Innovation center from the inside. How R&D Metinvest Digital is arranged
Innovation center from the inside. How R&D Metinvest Digital is arranged
One and a half years ago, Metinvest Digital launched its own center for advanced development. For what purpose was it created? What tasks does it deal with? What does the innovation process look like, and what are the results? We asked these questions to Maksym Balanyuk, Head of R&D, Metinvest Digital.
Let's start with the main thing. Why do companies have their own R&D?
Metinvest Digital, as an IT business partner, is responsible for the digital transformation of Ukraine's largest mining and metallurgical company. And we are increasingly faced with situations where not all the demands of business can be met through existing solutions on the market. It is necessary to apply innovative technologies, which, in turn, require a separate approach to their selection and testing. This is why internal R&D was created.
What exactly does R&D do? What tasks is it working on?
The classic essence of R&D is a combination of two directions: research and development. In the first direction, the team is engaged in technology scouting and initial technology testing. The second direction is the direct creation of prototypes and ready-made solutions.
Technology scouting includes searching for and detailed analysis of technologies that can solve specific business requests of the client. It's not just about collecting and viewing marketing information available on the Internet. We do in-depth technical analysis. We help businesses understand all the variety of hype technologies, explore their pitfalls, analyze how much they can be integrated into the existing IT landscape of the company. After all, there are many new technologies, but you need to know how to apply them in practice. And most importantly, technology must add value to the business. Otherwise, investment in the project will not be justified.
When choosing technologies, we are guided by the following criteria: the complexity of implementation and support, future prospects for technology, reliability, financial component, the ability to scale to other companies, or similar business processes. We analyze everything in the complex.
The next service within the Research area is initial testing of technologies. After choosing the technology, we test its functionality, to check for compliance with the stated characteristics. We comprehensively critically evaluate, work closely with vendors, may request access to the technology and / or deploy it in a closed test environment for in-depth analysis. Due to this, among other things, we check the technology for the absence or presence of potential application risks and vulnerabilities.
The direction of Development combines the process of testing the main hypotheses (proof of concepts), prototyping and development of a complete solution. The main purpose of this stage is to quickly test new technologies, to make mistakes at the stage of testing hypotheses, and not to implement projects. And as a result, invest based on validated data, which increases the efficiency of resource management.
Often, after obtaining the results of prototyping, we proceed to the development of MVP, scilicet minimally viable product with basic functionality. After its successful testing, we work with the engineering team to put a full-fledged product into operation.
Tell us more about the interior kitchen. In particular, how do you determine which technology to choose at the stage of technology scouting?
First, when choosing technology, we start from business needs. We analyze which of the technologies can best solve the customer's needs. It is clear that we do not work in isolation. R&D, in particular, works on the principle of Co-Innovation, which involves the creation of a partner ecosystem with other companies to search for and evaluate new technologies, develop innovative solutions. The ecosystem unites our internal centers of expertise, vendors, developers, startups.
As R&D, we mostly work with those business tasks for which there is no finished product or customized service. That's why we brainstorm a lot within the team, discuss which of the technologies may be appropriate, what are the limitations and whether anyone has done something similar in the world, what are the world's best practices.
It is clear about the interaction within the team. And how is communication with the client built?
Today, our main clients are companies that are part of the Metinvest Group. At the level of Metinvest Digital, a thorough process has been built from the formation of needs to their design into projects with further implementation and support. With each asset and functional area, there is interaction at the level of Business Engagement, in which account managers are responsible for the formation of digital initiatives for customers. They act as a kind of intermediary in interaction with the client.
In order to effectively respond to customer needs, we maximally "immerse" in the specifics of the production / business process. We interact a lot with experts in enterprises, who understand the processes from the inside and at the expert level can confirm this or that information, provide the necessary data. We also work with them on the requirements for the future product (solution), conduct business needs analysis.
In parallel, we interact with other divisions within Metinvest Digital. Together we calculate the potential economic effect of the implementation of the solution, describe the timing, scope of work, time of project implementation, and its cost.
What technologies do you work with most often?
The main ones are Machine learning, Robotic process automation, Intelligent virtual assistant, Computer vision, Natural language processing.
Tell us about the team you work with?
Today there are ten specialists in our team. Each of them has its own unique experience. For example, our virtual assistant product manager had his own startup in the past. This person in his experience has gone through a full cycle of product development: from idea and design development to finding investment and interaction with potential investors. And the team, which develops computer vision technology, includes a specialist who studied in China for seven years and worked on the development of part of the electric car's autopilot module. There are also specialists from the Big Four, from international telecommunications companies, food IT companies and international banks. Recently, the first intern appeared - a former student of honors, a future graduate student of KPI. Prior to that, she was an intern at R&D Metinvest. But this is a separate story…
In terms of structure, R&D now focuses on three main technological areas: RPA, computer vision, and virtual assistants based on artificial intelligence. The team is conditionally distributed in each of these areas.
Each of the specialists, in addition to his area of responsibility, also develops in other technologies. Now it's just necessary. After all, you can combine different technologies and create truly unique solutions. For example, RPA can be combined with artificial intelligence, computer vision, etc. In addition, professionals need to focus on other technologies to understand how they can synchronize with each other, or integrate into the existing IT landscape. The efficiency of not only a specific direction, but also the whole unit depends on it. That is why we select people with a strong engineering thinking, desire to learn and develop.
I understand that R&D was created relatively recently. But maybe there are already some results?
Yes, there is. In one and a half years of work, the R&D team has processed more than 32 business requests, developed 9 prototypes and is completing a large process robotization project, which has developed about 150 robots that work in parallel between different services. We are also currently working on the creation of virtual assistants based on artificial intelligence, analyzing the possibility of using computer vision technology at metallurgical enterprises. But, to significant developments for this short history, I would carry not only quantitative indicators, but the gained experience and considerable growth of profile examination.
What are the plans for R&D in the future? What do you want?
Among the plans are the continuation of the development of the main technological areas of R&D, the expansion of the network of partners with whom we work within the framework of the Co-Innovation principle. And also - the search for talents who would like to join our team.