innovation, delivering the innovation. Now it’s kind of being at the center of it and saying what are the demands from our clients, from the business, from the industry and how do we bring our unique knowledge of those processes and those systems and marry that with the innovation that’s coming out of places like Houston or like Silicon Valley or Austin.
Russ: So exactly how would you work with Station Houston?
Brian: So for example the ability to bring some of the startups that are up there down to pitch to some of the big clients that Accenture would work with on some of their biggest problems and show the innovation that they’re bringing. Or another example could be having a Shark Tank like event. We’re also looking at things like meet-ups; how can we host different meet-ups on things like dev offs and so forth through something like Station.
Russ: Okay. Well I keep reading about this concern in Houston – I hear it sort of coming from the Greater Houston Partnership, I hear it from some investment communities and stuff – that this city needs to do more in the innovation category. Do you guys hear that too?
Brian: Depending on who you talk to Houston’s either the most innovative city in the world; we have NASA, we have the oil and gas industry, we’re curing cancer, of course we’re doing innovation. Or we’re the least innovative city in the world; where’s the startups, where’s the venture capital, where’s the new tech billionaires?
We are an innovative city but there’s a weak spot, and the weak spot is really on technology innovation which is specifically the software companies, the high growth venture-backed companies, and there there’s a lot we need to do. We need more venture capital, we need more entrepreneurs; we need more exits, more mentorship. And so there there are things that we can do proactively so that we don’t just say this is Austin or this is San Francisco, but that Houston has a fundamental role to play there.
Russ: Okay, well I know for a long time, even back in my early days in entrepreneurship, there was always this lure to go to Palo Alto and then it sort of changed to Austin; I know that TMCX came in here because there was all this incredible medical and medical device innovation that kept leaving town, so could I say this is really also an initiative designed to try to keep it here in Houston?
Brian: I think so. When you look at kind of what are the biggest challenges of the 21st century, surely healthcare, aerospace and energy are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities for the 21st century. And so the question is do we want Elon Musk forming companies in California to put people on Mars or to change transportation; we want that here. And I think the answer is we want it here and we don’t just want it to move here after it’s grown and scaled, we want it to get started here, created here, we want the wealth created here, we want the jobs created here. And when you look at our industries, huge opportunities for innovation, we just have to find the right way to bring in the entrepreneurs, bring in the capital and bring those business problems together to get that started.
Russ: So talk a little bit more about oil and gas; it seems to me like at the same time in the whole energy sector technology is more important than it ever was.
Brian: I think that’s absolutely right. What technology today allows you to do is to reimagine the entire business process and what that means is I just don’t take 5% or 10% of the cost out, I can start to really change how I explore for, produce, develop, refine product. And so what we see happening is it’s no longer kind of in the back office or an IT function, it’s a strategic imperative to innovate and innovate with digital solutions. So these companies are going out and getting the data scientists, the cloud architects, the mobile developers and they’re not just looking for small little solutions, they’re trying to transform entire processes. And that has changed just in the last 5 – 10 years to go from that kind of smaller view of digital and technology to this much, much broader view.
Brian: Yeah, I think if you look at all of the data that’s coming off of the rigs and you look at for example machine learning when you look at that and you say take a car, all of the data coming off of a car, and the ability for me to build machine learning algorithms that allow it to drive itself autonomously – which the auto industry is going full force on – and you look at a rig and you say driving a drill bit is definitely different than driving a car. But it’s the same kind of thing where I need a lot of data, I need to process it in real time and I can observe how a human is doing it and then I can start to use the machine learning to provide more insights and eventually do it where the machine’s just drilling for itself.
Russ: Speaking of drill bits and capturing real data and using it, man you have some real cool technology right here in the Innovation lab that you show and isn’t’ that actually based upon big data that was captured during drilling that warns you of problems?
