The Core Principles of The Frontier Conference 2020

The Next Wave of Innovations

The Frontier Conference’s is built to address a two-headed challenge:

  • Building multi-stakeholder eco-systems, especially ones that enable local/regional economic development
  • Going beyond merely creating efficiencies by boosting innovation, which, in turn, helps to ensure the promise of both sustainable and equitable economic growth.

These two challenges touch on all sectors of business, government, and the independent sector — with direct impacts on quality-of-life for all citizens.

The Frontier Conference provides a platform for leaders to assess the next wave of innovations that enable the success of their organizations. Among the technologies in the spotlight this year are these “Top 5”:

Internet of Things (IoT)

IoT is no longer just another buzzword. It’s now become a full-fledged technology ecosystem in itself. IoT is what makes it possible to connect one device, or many devices, creating a virtual network that gathers and shares data about the environments in which they operate.

Cognitive Cloud Computing

 The cognitive cloud is an extended ecosystem combining traditional cloud technologies and newer and cognitive computing technologies. Cognitive computing is the next big evolution in the IT industry. It converses in human language and aids decision making by understanding Big Data’s complexities. It’s expected to generate $13.8 billion of new revenues in 2020 and is one of the top 10 trending technologies to consider this year. Big tech — such as IBM, Microsoft, Cisco — have started implementing this next-gen tech into their products and services.

Big Data

A myriad of smart companies has begun solving complex problems associated with processing and storing huge quantities of data – whether they are structured (in different ways) or unstructured. Most successful companies rely heavily on big data analytics in order to gain insight into their systems, their customers and their competitors.

Intelligent Apps

I-Apps are pieces of software written for mobile devices. They’re based on artificial intelligence and machine learning technology. They’re aimed at making everyday tasks easier. The focus is on ‘simple tasks’, such as organizing and prioritizing emails, scheduling meetings, logging interactions, content, etc. Some of the more familiar examples of I-Apps are Chatbots and virtual assistants

Robotic Process Automation

Generally, any desk job in any industry involves tasks that are repetitive in nature and can be automated. RPA enables automation such as routine and repetitive tasks. No one needs to write any code to automate repetitive tasks. In 2020, the use of robots powered by machine learning will skyrocket, which means RPA will become an invaluable tool for industry, government, and many others.

Working Together to Drive Innovation

At the center of our deliberations at The Frontier Conference lay these two challenges. During each of our convenings, we raise them with our assembled leaders. But why do we care? Because debating these two challenges will help us discover the principles which are essential to successful accelerating innovation.  A new approach to building the innovation ecosystem demands a new strategy focused on developing private investments and the public policies which encourage innovation.

We believe that these choices – whether in the realm of investments or government policies – must be built on one simple assumption: it’s not only the presence of technological know-how that’s important but also the business climate PLUS the level of cooperation between and amongst disparate stakeholders.  Emphasizing innovation based on the creation of new technologies is one pathway – but such technologies require the investment of hard-to-find R&D dollars. To raise such funds requires strengthening the ‘supply’ side of science, and also requires the successful dissemination (and adoption) of those R&D results. Improved dissemination of R&D results, across any region’s wider economy, necessitates stimulating demand for innovation inside traditionally non-innovative firms. Demand-side stimulation builds the capacity of firms to be more innovative, and to build an innovation culture within their own organizations, and within their region.

Successful innovation ecosystems enable those who participate to exchange innovations, technologies, research to enable the best possible applications of new knowledge and Creativity.

To get the core principles our debate during The Frontier Conference will dwell on numerous themes that are top-of-mind inside the executive suite. Here are three of these themes:

Theme: The future of jobs, the jobs of the future

The “Future of Jobs Report”, published by The World Economic Forum, explains something important: how technology is transforming the frontier between work tasks performed by humans and those performed by machines and algorithms, and this changing global labor markets. Companies will need key locations for competing globally, and Science Parks and Areas of Innovation will need to review and rethink the strategy to attract, retain, create and help to grow companies in their ecosystems by providing the best talent and technology.

