Building a Product and Solution that Requires Multiple Large Companies to Come Together

Shyam V Nath

Specialist Leader, AI and IoT at Deloitte



The work started back in 2016, when new regulations came into the airline industry as a part of a global challenge to improve the tracking of airline baggage and provide more detailed information to passengers. GE Aviation was looking at new problems to solve and this particular problem required what is called, Internet of things, because you are connecting bags to internet by adding sensors to the bag. In this case, airline baggage becomes a connected product. This was the general idea that GE was working on and then within this project, we were looking to solve very specific problems using that generic technology that we were building.

"This particular problem required what is called, Internet of things, because you are connecting bags to internet by adding sensors to the bag."

I took the initiative to work on this project that was in line with the Aviation business within GE. They were looking to solve this particular problem with airlines and airports. This was a good challenge for us to work on at GE Digital, but we needed partners who could provide other pieces of technology and know how.

Actions taken

  • I quickly partnered through my professional and personal links with other companies such as Oracle, Infosys, and a few other smaller players in Silicon Valley so that we had all the pieces of the puzzle coming from the right providers.
  • Leading the initiative and working with these companies without a formal agreement between them was a challenge and required that I played a quarterback like role as a sort of technical product manager. I had to motivate the players by setting a clear vision in order for them to take initiative in this common goal.
  • The other stakeholder was the regulatory party, or in this case, the International Air Travel Association (IATA). I had to establish good relationships with this regulatory party which consists of group of airlines, because they were the ones who came up with the regulation in the first place to self-regulate and improve the industry.
  • Due to the fact that my background is more in technology, product management, and software, without a deep airline domain expertise, I had to quickly ramp up on the industry challenges. I did so by joining the meetings held by IATA and working with airline employees to get a first hand feel for what the challenges were like for them.

Lessons learned

  • In taking the initiative, I was able to get the internal buy in to work on it, but there was no clear financial gain across the board between the cooperating companies to solve this problem. It was through informal influencing, selling, and setting the vision between the different companies as to how they would benefit once we solved this problem, then I successfully brought people together to work on a common problem.
  • It was a challenging experience working towards something where the solution didn't exist in the industry. With that we had to be creative in designing that solution.
  • Putting myself in the shoes of the airline association and their employees helped me to better step into the leadership position with knowledge and experience. There were no set teams across the companies due to the more informal agreement structure we were working with. I therefore did not have any positional authority over the people who were working across the companies, so I had to be very motivational.
  • It is important to not only set the vision, but demonstrate how each company will commercially benefit. This gives the right ingredient for them to go talk to their own management as to why they should invest their own effort into this process. That involves quantifying the size of the business problem in the industry and how it would translate monetarily for each of the players or partners. Even a rough draft done early on will make it easier to convince the different parties and their management chain as to why they should work on this collaborative project. Some partnerships are structured in black and white, this was not one of those.
  • It is really important to reduce the time scale. Identify the benefits for other players early on so that the decision process time can be reduced. In general, when multiple parties are involved, it takes a lot of time for collaboration between global teams. As a result, you may lose from a competitive standpoint because some other company throwing a lot of money at the same problem might solve it faster.
  • Financial or commercial justification along with a shared vision may help reduce the buy in time from all of the partners so that you can focus on solving the problem rather than getting a team in place.
  • In 2017, I wrote a book called Architecting the Industrial Internet where I expanded on this topic of airline baggage.

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Shyam V Nath

Specialist Leader, AI and IoT at Deloitte

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