In his introduction to the Innovation Sandbox at RSA Conference, Hugh Thompson remarked on the critical role that small companies have in driving innovation. That’s certainly true and it was great to see the innovations of the 10 finalists who presented on Monday. But Hugh’s remark got me thinking about other dimensions of innovation, particularly in the light of the phenomenal range of capabilities evident in the exhibition hall at the conference.
The winner of the Innovation Sandbox, Remotium, addresses a critical problem in mobile device security: the segregation of enterprise information and applications from the personal environment on the mobile device. The problem is well-understood. The approach is well understood. The innovation derives from the details of how they solve the problem. This problem-driven approach to innovation is one I’ve taken in numerous projects: working as a consultant to identify a problem that needs to be solved and then building a product to address that need.
What struck me in the Innovation Sandbox is that there are other approaches to or aspects of innovation that were not as well represented among the finalists. For example, in 2012 RSA introduced Distributed Credential Protection, a product that came out of an idea from RSA Labs. DCP was an innovation based on a research insight, developed from that insight to address a significant issue in password security.
In addition to the genesis of innovation in response to a problem or in development of an insight from the world of research, there’s a third very important source of innovation. That’s the recognition that a capability that already exists can be applied more broadly, or to a different problem, or in different ways. The capability that QuintessenceLabs has developed for high-throughput generation of true random was the result of this kind of recognition of the unexpected benefit of a capability developed for other purposes. In developing their Quantum Key Distribution product, QuintessenceLabs built a capability for generating entropy by splitting a laser beam and using the divergences between the resultant splits to create a continuous, high-throughput photocurrent of true random. This photocurrent is then processed to create a bit stream, providing on the order of 2 gigabits of true random per second.
QuintessenceLabs has productized this capability independently of their Quantum Key Distribution product, including realizing it not only in a rack appliance but also in a PCIe card. This is an innovation supporting that “value of uniqueness” that Dr. Vint Cerf discussed in his keynote at the conference: the foundational component required for cryptographic-based trust for secure mobile connections, pervasive encryption for cloud environments, credential generation and a host of other applications.
This capability from QuintessenceLabs is a great example of innovation and the unexpected, of looking at a capability in a new way and seeing that it solves a whole set of problems that you weren’t thinking about. It also points up the importance of looking for the unexpected when it comes to innovation. We need to be sure not to blind ourselves to innovation by the very processes – even ones as good as the Innovation Sandbox — that we put in place to encourage innovation.