There will be a change in the geography of production, distribution and value chains as companies will prioritize the availability of skilled local talent, influencing the location decisions; New human-machine frontier will transform the workforce to new “augmented jobs”; Emerging in-demand roles will combine technological skills, but also leverage ‘human’ skills and the workforce will require significant reskilling and upskilling in an agile and lifelong learning approach.

There are complex feedback loops between new technology, jobs, and skills. New technologies can drive business growth, job creation and demand for specialist skills but they can also displace entire roles when certain tasks become obsolete or automated. Skills gaps—both among workers and among the leadership of organizations—can speed up the trends towards automation in some cases but can also pose barriers to the adoption of new technologies and therefore impede business growth. Executives from all sectors – public; private; NGO; academia – are working to find strategies that enable innovation by providing the best ecosystems linking talent with technology.

Theme: Partnerships powering innovation ecosystems (including those where startups partnering with big corporations)

Corporate silos; enterprise complexity; (middle) management complacency; potent (and mainstream) corporate beliefs; risk adversity inside large hierarchies; slow (or no) innovation inside large companies — these are among some of the main areas of concern for upper management. Corporate leaders come back from Silicon Valley study tours full of adrenalin and concepts, only to face insurmountable resistance by the organizations they’ve usually had a hand in creating. The “not invented here syndrome” is far too prevalent.

Corporate is addressing partnerships in various ways: Buying small start-ups wishing to access technology (plus a few of those admired leaders). Creating corporate venture organizations to build a strategic innovations portfolio. Creating topical accelerators, together with leading organizers of this fast-growing craft. Engaging technology scouts. Designing ‘technology days’ to engage with small companies.

On the other side of the table are start-ups – sometimes with daring company founders and a plethora of (hopefully) disruptive innovations. They represent the willpower, skill, energy, determination, technology mastership and attractive visions that causes people to reject attractive corporate offers, leave promising careers and risk their time and probably smaller personal funds to create something new. Hopefully wealth as well. They couldn’t be more different. They differ in financial and personal resources, culture, plannability, regulations, hierarchies and maybe most important: their sense of urgency.

Theme: Talent acquisition; Talent attraction; Talent retention

Talent is limited to individuals with strong STEM subject competencies. It includes a wide range of persons possessing skills which are vital to making up effective Innovation ecosystems, including these two:

  • Researchers and technical staff in relevant scientific and engineering disciplines.
  • Professionals involved with the processes of innovation from Intellectual property management, through deal-makers and entrepreneurs to highly competent managers in the principal commercial disciplines who have the skills and networks to develop and grow tech-based companies.

The attraction of talent, in any or all these skill areas, requires that the region offers most of the following:

  • The presence of “second Job” employment opportunities. Talented individuals want to know that, if they choose to come and stay, they can develop a career across more than one sector or one organization.
  • There are relevant job opportunities for significant others.
  • The “quality of life factors” of the region cover many of the features that talented individuals might well see as important to them as an individual. This might include Attractive local environments having both a lively (buzzy) metro-dimension and a good natural environment with accessible outdoor amenities – where both of these are within reach; Good working environments, whether within a city-scape or campus-style setting; Good schools, for existing and future offspring; and opportunities to build shared cultures, such as music, theatre, cinema, sport, other kinds of fine art and crafts, etc.

If the key actors are well-networked — with municipal authorities, universities and a regional development agency — they may be able to influence public programs that can lead to the improvement of quality of life aspects of the region that might be holding back the ability of the region to attract talent.

The retention of talent will also be influenced by the above features. However, for one category of highly educated talent – local students and recent graduates, other special programs need to be devised to keep them in the area. For example, Apprenticeship programs, whether state or locally financed, are also a valuable way of “locking-in” emerging local talent.

