With the speed of technology evolution and the scarcity of skills required to harness these technologies for new products and services, effectively developing and introducing a meaningful product almost always requires a diverse collection of people.

At the start of the industrial revolution, organizations would bring all their great minds into a single room to drive innovation. Today, the organization that has all the diverse skillsets needed for this round of innovations working in the same building will find themselves lacking for the next round, such is the rate of change.

It’s more likely that even with the largest organizations, some of the needed resources will be from outside contractors or vendors. Unfortunately, when its necessary to leverage outside assistance (or even an expert who is within the company, yet located in a different geography), it can quickly become a stumbling block with the potential to derail momentum. Though a week’s delay in a development projects to align travel schedules may seem minor, when it means losing out on the valuable opportunity to be the first to market with an offering specifically designed to meet the latest market demand, the cost to the business can be catastrophic.

On the other side of that coin, organizations that effectively defy the distance between development project contributors can leapfrog the competition and gain significant market share.

 

How do you defy the distance?

When it is not feasible for all of the organization’s great minds to work within the same room, engineering leaders need to find ways to replicate the in-person collaboration as closely as possible. For all teams, but especially engineers, this means being able to look peers in the eye when speaking and seeing and manipulating the content being discussed whether that’s a project plan, CAD drawing or a white board of ideas.

The technology that facilitates this face-to-face and live content sharing collaboration has been around for many years. But recent advancements have made it more reliable, more open when bring in outside (e.g. contract or vendor) participants, and even more accessible to smaller organizations with cloud delivery models. The best deployments of video conferencing and content sharing put the user experience first to drive adoption, a concept familiar to most engineering teams.

Even when there’s an engineering team that is sitting in the same room, these technologies can take collaboration to the next level. Being able to put four content streams from four different devices in the room up on the monitor (as is possible with Polycom Pano) can make discussions move faster. Just eliminating the need to fumble with the cord when pushing content is enough to make many engineers celebrate.

That’s all well and good in theory, but how does this work in real life? Engineers need proof points. Here are a few.

Arguably, no market is more sensitive to speed to market than biopharma. These organizations have demonstrated how effectively leveraging video conferencing can lessen the struggle of including a mandated number of minorities in the drug trial process by eliminating location as a variable. Specifically, because “check-ins can happen more frequently with the same face-to-face interaction while requiring less demand on the participant, which increases the probability of success of the trial.”

And, as this recent article by the Edmonton Journal’s Clare Clancy discusses, an expanded application of video conferencing is now empowering members of the Johnson & Johnson Innovation network to further expedite the process of bringing medical research to market.

“We are trained to do amazing discovery research, but we’re definitely not trained to create products,” said John Lewis, a researcher and associate professor of oncology at the University of Alberta. “The benefit…is to be able to connect directly with folks developing products and drugs that are successful in clinical trials.”

“We are trained to do amazing discovery research, but we’re definitely not trained to create products,” said John Lewis, a researcher and associate professor of oncology at the University of Alberta. “The benefit…is to be able to connect directly with folks developing products and drugs that are successful in clinical trials.”

This same approach can provide relief for any market sector – not just biopharma.  As this research report published by the Faculty of Engineering at University of Malaya entitled Virtual Teams for New Product Development – An Innovative Experience for R&D Engineers discusses reduced time to market, ability to tap into centers of excellence and greater productivity are all common benefits when organizations effectively utilizing virtual development teams.

“Virtual teams working in the European automotive industry have shown that enhanced communication and collaboration between geographically distributed engineers at automotive manufacturer and supplier sites make them get benefits are better quality, reduced costs and a reduction in the time-to-market (between 20% to 50%) for a new product vehicle.”

 

Benefits beyond innovation

As Lewis discusses, beyond the assistance his team receives in moving products through the various development stages, it’s the access to mentoring opportunities with experts from around the world that’s truly meaningful. Specifically, participation in the virtual network has translated to establishing connections with “venture capital funders, regulatory experts, spinoff company mentors,” all of which ultimately nurtures the environment for innovation.

After all, it is through mentoring that organizations are able to hone their ability to complete aspects internally that would otherwise require outside assistance.

 

If you want to innovate faster than your competition, you can’t rely on old models of hiring the necessary skillsets and putting them in the same room. Being nimble requires leveraging the best minds whether or not they are on the payroll and no matter where they are located. Collaboration technology built around the workflows and user experiences of your organization allows you to defy the distance between engineers make the most of these diverse and dispersed teams.