Eaton: Building a Global Innovation Ecosystem
Building a Global Innovation Ecosystem
What used to be a simple relationship between customer and manufacturer is becoming a web of relationships that stretch around the world.
Corporations can no longer afford to ignore the insights of talented local people, and are reaching out to incorporate both technological as well as market insights. For many companies, this is a big change from the traditional top-down culture that made them so successful in the past. Building a new way to do business can be an unexpectedly fast process, as Eaton Corporation found out.
Eaton’s history of innovation has been based on working with clients to find solutions and then develop products that work with their clients’ production and manufacturing facilities. Innovating advanced technologies such as fuel emission control, automatic self-cleaning water filters, hydraulics for aerospace, and utility scale grid protection has driven the company for decades.
While this has worked well, Eaton was finding that their traditional, US-focused innovation wasn’t meeting the opportunities in a global economy. There was no effective connectivity between the corporate parent in the United States and the local divisions to exchange meaningful information. Innovation leadership came from afar, without connecting to the customers whose needs were rapidly evolving, or to local talent where new ideas, technologies and products could be developed. The United States was directing talented people worldwide, without understanding the markets in which they were operating. This insight lead to the new initiatives under Eaton’s CTO, Ram Ramakrishnan. He brought in Chris Roche, in the newly created position of VP of Research and Technology. Mr. Roche’s task is to promote a massive culture shift that will enable Eaton to remain a Fortune 500 company into the future.
“There’s nothing wrong with protecting your core business,” he said, “but how do you change the game with that? If you want to innovate, you have to change the climate and then change the culture.”
- Light weight fabrication
- Lower emissions & fuel efficiency standards
- Products that are ‘green’:created with cleaner processes; recylced, reused or fewer materials
The Integrated Engineering Centers
“You have to market yourself,” he said. “You have to tell people why you are there, and that you’re committed to support your local communities.”
“We’ve gone from zero to sixty in two years,” Mr. Roche added. “This is not an ivory tower association. We need to be sure we are connecting with key stakeholders to understand their technology road map, strategies and markets.” Through their scholarships, and relationships with universities and interns, they have invaluable connections and information on customers like government projects and start-ups. When they opened the new lab, 15 major Chinese press agencies attended. They wanted to know if Eaton was really collaborating as opposed to maintaining control. “They didn’t think a foreign corporation would do that.”
Technology Exploration > Pre-Launch > Pro-Launch
“We have a hundred and three thousand employees. We needed to show that we have a process, that innovation is valuable.”