Innovation — Patterning a New R&D

VMware CTO Ray O’Farrell sits in the green room getting ready for an interview. The cameras point toward him. Silence lingers in between the completion of sound check and the start of the interview. Two women from the marketing team face Ray, clipboards in hand behind the camera. One of them smiles and asks: “Ray, how would you describe innovation?”

Without hesitation, Ray replies. “Innovation is about doing things in new and different ways – breaking a pattern, breaking a mold. It’s about taking an existing problem and attacking it in ways that are fundamentally different.”

VMware’s CTO Ray O’Farrell has been with the company for 13 years. Part of his job as CTO includes responsibility for VMware’s entire customer product experience. But before that, O’Farrell co-led the Software-Defined Data Center Division (comprising the vSphere, networking, management and storage businesses) and was responsible for the division’s strategy, business and product planning and engineering execution.

This broad range of experience within the company has helped to develop O’Farrell’s specific views on innovation: “Quite often, we associate innovation with technology change, but innovation is also about new ways to interact, sell and understand the problems your customers have. It’s really all about doing things in new ways.”

Ray’s perspectives on innovation are interesting, but what’s more interesting is the work he’s doing on programs across the company to underscore these ideas. “Innovation isn’t something you can plan for. You need to create a culture and atmosphere which promotes innovation,” Ray insists.

“What are you working on now, Ray?”

“We have several programs across the company to help create a culture of innovation.” One example is VMware’s R&D Innovation Offsite (more commonly referred to as “RADIO”) which recently took place in San Francisco. “RADIO focuses on gathering ideas from all across our R&D organization and presenting and building on them and partnering across different teams to ask: what sort of new technical innovations can we as an R&D team work on together?”

The historical VMware event—which started in 2001—is akin to an internal academic workshop. It connects members of VMware’s global engineering community to allow for cross collaboration across product groups. In essence, engineers submit ideas that aren’t on a product roadmap and if accepted, RADIO becomes a stage to present their ideas and generate interest in development.

“A lot of cool ideas come out of it. Not all become products, but the process fosters innovation and fresh thinking, and prepares VMware for the next generation of technology and customer challenges.”

Watch the video below to learn more about Ray’s viewpoint on innovation and his favorite moments from RADIO 2016.