RSA Conference 2017: What Does Successful Innovation Look Like?

Posted on by Sean Martin, CISSP

To win the battle against cybercrime, end-user customers need innovation. Cybercriminals currently innovate better and faster than academia and commercial entities. Some innovate even better than government entities. 

To combat this trend, everyone looks for the next great IT security innovation every year at the RSA Conference. What that innovation is may actually be hidden. Some innovations are so high-level that they focus on buzzwords (such as APT protection or NextGen), and the abstraction is so grand that the buzzwords become a distraction. 

Other innovations are so mired in technology that the solution never finds its way to the surface. While they may be difficult to spot on the surface, this last example is where we begin to get a glimpse at the real innovations coming from the IT security industry. 

What Does It Mean to Be Innovative?

In the spirt of finding true innovation at this year’s RSA Conference, some long-time information security professionals extremely familiar with innovation provided their thoughts on what it takes to be truly innovative: 

  • According to Tim Brown, former Fellow at Symantec and Dell, and strategic advisor to ITSPmagazine, “Innovation can come from many areas; it doesn’t always have to be about technology. Innovation can transform a sales model, a market model and even redefine how technical teams are managed.” 
  • Added Chenxi Wang, Chief Strategy Officer at Twistlock and strategic advisor to ITSPmagazine: “Innovation requires someone who does not follow conventional wisdom and wants to challenge conventional assumptions.” 
  • Demetrios Lazarikos (Laz), founder of Blue Lava, three-time CISO, InfoSec thought leader, professor and strategic advisor to ITSPmagazine: “With innovation moving so quickly, security and innovation must co-exist. Static and legacy solutions aren't solving today’s cyber threats.” 
  • “History has many examples of a ‘better product’ that didn’t make it as big as they should,” added Marco Ciappelli, co-founder and creative director at ITSPmagazine. “Most of the time the reason is marketing; sometimes it is design; other times it is culture or simply bad timing. If you want people to use your brilliant and innovative cybersecurity products, you need smart marketing, brilliant design, an amazing UI/UX. These are critical innovation elements too.” 

What Does Successful Innovation Look Like?

It’s not easy to spot innovation, and it may be equally difficult to describe an innovation in terms the intended audience can understand. But perhaps there are signs that suggest an organization is successfully innovating. 

“A company that is innovative accepts that not all investments will pay off—they experience and embrace failures and keep on going,” said Brown. 

Pushing the innovation envelope is an attribute most organizations embrace. But it’s sometimes a risky move that could take the organization well outside its comfort zone. 

“The most innovative companies sometimes get into a different line-of-business that is a departure from their core business, like what Amazon did with AWS,” said Wang. “Or a company might be willing to cannibalize its existing business to push the innovation boundary, such as what Apple did with the iPhone, even though its IPod business was booming.” 

The ultimate sign of a successful innovation is one where the resulting solutions are used commercially. “Before a product goes-to-market, if I hear from a minimum of three CISO peers that a company is doing something different, then I'll listen,” said Laz. “Until then, it's usually a lot of noise.” 

Here are the 10 innovative companies that broke through the noise to catch the attention of the Innovation Sandbox committee at the RSA Conference 2017:

RSAC 2017 Innovation Sandbox Finalists Signs of False Innovation

False innovation actually brings organizations closer to failure because it may prompt them to stop their innovation process. They incorrectly think: “We have arrived!” 

“I see false innovation in companies that are simply trying to keep up with the competition,” said Brown. “They invest in minimally-viable products, have a minimal vision of the future, and little to no idea how to get there.” 

Wang points to three company attributes that signal such ‘false’ innovation: 

  1. Focuses too much on the short-term.
  2. Believes setting aside a budget is enough to foster innovation.
  3. Uses a linear mindset to expect exponential innovations. 

“One example is when a company sets up an ‘innovation group’ on the side and gives them a paltry budget but not the freedom nor the resources to truly innovate,” added Wang. “These groups are limited to addressing today’s bread-and-butter business challenges—they can’t cut through their current ways of thinking to embrace innovation.” 

Innovation Needed to Create a Better World

Innovative companies need to create a vision of a better world that will be enhanced by their technology. But when attempting to innovate, many companies confuse what is a mere improvement to true innovation. 

The key is to set up the teams, processes—and budget—that enable innovation to be correctly identified. Failures that the organization experiences and learns from typically contribute to enhancing the ultimate innovation that emerges. 

The team at ITSPmagazine will spend more time exploring this topic at the RSA Conference. We will write a follow-up post with our findings on proposed innovations. We will also present tips on how to make true innovation more tangible.

Sean Martin, CISSP

Co-Founder and Editor-in-chief , ITSPmagazine

Business Perspectives

Blogs posted to the website are intended for educational purposes only and do not replace independent professional judgment. Statements of fact and opinions expressed are those of the blog author individually and, unless expressly stated to the contrary, are not the opinion or position of RSA Conference™, or any other co-sponsors. RSA Conference does not endorse or approve, and assumes no responsibility for, the content, accuracy or completeness of the information presented in this blog.

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