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Polycom's Jeff Rodman on partnerships, innovation, collaboration & creativity

By Sara Barker
Wed 21 Sep 2016
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Jeff Rodman is a powerful man. As founder and chief evangelist of Polycom, he has helped shaped the company and the entire face of telecommunications technology from its humble beginnings in 1991. He talks to Techday about Polycom and how creativity and innovation play a part in business success.

"When we started Polycom 25 years ago, we didn't dream that business-quality video calls would become common over the public internet and using personal computers. But to take the emergence of Skype for Business as one example, we realised that we could choose to see this not as a threat, but as as an opportunity. Polycom's partnership with Microsoft quickly progressed and we evolved combined solutions that now bring out the best of both providers," he says.

Spending time with partners is a crucial focus in Polycom's growth, particularly as they can find trends, opportunities and problems that can often be hidden from sight.

"As well, we regularly offer partner trainings on the products set, the services and implementation, and also those valuable soft skills which come into play when addressing and solving business problems for customers," he says.

"Given the number of partners we have, it could be a challenge to get a time to interact with every partner personally all the time, but using our own collaboration technologies has brought a flexibility that has helped us all tremendously."

But it's not just partners, but competitors that shape the way companies innovate and evolve.

"A good competitor can respond to needs you might have missed, and you can learn from that and see how you might respond even better, or uncover new needs. There's always a kind of dialogue among competitors in a market," he says.

"It's a dialogue that drives continuing innovation and evolution when it's allowed to proceed, and some of the ultimate victors become the customers and users who apply the results to their own needs, and develop new applications that help assure that the process keeps going around again."

But it also comes back to product testing and customer feedback, which shapes the way products are taken to market.

"What one of us may have thought was his flawless instinct for the needs of the "people" turned out to be only an agglomeration of some quirky personal biases. The way it really works is that without user input at all stages of product creation, that creation is happening in a vacuum and will likely be worthless," he explains.

He says that 'faster, cheaper, better' is made easier when users are included every step of the way.

"The earlier in the process you start getting input from the users you want to engage, the less expensive it is to make those essential mistakes, and the more ideas you can field to find the ones that really capture their hearts," he says.

Creativity is also a huge part of the development process. Innovation does not come without creative thinking, but it has to be smart. He says that 'thinking out of the box can mean milk on the floor, a way of saying that purpose is the crux of every issue.

"Raw creativity often doesn't have much meaning or value unless it's applied to some goal. So it's valuable to remember that when we talk about thinking 'out of the box,' we're looking for different or creative ideas that help reach a particular goal or solve some specific problem. Without some purpose in mind, ideas usually wind up wasted, with noplace constructive to go, rather like spilled milk. Bring a mop," he says.

Setting different goals are also part of evolution, particularly in Polycom's case. It's not all about better performance, cost, ease of use or resolution, but also about setting different goals, like allowing collaboration the same way remotely as if they were in the same room.

"That's a goal that has nothing to do with pixels or price, but it did open up a new way of thinking that led to developing the Centro, a radical new 360-degree collaboration solution which lets people all sit around a table and interact naturally, as they do when they're in the same place. We never would have gotten to such a new vision if we hadn't set ourselves a really different goal," he says.

So where does Polycom technology fit into industry sectors? With its collaborative software spanning government, retail, manufacturing, healthcare and education, Polycom matches software to all requirements.

There's a concept called the "Workplace of the Future" or WotF, which recognises that people are doing more and more of their work in distributed places, and those places take all kinds of shapes. They're home offices, coffee shops, libraries, pubs (not me but this guy I know), or one of the local teleworking facilities that are quickly spreading," he says.

"Each of these poses some special challenges, so having a full array of flexible, configurable solutions as Polycom does allows each user to select the solution set that really matches their need," he concludes.

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