Deep Visuals Ltd – how Kodak’s knowledge assets did not quite ‘walk out of the door’


When Alan Payne, then Director of Kodak’s European Research team, found out that his 25 strong Cambridge unit was to close in early 2009, he spotted an opportunity that was to prove irresistible.  He suggested to one of the US business heads that they could continue the project they had been working on, outside of the Kodak umbrella, and do so at a lower cost. His US colleague had been very upset by the upcoming closure, and Alan’s suggestion made his day.  Alan’s colleague persuaded others in the US, and, before long, the contract was signed and in place.

I met Alan at one of Cambridge Network’s events, and when he told me about this, I asked if he would be willing for me to put together a ‘case study’, as a response to some of the comments I had received to an earlier blog: Knowledge assets have been walking out of the door – is anyone taking note?’ Alan kindly agreed, so here then is the rest of the case study.

Kodak’s European Research team had itself been the result of substantial organizational change when, in 2005, the umbrella organisation decided to consolidate the previous teams in Harrow, North London, and in France, to create the Unit in Cambridge. More than 200 people had been cut back to just 25 when the new Unit opened in January 2006.

The Cambridge team had been instrumental in introducing a new culture as a result of the transition from film to digital images. Whereas Kodak had previously been one of only a few companies in the world with expertise in film, they were suddenly vastly out-numbered by all those with digital expertise.  Alan, and the previous Director of the unit, Sam Weller, convinced Kodak Research to adopt what became an example of the ‘open innovation’ model.  As Alan describes it, the model is like a pair of scales: you give some of your technology away, but this is vastly outweighed by the expertise that comes in.  Although the US really liked this model, they could not afford to continue funding it, hence the closure of the unit.

Now Alan, and Peter Fry, each with more than 30 years experience at Kodak, co-own Deep Visuals Ltd, and run it with 2 other members of the original team, as well as a 5th team member that they’ve recently taken on.  They provide Kodak with an invaluable worldwide perspective on their client base and on product design and development – an important counterpoint to Kodak’s otherwise strong US focus.  They draw on a wide network of consultants, many from Cambridge University’s student population.  And they use a strong user-centered approach for product design, an important strategy where large organisations often risk relying too much on a technology-centered approach.

Kodak is very supportive of Deep Visuals current attempts to broaden their client base and strengthen their financial footing.  One area that Alan is exploring is museum collections.  He sees parallels between the challenges that we as individuals face in managing our personal historical photographic collections and those that museums have in making their vast collections of artifacts accessible to the public.  He is applying for grants to research the museum sector and to develop demonstrations of what might be possible.

This latter is in itself an example of Knowledge Management: an area that Alan also previously championed within Kodak.  He and his then colleague John Trigg believed that Knowledge Management was all about culture and people.  They were cognizant that people’s knowledge could be easily buried and lost and they promoted the use of electronic Laboratory Notebooks (eLNBs) as a way of making their knowledge more accessible.  Additionally, when the European Research team was due to be closed, Alan and his peers in the US set up a few interview sessions between the UK and US staff to enable sharing of knowledge.  They also ensured that all work in progress was fully documented, and of course that the eLNBs were available.

Finally, the existence of Deep Visuals Ltd itself, has obviously ensured that their invaluable ‘knowledge assets’ continue to be available to Kodak.

For Alan, the experience has been very liberating.  Like many who have spent most of their working life in the corporate world, he assumed that it would be very difficult to start up his own company.  With encouragement from his friends, and the support of Business Link, Alan was encouraged to go ahead, and was amazed at how easy the whole process was.  The hardest thing was coming up with a unique name!  Now, Alan is keen to ensure that the development of his staff is not overlooked.  He is beginning discussions with individuals to understand their technical and personal goals, and to ensure that Deep Visuals continues to be an exciting place to work.

Note:

This case study is one of a series that I am pulling together along my company’s, RiverRhee Consulting, 4 main areas of expertise for enhancing team effectiveness for improved productivity and team morale:

  1. Focusing on your customers
  2. Simplifying and streamlining what you do
  3. Optimising information and knowledge assets
  4. Ensuring successful business change

If you would like to share a case study relating to how your organisation is addressing these topics do please get in touch and I would be happy to discuss documenting it in one of my blogs.

You may also be interested in taking advantage of one of my complementary monthly Friday afternoon clinics

You can find more information about RiverRhee Consulting, and about me, Elisabeth Goodman, Business and Information Consultant, on http://www.linkedin.com/in/elisabethgoodman, and in the Cambridge Network directory, http://www.cambridgenetwork.co.uk

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