I recently heard someone refer to the Dallas/Fort-Worth (DFW), Texas area as the “Silicon Prairie.” At first, it struck me as funny to compare part of the Lone Star State to the likes of the tech giants in Silicon Valley. So I did a little digging; There are a lot of technology companies based in DFW, and many Silicon Valley corporations including Microsoft, Intuit and Cisco have offices too. A short time later, I came across a Fast Company article highlighting the secrets of Silicon Valley’s innovation culture. It was written by Soren Kaplan, author of the award-winning bestseller, Leapfrogging, former leader of the innovation group at Hewlett-Packard in Silicon Valley and founder of InnovationPoint. One might say Kaplan knows a thing or two about innovation. As I read the article, I was struck by the similarities between Sabre’s culture and the attributes outlined in his article:
1. “Start Small while Relentlessly Seeking Scale. Silicon Valley companies want scalable opportunities.”
The Sabre Red Workspace, a highly configurable travel agent booking platform, is a great example. This part of the business has continued to scale since its launch. The tablet version is best-in-class and there’s now an entire app center that also allows developers the chance to new capabilities on our platform, so the possibilities are endless.
2. “Take a Bath in the Talent Pool. Silicon Valley companies take creative approaches to finding and developing talent.”
Sabre’s Intern Case Competition gives summer interns the chance to tackle real challenges from our business units. They work in teams to develop solutions, then presented to top executives. Our New Grad Rotation Program gives new graduate employees a chance to rotate through different parts of the business (such as corporate marketing, global operations and supplier distribution) before being placed in a permanent position.
3. “Innovate with Customers, Not for Customers. Many Silicon Valley companies build business models based on ‘co-creating’ with customers.”
A key component of an innovative culture, there are many examples of this at Sabre. Virtually all of our businesses, including Airline Solutions, Travel Network and Hospitality Solutions, partner with customers to help design new software and roll out beta-versions to other customers so they can test them and share feedback for improvements.
4. “Make Business as Usual, Unusual. Silicon Valley companies strive to infuse outside thinking into everyday thinking.”
Bring It is Sabre’s innovation council, a group of employees that work to foster collaboration and help new ideas grow. Bring It sponsors programs like Hack Day, a 24-hour technology development marathon where employees create code that improve existing products, and The Big Pitch, where employees have five minutes to pitch a new business idea to a team of executives. The winning idea receives funding and an executive sponsor to shepherd the idea to a full-blown Sabre solution.
5. “Create the Context for Cross-Fertilization. Many Silicon Valley companies know that cubicles create barriers, so they quite literally tear down the walls.”
Much of Sabre headquarters operates under a flex-space model. Initially designed as a sustainability effort to cut down on the amount of unused space, flex-space often results in a daily mix up of seating arrangements and interaction with different colleagues. And in 2012, collaboration rooms were created in several of Sabre’s global offices. These rooms make connecting via video conference simple and include interactive whiteboards for truly shared brainstorming across continents.
6. “Take the ‘Risk’ out of Risk-Taking. Most Silicon Valley companies value trial and error, realizing it’s better to put ideas forward in their infancy than wait until they’re fully baked.”
SabreLabs is our company’s dedicated new product incubator and technology research lab, responsible for identifying new technologies and applications that have high potential for positive travel industry impact. Employees experiment with emerging trends such as augmented reality, intelligent personal assistants, cloud services and gamification. They then share their findings with key stakeholders across all of Sabre’s businesses to help determine which ones have the most potential to be developed as new Sabre solutions.
7. “Be The Disruption. Many Silicon Valley companies formulate innovation strategies to support their business strategies. Others view their entire business as the disruptive innovation.”
A quick glance at the history of Sabre would imply the latter. The first passenger reservations system was offered by Sabre in 1960, marking a new era in airline travel booking and passenger management. In the years following, Sabre would continue to pioneer technological advances in areas such as revenue management and pricing, launch the industry’s first keyword-based travel search engine, and TripCase, the world’s first consumer trip management mobile app to fully integrate with Sabre global distribution system and agency workflow. And there is so much more on the way.
Move over California. There’s a new sheriff in town.