What I Learned in Camp

What I Learned in Camp

It’s amazing what you can do when you put creative, intelligent minds together, take away all (or many) distractions, and give them a green light to go… anywhere they want. They might come up with a new product, idea, or solution. They might even come up with a brand new word.

And in the case of the Amdocs Innovation Camp, that word is -  “terraplay.”

But we’ll get back to that significant addition to the high-tech dictionary in a moment. First, about the camp: In what is turning into an annual tradition, the Amdocs Innovation Camp (this year marked the third one held by the company) takes Amdocs brightest and best, along with executives and guests from companies around the world, and sequesters them for a few days of camp – complete with athletics, color-war style contests, fun, sun, and relaxation. And, of course, innovating some of the ideas that the company hopes could turn into big winners.

Like that “terraplay” thing (actually a product of the 2009 camp), says Tal Givoly, Amdoc’s Chief Scientist. “You’ve heard of triple-play, for example, where you use one or more technologies or devices to deliver services to users. Well, connectivity has gone way beyond the web browsing, cellphones, and cable TV,” he says. Already, some cars already have wifi connections, and they can use wifi and gps to connect to your cell device. Imagine that kind of connectivity in your refrigerator, your oven or stove, even your electric razor (to remind you that it’s time for a cleaning)! That’s the terraplay, says Givoly – the interaction of maybe a trillion devices with each other, sending and exchanging information, keeping you on top of – everything! “It’s coming in just a few years,” says Givoly.

It’s in order to unearth that kind of gem that Amdocs holds its innovation camp. This year, says Givoly, one of the chief forces in the company behind the project, Amdocs invited outsiders for a portion of the camp, limiting attendance to a total of 110 participants (hundreds from just inside Amdocs applied for a spot). Thirty-five of those attending were Amdocs partners and customers from around the world (like a delegation from British Telecom), and special guests (like Paul Sloane, a top UK speaker on innovation, among others), “to supply a dose of reality,” Givoly says.

Since the purpose of the camp was, among other things, to get participants’ creative juices flowing, the schedule was left unstructured for the first two days – with participants responsible for getting the show going. And flow the juices did, with participants coming up with food, music, dance, magic tricks, balloons – and ideas to celebrate Pacman’s 30th birthday  – to express their creative sides. Others used their talents for more serious efforts; one of the camp’s guests, Dr. Eyal Maoz of the Ono Academic College and the Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Northwestern University, gave a talk on the leadership aspects of poker playing, and participants also took part in a workshop to figure out ways to fix the Gulf oil spill. “It’s an opportunity for participants to let out everything they do that they might otherwise not usually want to share,” says Givoly. “At the camp, everything is acceptable.”

But of course, all play and no work gets boring after awhile – so, participants went to work, applying those creative juices that were now starting to surge. “On the third day, the Amdocs people started working on the innovation ideas we hoped would come out of the camp. We were aiming for three projects that could get off the ground based on the ideas and solutions camp participants came up with,” says Givoly. “By the end of the day, we had 80 really good ideas, which we winnowed down to 15, with the help of the guest customers and service providers.” Proponents of each idea spent a full day preparing presentations, posters, and other material to present to the entire group – and in the end, they came up with three ready to go ideas, all of which could turn into startups in their own right, Givoly says. “And we’re definitely moving ahead with some of these ideas,” he adds.

It’s those kind of innovative ideas that have kept Amdocs ahead of the curve, even during the still-ongoing recession. “Camp participants have come up with some great ideas for Amdocs,” says Givoly. “Ideas that were generated in past camps have been implemented, and have definitely generated some growth.” That innovation is what has kept Amdocs growing, even during tough times, he says. “While our competitors were rethinking what they are doing, we were moving ahead, and now that the situation is improving, we have come out on top in most of the areas we work in.”

And this year’s ideas were better than ever, Givoly says. “In past camps, we concentrated on ideas, but this time we came up with solid ideas,that have strong market potential and fit our overall plans for the  future.” But even if Amdocs doesn’t move ahead with those projects, Givoly says he considers the camp a smashing success. “A program like our Innovation Camp helps you to think differently – to believe anything’s possible,” says Givoly – and learning that skill is one of the most important things you can hope to take home from any camp.

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