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.

A 'Soho house for techies': VCs place a bet on community

Contrary is the latest venture firm to experiment with building community spaces instead of offices.

Contrary NYC is meant to re-create being part of a members-only club where engineers and entrepreneurs can hang out together, have a space to work, and host events for people in tech.

Photo: Courtesy of Contrary

In the pre-pandemic times, Contrary’s network of venture scouts, founders, and top technologists reflected the magnetic pull Silicon Valley had on the tech industry. About 80% were based in the Bay Area, with a smattering living elsewhere. Today, when Contrary asked where people in its network were living, the split had changed with 40% in the Bay Area and another 40% living in or planning to move to New York.

It’s totally bifurcated now, said Contrary’s founder Eric Tarczynski.

Keep Reading Show less
Biz Carson

Biz Carson ( @bizcarson) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol, covering Silicon Valley with a focus on startups and venture capital. Previously, she reported for Forbes and was co-editor of Forbes Next Billion-Dollar Startups list. Before that, she worked for Business Insider, Gigaom, and Wired and started her career as a newspaper designer for Gannett.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Fintech

Binance CEO wrestles with the 'Chinese company' label

Changpeng "CZ" Zhao, who leads crypto’s largest marketplace, is pushing back on attempts to link Binance to Beijing.

Despite Binance having to abandon its country of origin shortly after its founding, critics have portrayed the exchange as a tool of the Chinese government.

Photo: Akio Kon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In crypto, he is known simply as CZ, head of one of the industry’s most dominant players.

It took only five years for Binance CEO and co-founder Changpeng Zhao to build his company, which launched in 2017, into the world’s biggest crypto exchange, with 90 million customers and roughly $76 billion in daily trading volume, outpacing the U.S. crypto powerhouse Coinbase.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Enterprise

How I decided to leave the US and pursue a tech career in Europe

Melissa Di Donato moved to Europe to broaden her technology experience with a different market perspective. She planned to stay two years. Seventeen years later, she remains in London as CEO of Suse.

“It was a hard go for me in the beginning. I was entering inside of a company that had been very traditional in a sense.”

Photo: Suse

Click banner image for more How I decided seriesA native New Yorker, Melissa Di Donato made a life-changing decision back in 2005 when she packed up for Europe to further her career in technology. Then with IBM, she made London her new home base.

Today, Di Donato is CEO of Germany’s Suse, now a 30-year-old, open-source enterprise software company that specializes in Linux operating systems, container management, storage, and edge computing. As the company’s first female leader, she has led Suse through the coronavirus pandemic, a 2021 IPO on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, and the acquisitions of Kubernetes management startup Rancher Labs and container security company NeuVector.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Enterprise

UiPath had a rocky few years. Rob Enslin wants to turn it around.

Protocol caught up with Enslin, named earlier this year as UiPath’s co-CEO, to discuss why he left Google Cloud, the untapped potential of robotic-process automation, and how he plans to lead alongside founder Daniel Dines.

Rob Enslin, UiPath's co-CEO, chats with Protocol about the company's future.

Photo: UiPath

UiPath has had a shaky history.

The company, which helps companies automate business processes, went public in 2021 at a valuation of more than $30 billion, but now the company’s market capitalization is only around $7 billion. To add insult to injury, UiPath laid off 5% of its staff in June and then lowered its full-year guidance for fiscal year 2023 just months later, tanking its stock by 15%.

Keep Reading Show less
Aisha Counts

Aisha Counts (@aishacounts) is a reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software. Formerly, she was a management consultant for EY. She's based in Los Angeles and can be reached at acounts@protocol.com.

Latest Stories
Bulletins