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Protocol | Enterprise

Rolls-Royce, hit hard by COVID-19, is embracing in-house AI

The engineering giant is one of many companies beefing up its efforts to develop technology internally.

Rolls-Royce workers.

Rolls-Royce has struggled amid the pandemic as orders for aircraft engines have fallen through the floor.

Photo: Rolls-Royce

The pandemic changed the rules for many corporations, requiring them to embrace new technology and cut costs at the same time. One answer to that paradox: in-house innovation.

That seems to be the case at Rolls-Royce, the $14 billion engineering giant that produces, among other things, engines for commercial aircraft. The company has had to implement tough austerity measures including 9,000 job losses this year after the bottom fell out of the aerospace market as a result of COVID-19 travel bans. But its R2 Data Labs, launched in 2017 to promote use of artificial intelligence and advanced analytics inside the company, still appears to be a priority.

R2 Data Labs is a cross-disciplinary team of roughly 300 employees, and only a few of its workers took voluntary buyouts during the cuts. Its leader, Caroline Gorski, told Protocol that the lab's mandate remains fourfold: make operations more efficient, accelerate the speed at which the company moves, help customers glean those same efficiencies in their own businesses and deliver new revenue for the enterprise.

While a small segment of the cohort sits in a central innovation unit, the bulk of the employees work within the individual business lines — a setup also in use by other companies as a way to encourage adoption of digital applications like AI among rank-and-file workers.

Among the projects of R2 Data Labs to-date is a set of natural language processing models that can analyze unstructured data, like 2D drawings, to help the company better manage the global risks in their supplier network. While Gorski declined to provide the specific amount of savings the application has led to, she noted that it had a "very significant impact" from a financial standpoint, as well as on sustainability efforts. It led to 40% fewer parts being shipped between continents and a 30% reduction in transportation costs.

Then there's Yocova, an in-house data-sharing platform launched in February that runs on Salesforce's Force.com and counts carriers like Singapore Airlines as users. While Rolls-Royce is still experimenting with a revenue model for the offering, it does get some portion of all the transactions that occur on the platform between companies and vendors. Rolls-Royce was also instrumental in launching Emergent Alliance, a consortium of over 50 organizations created to encourage the sharing of data to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

"The idea that any single player in the aviation sector is going to be able to eat all the data and own all the data, [that] is not going to be the argument that wins out," said Gorski.

Rolls-Royce isn't alone in its efforts. An estimated 76% of manufacturers say they increased their use of digital tools this year, according to a new survey of 1,154 senior executives released by Google Cloud earlier this month. One area of focus is supply chain operations: 95% of respondents to the Google survey said those operations were negatively impacted by COVID-19. Many of them will be looking to deploy advanced tech to head off similar problems in the future.

"We're expecting a massive uptick of automation and digitization," said Dominik Wee, Google Cloud's head of manufacturing.

But despite the enthusiasm among manufacturers and corporate America for new digital tools, the transition is difficult and many of the ongoing efforts have yet to produce any tangible benefit for enterprises. It's one reason why companies aren't yet ditching the bulk of their tech vendors. Rolls-Royce, for example, still works with over 750 external partners. It uses Google Cloud, but not as its primary provider for internet-enabled data storage.

One key hurdle organizations face is convincing their workforces to actually use the technology. It's why Microsoft, Amazon, PwC, and others are embarking on multibillion-dollar training programs to educate employees on AI and other tools. At Rolls-Royce, that cultural overhaul is spearheaded by Gorski's team, which has logged over 78,000 hours of training across the organization. And in May, the company made those educational materials available to the public.

"The transition towards a digital culture takes time," said Gorski.

Big Tech benefits from Biden’s sweeping immigration actions

Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai praised President Biden's immigration actions, which read like a tech industry wishlist.

