INNOVATION IN ST. LOUIS | How World Wide Technology turned to R&D to stay ahead in a fast-growing sector
This is part of a St. Louis Business Journal special report on innovation in St. Louis. They interviewed R&D leaders from several of the region’s most high-profile companies to understand where they get ideas and how they make them into new products, and to share examples that resulted from the process.
World Wide Technology provides technology products and services for large businesses. The privately held Maryland Heights-based company, which employs more than 5,000 locally, generated nearly $13.4 billion in sales in 2020. To learn about its innovation process, we spoke with Yoni Malchi, managing director and head of artificial intelligence research & development. The R&D group Malchi leads has about 50 to 75 employees involved in its efforts at any given time.
How did the AI R&D team get started? One of the areas I work in is with our artificial intelligence services and data and analytics. For our customers, we provide a number of different services like helping them build and create an AI capability, building some models for them based on business use cases, helping them with data governance. That type of stuff. But about three years ago, we realized that we needed a mechanism for our data scientists and our engineers to be able to get their hands on some cutting-edge ideas, concepts, algorithms, tools and technology that our customers weren’t asking about yet, but we had a hunch they would be asking about in one to three years or so. So when the questions did come from our customers, we could show our experience and show them some things in the space. That’s what started our AI R&D program.
What types of innovation is the team focused on? It’s innovation from a data science perspective, like the actual algorithms. It’s innovation from how we operationalize and scale AI at large organizations. That’s been a huge problem that nobody’s talking about yet or they are just starting to. It’s also innovation in terms of developing new services for WWT to provide to our customers we think they will be interested in as this AI field evolves over time.
How does innovation look different from consulting projects compared to the R&D efforts? On projects you’ve got to be innovative because customers are asking tough questions, things that have probably never been answered before that are specific to their industry and maybe even specific to their specific processes or company. You’ve got to have a team from a service perspective that is willing to think outside the box and put their heads together and innovate in real time. That happens all the time on projects. From what is traditionally thought of innovation, to thinking through on what people and companies are going to want in the years to come, that’s where the R&D program comes in.
How have you structured your R&D efforts? When we were starting the R&D program, we wanted to make sure we were staying abreast of what’s going on in this super fast moving space.