THINKING ABOUT AI AND ROBOTS on construction sites are just some of the things Dr. Biplab Sarkar, as CEO of Vectorworks, Inc., ponders when bringing his focus to the more bleeding edge of innovation within his company. That and how exactly, new tech terrain like data analytics can help his team focus on delivering better solutions to challenges that Vectorworks users have today.
Earlier this year Dr. Sarkar spoke to Architosh about some of the innovations that are taking place behind the scenes at their HQ in Maryland. In this feature, we break out five major innovation themes happening at Vectorworks.
Many Brains, Little Time
A challenge with any company charged with innovation around its products and services is how to capture ideas and critiques from all of its available brain trust. Before Dr. Sarkar became CEO a few years ago, the company initiated an annual week-long event called Innovation Week.
The algorithms are the same ones that are being used in genetic research, where they are trying to look at the particular configurations of genes in pursuit of a cure for a disease.
“For a week the whole company kind of shuts down so that staff can start thinking about newer processes, methods, newer algorithms, newer products—whatever,” says Dr. Sarkar. The company would vote up the best ideas to pursue, but there was one fundamental problem. It would take them years to implement these ideas.
“The problem was we would all go back to our day-to-day activities,” he added. “It was very hard to carry out some of these ideas to fruition.” To address this, when Dr. Sarkar became the CEO the company created a new group of people who do nothing but pursue ideas that are basically “on the fringe,” as he would say. This today is the Vectorworks Advanced Research Group (VARG). “They work on the side and don’t interface with the Vectorworks development teams all that much, says Dr. Sarkar.” When ideas reach maturity and time well with the general market, they make their way into Vectorworks as major new features.
An Almost Clandestine Team
While a dedicated group to take ideation out of Innovation Week was a smart idea, so too was the formulation of the group itself. The Advanced Research Group is headed by Dave Donley, director of product technology at Vectorworks.
This is quite a strong group of people—lots of Ph.D.’s on the team and very strong capabilities.
“This is quite a strong group of people—lots of Ph.D.’s on the team and very strong capabilities,” he adds. “This is sort of a clandestine team, you don’t hear about them much.” The team doesn’t have many Vectorworks responsibilities related to a particular release; they are just charged with pursuing new ideas, both ideas that come from Innovation Week and those fringe ideas that are out on the Hype Cycle. While the group is highly independent, Sarkar as the CEO gets a monthly report from Donley that keeps him updated on what’s happening within the group.
A Dedicated Analytics Team
Along with a dedicated research team, Vectorworks also has a dedicated analytics team. In some ways, Sarkar tells me, he is more interested in their bi-weekly reports. The new analytics folks are tasked with analyzing the data that comes directly from the use of Vectorworks when users opt-in to sending that data back to the company. This tech was demonstrated during a Design Summit keynote a few years back.
“The team can see the usage data, the crash data, the mobile usage data,” says Sarkar. “I’m very interested in this data and ask them regularly about the new information. And while I am looking at that, I see new things and then ask the team new questions about, for example, what is this new feature that is appearing on the analytics side?”
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