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A man sits undera spotlight looking at a device in his hand.

Culture of Innovation

Putting a spotlight on the people behind step-by-step innovation

At Lenovo, collaboration and feedback empower two managers and their teams during the pandemic

Xin Tian values feedback about his software products. The senior manager of Lenovo Voice often shares his work with colleagues and asks them what they think. And this collaborative trait took on a new urgency after the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the world.

Suddenly, office workers were having remote meetings. Students were taking classes online. People struggled with issues relating to voice-to-text dictation and speech translation, meeting records, and even speech synthesis (computer-generated voice).

A man wearing a tie leans on a railing.
Senior Manager of Lenovo Voice, Xin Tian.

Users everywhere needed new solutions and improvements. Even Xin Tian’s colleagues at Lenovo were having issues.

When some tried out a new line of voice products before general release, they came back to him with comments like: “This is inconvenient,” “I’m not doing this in my real life,” “I’m not clicking this button here, please hide it.”

The feedback was frank. But instead of being upset, he was overjoyed. “From a front-end user’s point of view that helped us a lot,” he recalls. “It was really helpful before we released our product to our real users.”

Innovation often happens in steps, and people make it happen. This is part of a method Lenovo has long followed, that is, to embrace failure as a way to foster innovative ideas.

In the end, Lenovo accelerated its voice products rollout so users could take advantage of new tech innovations while they dealt with the coronavirus restrictions.

Textbook example

The scenario was a textbook example of innovation. A new Microsoft-IDC study, Culture of Innovation, Foundation for business resilience and economic recovery in Asia Pacific, defines innovation as “an organization’s ability to convert an idea or invention into successfully commercialized new business models, or digital products/services, including driving innovative change to quickly adapt to changing market conditions (such as COVID 19) …”

It also demonstrates a high level of business resilience that allows Lenovo to adapt to new conditions.

Innovation is an essential value for Lenovo’s culture and is encouraged from the top. The executive leadership provides strategic direction, keeping everyone focused on the latest technology like AI, as well as market trends, people’s pain points, and how Lenovo can help.

Wei Bi, a strategic project manager in the Office of the CIO, cites four points that guide Lenovo’s people on innovation:

  • Innovate to create value: They innovate to create value for customers and the company.

  • Curiosity and courage: They are curious, dare to try, and take risks.

  • Challenge the status quo: They challenge the status quo to improve technology, products, services, solutions, business models, and management processes.

  • Fu Pan and learning agility: They use Fu Pan (or ‘replay the chessboard’) to quickly learn from successes and mistakes. They keep learning from the best, and they practice to improve every day.

The company also promotes collaboration across all its departments.

“We do not limit where an idea comes from,” says Wei Bi. “It can be internal or cross-department. Xin Tian and I come from different departments, but we can work closely together.”

Forecasting with AI

Wei Bi’s team has faced its own set of different challenges from the pandemic. Changes in customer demand were affecting the company’s whole production and supply chain management.

A man with his arms folded
Strategic Project Manager in the Office of the CIO, Wei Bi.

For example, the phenomenon of many K-12 students learning from home sent the demand for some devices skyrocketing.

Because demand forecasting sits at the heart of smart manufacturing decision making,  Wei Bi  — a certified Azure data scientist — and his team set out to meet the challenge with the power of data and technology.

They already had a strong foundation in AI, thanks to Lenovo’s emphasis on up-skilling and using the latest technology. Also, the company was already relying on Azure machine learning and multi-cloud-based data technology in its demand forecasting.

Additional input came from Microsoft China’s Customer Success Unit (CSU) Data and AI team, which collaborated with Wei Bi’s team to improve its demand forecasting capabilities for the new normal.

Together, they worked on combining publicly available data on COVID-19 health, consumer spending, and economic performance with their internal and industrial channel data to perform better predictive analysis for their demand forecast model.

The team’s innovation effort is adding “new data in the pipe” for more accurate forecasting, Wei Bi says, and this intelligent planning benefits the value of the whole supply chain.

TOP IMAGE: Courtesy of Lenovo