2011 InfoWorld Technology Leadership Awards:Technology Innovation winners
Technology vendors do this all the time: create and enhance technologies, then package them in a way that makes them appealing to customers. So what distinguishes our Technology Innovation awards from the innovation-as-usual pattern of the technology world? Simply, a leader thinking beyond the obvious hot areas or the tried-and-true to find a new territory to steer their company's technological vision -- the kind of thinking we all associate with a company like Apple.
Carl Eberling, general manager of virtualization and monitoring, Quest Software: Living in a cave for the past decade might be the only excuse for not knowing that virtualization is hot. Virtualization of one sort or another is now a routine part of most technology service providers' offerings. What sets Eberling apart is his view of virtualization not as a technology choice to be made in deciding what IT services his firm should offer its clients. Instead, Eberling saw virtualization as a method that was appropriate in some circumstances but not in others. He also decided not to bet on any specific virtualization technology.
That set the stage for Quest to avoid the "I have a hammer, so every problem is a nail" trap many technologists fall into. Instead, Quest focused on acquiring a range of technologies and put together a portfolio that is flexible -- a type of innovation that occurs at the contextual level, one often missed by nuts-and-bolts engineers. You can think of it as metatechnology innovation.
Mizan Rahman, CTO, M2Sys Technologies: It seems obvious in retrospect, but only because someone put the pieces together -- in this case, a variety of biometric sensors, such as for fingerprint and iris scanning. What in retrospect seems obvious is that no one technology is perfect in all cases or appropriate for all populations. Rahman saw that and came up with a multimodal approach to biometrics in which sensors could be switched from one form of scanning to another as needed. Even better, he put together an SDK based on existing hardware so that manufacturers and developers can try out the concept for themselves. The technology is new and unproven, and M2Sys's success is far from assured, but Rahman deserves credit for seeing the bigger picture, then finding a way to give it life.
Renaat Ver Eecke, North American general manager, Navman Wireless: GPS systems are another one of those "it's everywhere, so what else is there to do?" technologies. But Ver Eecke realized that one use segment remained unaddressed: tracking construction equipment, whose noisy, high-vibration environments (and easy access to the equipment by thieves who would strip off such gear) chewed through standard GPS devices. And the typical navigation software didn't account for many peculiarities of construction environments, such as the fact that the construction vehicles were as likely to be off road as on posed a challenge for the mapping systems; the fact that equipment might not be turned on when in motion (such as when being hauled from one site to another -- or stolen by thieves via flatbed trucks); the fact that equipment status was important (such as idling time) to better manage costs and resources; and the fact that those monitoring equipment needed to know the type of equipment they were seeing in the inevitable collection of dots all in the same job site.
The effort led by Ver Eecke was a classic case of extending a technology beyond its original purpose, figuring out the new issues and addressing them before a product ever shipped. That's the kind of technology innovation that builds new business, as Navman Wireless has happily discovered.