Brian: That’s right. So we have a couple dozen different solutions and when people come in they want to see kind of the state of the art today that’s at scale and then they want to see the vision of where this is going in the future. So show me the IOT for the pipeline and then show me the drone for the future of it. And the one you’re talking about, show me how I can take all of my subsurface data – and this was developed by one of our acquisitions Chaotic Moon, now what we call Fjord Austin – and what it’s doing is it’s taking all sorts of data from down hole and it’s allowing a drilling engineer to visualize that using a gaming engine so that they can see if they’re putting too much weight on bit or if they’re not doing the right thing and make those changes in real-time. And what it took was not just someone who understood drilling, but someone who had a completely different skillset and understood gaming and saw the problem as just an extension of gaming in needing to take a lot of data and process it in real time.
Russ: So I also saw this kind of real-time version of looking at an actual operating minefield, tell us about that.
Brian: So our Connected Mine solution is with a mining operator who had about 30 different applications that they had put in over the decades. So that was one where we had a mining company and they had 2 or 3 decades’ worth of solutions that they put in to measure where their trucks were and how alert their operators were and the slope of their mine and all these different systems and they all existed in a command and control room. And what would happen is someone who’s out in the mine needed this data, they’d radio in, the control operator would pull up the application, look at the data, radio back and that’s fine but it’s not taking advantage of all of the development and all of the technology that they put in. And I think it goes to closing that last loop with the people and the process.
And so what we did is bring all that data into the cloud and then create a single interface on a tablet that allows you to see all of my trucks, all of my loads, how I’m doing on my production, any safety alerts. And as a supervisor it’s not just that I have the data but that I can actually see it, interact with it and make decisions on it. So it’s not just about collecting the data, we’ve been spending decades collecting the data. It’s about allowing me to visualize it and change how I’m making decisions based off of it.
Russ: So this is not my first time in this room, I was here about a month ago when you had your big announcement and press briefing and there was talk there a lot about a study done on innovation in Houston.
Brian: Yeah, that’s right, we did a study for the Greater Houston Partnership all focused on how does Houston become a more innovative city, specifically on the problem of startups and venture capital and things of that nature. So when we built the Innovation Hub we started to get plugged in to people like Station or TMCX or the GHP and kind of what came out of that was the GHP had formed this thing around the Innovation Round Table is what they were calling it. The mayor was forming a technology and innovation task force, had all these different groups that were all focused on kind of what’s the future of Innovation here in Houston; specifically around kind of startups and venture capital and things like that. And so basically what happened is the GHP came to us and said look, we need a central strategy that Houston can kind of execute towards.
It kind of shows where we are today and where we need to go, and how to compare and contrast us to other cities like Austin or Chicago or Detroit or St. Louis or things like that. And so what we did is basically a 10 week study and we looked at and interviewed many different entrepreneurs and people around Houston. We talked to different cities to kind of understand what worked for them and made some recommendations basically in terms of what Houston could do to create more talent with the right skill sets, the right mindset, more collisions or more density.
So things like Station Houston or TMCX, more resources – so how do we get from not just being private equity but having more venture capital, more angel funding, things like that. And then more impact – so when we do form startups, how do we ensure that they stay here, that they grow here and that they don’t leave and go somewhere else? So we kind of looked across all of those, we made our final recommendations. Now we continue to partner with the GHP as well as with other bodies around Houston in terms of how to move this forward for the city.
Russ: Okay, well all of those challenges sound very real but they sound like challenges that might not have easy solutions to them.
Brian: There’s no easy solution and no piece of paper is going to make this happen, people make it happen. So it’s all about how do you get the right people executing against this, and it’s going to be a long journey, but the key id recognizing that Houston doesn’t need to just give this up and say that’s Austin or that’s San Francisco; we can do this. We can absolutely do this, it’s going to take some targeted changes but it’s well within our capabilities. We’re the 4th largest city, we have plenty of wealth, we have plenty of strategic advantages, we just have to make it a focus and if we decide we want to do it we’ll do it.
Russ: Cool. Well Brian, I really appreciate you sharing your story with us today, really cool.
Brian: Absolutely, thanks Russ.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Brian Richards, the Managing Director of the Accenture Innovation Lab here in Houston. And this is The BusinessMakers Show.
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