Newly-inaugurated President Joe Biden signed two immigration-related executive orders on Wednesday.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Immediately after being sworn in as president Wednesday, Joe Biden signed two pro-immigration executive orders and delivered an immigration bill to Congress that reads like a tech industry wishlist. The move drew enthusiastic praise from tech leaders, including Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai.

President Biden nullified several of former-President Trump's most hawkish immigration policies. His executive orders reversed the so-called "Muslim ban" and instructed the attorney general and the secretary of Homeland Security to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which the Trump administration had sought to end. He also sent an expansive immigration reform bill to Congress that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented individuals and make it easier for foreign U.S. graduates with STEM degrees to stay in the United States, among other provisions.

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Emily Birnbaum

Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.

Protocol | Enterprise

Databricks plans to take on Snowflake and Google and score a huge IPO

Even against intensifying competition, Databricks hopes to be a hit when it heads to the public markets this year.

Ali Ghodsi is the CEO of Databricks.

Photo: Databricks

Enterprise software had a huge 2020 on Wall Street as companies such as Snowflake and C3.ai went public with blockbuster initial offerings. Databricks CEO Ali Ghodsi is hoping to ride the same wave in 2021.

The public debut of the data analytics startup, valued at $6.2 billion, is among the most-watched IPOs for the year. And for good reason: It competes in a similar space as the much-hyped Snowflake, helping customers find the data to power the algorithms that help with everything from picking which products to order to which candidates to bring in for job interviews. While Databricks has been tight-lipped on its specific plans, including which bankers it is tapping to help navigate the often arduous process, it is taking steps internally to prepare.

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Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a senior reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software, including industry giants like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. He previously covered emerging technology for Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

Protocol | Enterprise

How Christian Klein’s reboot of SAP’s strategy is working out

The pandemic wasn't kind to the company. But the way it's working with the major COVID-19 vaccine makers is a model for what comes next.

Christian Klein became SAP's sole CEO in April.

Photo: Picture Alliance/Getty Images

Christian Klein took over as SAP's sole CEO in April. It wasn't an ideal time to take the helm of an organization that sells expensive enterprise software.

As the spread of COVID-19 forced corporations everywhere to cut costs, one of the first places they looked was IT budgets. Specifically, companies around the world trimmed spending on back-end products, such as those offered by SAP, many of which still run via on-premise data centers.

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Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a senior reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software, including industry giants like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. He previously covered emerging technology for Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

Protocol | Enterprise

How Salesforce, despite big setbacks, had a banner 2020

Amid the chaos of major layoffs and top executive departures, Salesforce announced a key acquisition and managed to report blockbuster earnings.

Marc Benioff is the CEO of Salesforce.

Photo: Kimberly White/Getty Images

On Aug. 27, Salesforce announced it would lay off around 1,000 employees.

The news came as a shock to many. At the beginning of the pandemic, CEO Marc Benioff committed to making no "significant" layoffs for 90 days. (The 1,000 job losses occurred 155 days after that pledge was made.) But any blowback to the announcement appears to have been brushed aside by some of the company's top leaders.

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Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a senior reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software, including industry giants like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. He previously covered emerging technology for Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

Deepdub uses AI to dub movies in the voice of famous actors

Fresh out of stealth, the startup is using artificial intelligence to automate the localization process for global streaming.

Deepdub promises AI dubbing at the click of a button.

Image: Deepdub

The streaming wars aren't just about domestic viewers anymore: Netflix, Disney, HBO Max and the like increasingly compete around the world. Around a third of Disney+ subscribers, for instance, are based in India, and the company is looking to further grow its international audience in Europe and Latin America.

Tel Aviv-based startup Deepdub wants to help streaming services accelerate this kind of international rollout by using artificial intelligence for their localization needs. Deepdub, which came out of stealth on Wednesday, has built technology that can translate a voice track to a different language, all while staying true to the voice of the talent. This makes it possible to have someone like Morgan Freeman narrate a movie in French, Italian or Russian without losing what makes Freeman's voice special and recognizable.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

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