Theme: Enabling Manufacturers (and their Suppliers) to Embrace Digital Disruption

In a climate of digital disruption and global market pressures, many firms want to differentiate with new service-oriented revenue models, especially those that rely on IoT-powered connected-machines which enable “machine-as-a-service”. In one Cisco Systems survey of 600+ senior executives in 13 countries—from both industrial machine-builders and end-user manufacturers—86 percent said the transition from a product-centric to a service-oriented revenue model is a core part of their growth strategy.

However, the transition to service revenue models is not taking place fast enough. Executives know they need to do it, but they’re failing. According to Cisco’s survey, there’s a disconnect between the size of the opportunity and how much is being captured—only 29 percent of respondents indicated services would grow faster than products in their firm.

Complexity and a lack of digital capabilities are holding firms back. The top inhibitor to transitioning to a service model is the difficulty of managing a “two-front war”—products and services simultaneously. However, their ability to capture significant value and leapfrog competitors hinges on accelerating to a service model. To resolve this service dilemma, services, and digital journeys must converge. To unlock the full potential of the service model, while still improving products, industrial machine manufacturers and end-user manufacturers need to digitally transform their businesses.

Digital transformation must start with top-down leadership, and requires changes spanning people, process, and technology. With the foundational business process and technology capabilities in place, manufacturers will have greater business agility to leapfrog competitors; derive insights that will create organizational efficiencies and reduce silos; and build a new customer, partner, and organizational experience for the digital age.  One economic analysis by Cisco reveals the payoff this way: a $20 billion manufacturing firm that digitizes will see a profit upside of 12.8 percent over the next three years, and 19 percent over 10 years.

Research shows that IoT adoption has enabled progress for enterprises in several areas:

  • Asset Optimization: Leaders want to optimize machinery, devices, and people to drive greater flexibility, uptime, and efficiency. More flexible assembly lines, for example, will allow firms to create multiple products across different lines, enabling firms to respond more quickly to market changes. And uptime is always top of mind: every way which eliminates unplanned downtime greatly increases efficiency, saving big dollars.
  • Faster time to market: As consumers respond positively when new products and features come to market, the need to get to market faster only increases. It’s becoming imperative that manufacturers release new features or products in months; years are no longer sufficient. Speeding up the New Product Introduction process – going from what the customer wants or needs into development, from development to prototyping, and then to the factory floor as quickly as possible – is key.
  • Workforce productivity: Many are fearful that automation is reducing jobs, but in fact, it’s the skillsets that need to change. How can you use technology to tap into skills with employees, wherever they might be. The winners are using emerging technologies (AI, robotics, etc.) to enable their workers to become more productive?
  • Lower Total Cost of Ownership: This is always on the minds of manufacturers. Lowering TCO, starting on Day 1, and then extending to Day 60, and then to Day 500. Capabilities powered by IoT — such as maintenance on demand and predictive manufacturing — are helping to drive down the cost of ownership.
  • Security: The industry used to take comfort in “security by obscurity,” but that’s no longer the case. As both OT and IT converge into IoT, security must be rock solid, embedded throughout each element in the value chain.


About The Frontier Conference
The Frontier Conference is a two-day conference for up-and-coming leaders in the industrial world, including top innovators, executives, investors, and entrepreneurs, to cross-pollinate and rethink the future of industrials. We bring together leaders who are on the edge of the industrial internet, thus leveraging data and designing solutions in areas such as robotics, AI, IoT, advanced materials, and other emerging technologies.

The Conference was founded by Hank Torbert, Kirk Coburn and Tim DeSilva. Hank is an executive and investor focused on identifying and supporting emerging technologies for industrials. Kirk is an entrepreneur, investor, and member of Shell’s corporate venture capital fund at Shell Technology Ventures (STV), focused on investing in both traditional oil and gas technologies and future markets. Tim DeSilva is a brand architect and creative strategist, co-founder of Culture Pilot, and co-curator of event experiences such as TEDxHouston and Visualized NYC.