Innovations That Inspire

xLab: Designing Digital Innovation Products and Solutions

Recognition Year(s): 2024
School: Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University
Location: United States

Working with a team that includes multidisciplinary students, faculty, and other university centers, xLab develops responsible technology frameworks and tools and collaborates with its company partners to design digitally innovative products and business models.

Call to Action

Although the current digital landscape has been forged from decades of innovation in computer hardware and software, the pace of growth in the past decade has been exponential. In response, a number of large corporations in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, were engaging in digital advancement by hiring innovation leads or adopting technology applications; however, lacking a digital strategy, they were struggling to realize a value proposition from the investments.

Further, many current business students, familiar with today’s environment of digital expansion, have expressed a need for an innovative education that will help them serve the digital needs of their future employers. The idea arose that Weatherhead School of Management’s design program could be linked with the Case Western Reserve University computer science program, using the curriculum to pair digital and design students.

The goal of xLab is to discover companies’ digital innovation needs and offer them a stream of technologically knowledgeable talent, capable of helping the organizations achieve their digital goals. The challenge faced by a number of companies has been how to use their abundance of data to create value. For instance, they may have chosen a technology to help them manage information, such as purchasing sensors and other data-collecting devices, but were unable to make their processes more efficient, develop new products, or gain insights into customer behavior using the technology. The aim of xLab is to guide companies in collecting useful data.

Innovation Description

Weatherhead’s xLab specializes in responsibly designing new digital prototypes, services, and business models with the support of emerging technologies, such as those that allow collaboration while protecting individuals’ data and identities, including decentralized architecture, decentralized digital identities, personal data servers, and federated machine learning. Companies that agree to become members of xLab are given access to a project team and other program-related support.

Projects typically span one semester but may extend into a new semester as part of a second phase. All projects are conducted by Case Western students under the guidance of a faculty member and a mentor or coach with industry expertise. Students come from all majors and both graduate and undergraduate levels. Each project team typically consists of about six to eight students who are carefully selected to fit the organization’s specific needs.

The companies and multidisciplinary students work together on an ethically responsible digital innovation project or conduct research under the supervision of faculty and industry mentors. Student teams can help train employees in the skills associated with digital offerings and assess potential growth areas in the company.

Innovation Impact

The innovation primarily impacts students and organizations. Working with an outside company on a real-world digital innovation project offers students résumé-building experiences and opportunities for networking in the industry. Likewise, the cross-disciplinary nature of the projects means that business students and computer science students gain insights from one another. Some companies have also hired students as a result of the work they’ve done on a project.

Companies that choose to sponsor xLab projects benefit from discounts on executive education courses at Weatherhead and are invited to events, in addition to the support they receive throughout the semesterlong project. These businesses retain all intellectual property related to their project, meaning the partnership results in feasible products that can be iterated and expanded on. The partnerships also consistently grow the business network for Weatherhead and its students.

As sustainability rises to the forefront of digital environments, with data centers increasingly consuming greater amounts of water and energy, consumer demand for sustainable infrastructure must be met by digital advances. Through embracing digital technology in their sustainability efforts, businesses have the potential to create lasting, meaningful change. Specifically, xLab has the potential to partner with sustainability experts across Case Western’s campus to deliver sustainable digital solutions, bringing the content expertise at Weatherhead into the spotlight across the United States.

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