Inventing the Future of Services

Anatole Gershman

Distinguished Career Professor of Computer Science

Language Technologies Institute


Course Motivation and Objectives

Inventing the Future of Services is a course that focuses on the development of innovative thinking in a business environment. CMU graduates should not be waiting for their employers to tell them what to do – they should be driving radical innovation in their businesses. Drawing on my 17 years experience directing applied research at Accenture Technology Labs, I teach students systematic approaches to technology-driven business innovation in services industries.

The course will focus on the role of technology as a key driver of business change. The students will learn:

·        How emerging technologies often dramatically alter the economics underlying many business processes

·        How to evaluate the potential impact of various emerging technologies

·        How to spot likely areas for business innovation

·        How to create convincing visionary scenarios for new business processes; analyzing social, economic, environmental and other factors

·        How to think creatively in a business context and how to present their ideas to future employers or sponsors

Teaching Method

The course is a seminar emphasizing student presentations and discussions:

Part 1 – Technology vision

Students learn how to create a technology vision (briefing) presentation suitable for business audiences. They examine and discuss several technology vision presentations used in industry and create their own presentations in a technological area where they have expertise. Students give 15-20 min presentations in class and get personal coaching. The main reading text for this part of the course is "Seeing What’s Next" by Clayton Christensen.

Students are expected to turn in their technology vision presentation and a short paper on the same subject.

Part 2 – Innovation in Services Sectors

This part of the course is focused on technology applications to services because services constitute 70-80% of the US economy, and because they are undergoing radical technology-driven transformations. We discuss the following five sectors of services:

·        Financial Services

·        Healthcare

·        Retail

·        Media and Entertainment

·        Education

Students are asked to identify critical problems and issues and to find examples of both successful and unsuccessful technology-driven innovations. An invited industry leader gives an overview of the sector and shares his or her professional experiences and challenges. Students get a chance to discuss their questions and ideas with the expert. Past visiting experts included Director of Services Research at IBM, the Global Head of IT Strategy at Bain & Co., the Global Head of Retail Practice at Accenture, CTO of the Bank of New York Mellon, the Head of regional Healthcare practice at Accenture, Chief Scientist of Accenture, CEO of Carnegie Speech, advanced technology manager at Giant Eagle and several others.

Students are given challenge problems which they research and discuss in class and in a short paper. Here are two examples of past challenge problems:

1)      The rapid adoption of PVRs leads to wide-spread skipping of commercials – the main source of television financing. What can replace it?

2)      Emergency room visits by asthma patients is a big and largely preventable expense. How can technology help?

By mid October, students are expected to turn in a presentation and a short paper describing an innovative application idea in an industry of their choice. This assignment serves as a final for the students who take this course as a mini. For the rest of the students, it serves as a mid-term.

Part 3 – Innovative Applications

Students are expected to turn in a presentation and a short paper describing a specific innovative application idea in an industry of their choice. Preferably, it is in the same area they selected for their technology vision presentation. They are taught an analytical method for innovative thinking based on the following observation:

The evolution of technological capabilities in the last 30 years has been driven by Moore's and other similar "laws". Any application or device dependent on electronics either increased its capability by an order of magnitude every 5 years at a constant price or the price of the capability dropped by an order of magnitude, which typically leads to dramatically different uses of technology – what was economically impossible becomes possible.

The method consists of five steps:

1)      Spot the likely order of magnitude changes in the next 5-7 years

2)      Find the barriers that this change will eliminate

3)      Figure out the new business capabilities this will create

4)      Create a business scenario

5)      Analyze various factors that might either impede or speed up the proposed innovation

We discuss the key questions and heuristics that help students think through the issues. Students are expected to:

1)      Describe the problem and its importance

2)      Explain why the problem has not been solved and why there is a chance to solve it now

3)      Describe the proposed solution and illustrate it with a mock-up demo

4)      Sketch the solution architecture and explain which parts would be off-the-shelf and which would require development

5)      Make a rough estimate of the required development effort: two people in a garage vs. nationwide infrastructure

6)      Outline potential extensions and benefits of the proposed solution

In the past, most students took this class as a 6-unit mini course. Students who take it as a 12-unit full course continue to work on their application idea getting personal coaching. The result is a presentation and a document that can be shown to prospective employers or even venture capitalists as evidence of their innovative thinking.

Intended Audience and Prerequisites

There are no formal prerequisites for this course. Any 3rd or 4th year undergraduate engineering, computer science, science or business major should have sufficient grounding in technology to be able to participate. This course should be of particular interest to seniors, master-level and doctoral students who intend to pursue non-academic careers. Given the participatory nature of the course, the optimal size is no more than 15-20 students. While many students take the course as a 6-unit mini 1 (mostly Tepper students), SCS and Engineering students are encouraged to take the full 12 unit course to further develop their ideas and get extensive personal coaching.