PICongressLast week, I attended the Product Innovation Congress (PI Congress, for short), put on by MarketKey in a rather …unusual… hotel outside Chicago. This was the 2013 edition of last year’s PLM Innovation Americas conference, which focused a lot on PLM implementations –rationale, tactics, strategies, benefits and pitfalls– which, given the name of the event, made sense. This year’s event was positioned to be about innovation, but we again talked mostly about PLM. Many great sessions but not as much innovation as I would have liked.

MarketKey will be putting many of the presentations online so I won’t try to summarize too many, but a couple stood out. We started the event with the CIO of the City of Chicago, Brenna Berman. Ms. Berman gave a fascinating glimpse into how the public sector works, where the point of any action is service, not profit. It’s a perpetual tug between needing to do something quickly (create a unified data architecture for managing security and other city functions for a major conference of world leaders) and the reality that budgets are always squeezed (that effort relied on open source and volunteer efforts). Ms. Berman is building a hardware/software/people infrastructure that combines open source, apps, start-ups, grants, taxpayers and community activists — in many ways, it’s far more complex than what for-profit entities do.

Isha Datar, Director of the Canadian non-profit New Harvest, represented possibly the most innovative effort at the conference. She spoke about cultured animal products (like the £300,000 hamburger unveiled last summer) that could allow humans to continue consuming meat while doing more to protect the environment and reduce reliance on factory farming. Ms. Datar walked us through how scientists create animal products through cell culturing, or biofabrication, to create real leather and hamburger. (BTW, the leather is very cool; the hamburger reportedly tasted OK but too dry to really be palatable because it was cultured from muscles cells, which have no fat.) Her talk was engaging and provocative — might we all someday have a cell culturing setup in our kitchens to grow our own meat for dinner? Cultured leather will be in use in the next five years, Ms. Datar says, but meat will take a lot longer to get to volume production. Ms. Datar’s TEDxToronto talk is here; it’s a year old so doesn’t cover the unveilings this past year, but it’s 9 minutes well-spent.

Screen Shot 2013-10-14 at 1.37.42 PMI presented the early results of a project I’m conducting for Accelrys, the scientific informatics software supplier. We’re trying to understand how chemical, food, petroleum and other process companies leverage the work being done by scientists, lab techs, chefs, package designers, manufacturing process experts, marketers and others to bring a product to market. A lot of that work is stored in siloed systems that aren’t connected and that, therefore, can’t be used to further innovation in areas that may be tangential, cross-divisional or new to the enterprise. My favorite example is Crest White Strips, the Procter & Gamble product that launched billions of dollars of sales for home teeth whitening products: bleaching technology from P&G’s home laundry products group, innovative film technology (to get the bleach onto teeth), packaging that protected the film yet made it easy for consumers to apply, plus killer marketing to convince us all that we need whiter teeth. That kind of cross-functional thinking isn’t possible in many companies because people aren’t connected. [To be fair, P&G started developing this type of product in the 1990s, so before a lot of today’s innovation-enabling IT was in place. As I understand it, human beings talking to one another led to the connections that made White Strips possible.] We’re early in our investigations, but click on the image above to download the presentation I gave at PI Congress. Once the presentation video is live, I’ll add that link. Bottom line: few companies in the process industries are at the point where they’re seeing returns from connecting their silos; many are just embarking on the effort. More about the project as we go.

This year’s MarketKey event featured a parallel CIMdata PLM Road Map, where Peter Billello and team laid out their view of the world and had a number of customers speak about trends and experiences. It was an interesting juxtaposition; having the two events in the same building, at the same time, made for far too many hard choices!

So. About the hotel. The Hilton Chicago/Indian Lakes Resort in Bloomingdale, IL is a perfectly lovely hotel. In hexagons. Every imaginable space is a hexagon. The sleeping rooms: hexagons. The meeting rooms: hexagons. Walking from my room to the conference center meant navigating a winding hallway that curved around the outside of dozens of hexagonal sleeping rooms. I have never seen so many hexagons! Regardless, the hotel had stunning surroundings. This is the view early one morning on the way to the conference space:

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Next year’s event will be in San Diego. San Diego … October … Innovation … PLM. Come on, you know you want to go!

Top image courtesy of MarketKey. Others, courtesy of Monica Schnitger.