The growing importance of tech's regional labs

Why regional innovation labs are becoming tech's must-have promotional accessories.

Tech companies are sparing no expense in building and staffing state-of-the-art facilities to trumpet their visions of the future. From Cisco's crystal ball-gazing innovation centres to Accenture's research and development labs, these centres are becoming must-have promotional accessories for any self-respecting tech giant.

With buildings that boast several floors of engineering specialists, cutting-edge technology and swish meeting rooms, the labs bring a physical dimension to the virtual world. They are spaces where a client's chief executive, CIO and other staff can spend a day or two with the tech provider's developers and see, touch and try out the technology of the future. The centres fulfil a variety of roles - showcasing the latest products, modelling futuristic scenarios with clients or testing the architecture of a tech stack before deploying it.

National managers at big tech companies are clamouring to have innovation labs built in their countries. As Nick Chrissos, director of innovation for Cisco across Europe, Middle East, Africa and Russia, says: "It seems almost every country now wants their innovation centre, it has become a very good way to get a line in to the local country strategy and get hooks into the local ecosystem."

A glimpse of the future

In the EMEA region, Cisco has labs in Berlin, Paris, London, Manchester, Barcelona, Istanbul and Dubai. Later this year it will open another in Milan. Their purpose is to inspire customers rather than flog existing products, says Chrissos. "So when our customers leave, they feel they have just seen a glimpse of the future."

The centres bring together innovators, start-ups, researchers and academics as well as public sector providers and Government. They are all keen to understand more about bourgeoning technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, machine learning and machine vision and WiFi 6.

"In the 5G project we are working on in the UK, we are doing things with cows in Somerset, with farming in Shropshire, farming and whisky production in the Orkney Islands," explains Chrissos. "We have everything in the innovation centres from the collars the cows are wearing to the drones that are flying over the fields to identify areas we want to grow."

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