How Partnerships, Some Obvious and Some Unlikely, Will Lead the Next Stages of Innovation
This week, Domino’s and Ford announced a corporate partnership that will enable Ford to use autonomous cars to deliver Domino’s pizza to customers in the Ann Arbor, Michigan area.
While it might not be the first thing to come to mind, the partnership makes a great deal of sense once one considers Ford and Domino’s ambitions. The former hopes to advance its self-driving technology and compete in the coming rise of autonomous vehicles. The latter hopes to continue to find new and efficient ways to deliver pizza while advancing a brand that has, rather surprisingly, become quite integrated with technological advancements. In Ford’s autonomous driving prototypes, Domino’s can participate in a grand experiment without making a prohibitively expensive technological investment. In Domino’s deliveries, Ford has the opportunity to test its technology in real life situations. Both companies have the opportunity to test how consumers, confronted with this new technology, will interact with a driverless future.
These kinds of partnerships function like a new kind of open-source coding. By allowing more people, even businesses that could serve as competition, to see how code works, modify it, and improve it, tech companies have exponentially increased our collective rate of innovation. For example, Linux has been improved over the years by Google, Samsung, and any number of independent developers. The Android OS has improved due to contributions from business partners like Sony. This has been a common practice within the tech and software development communities, but as technology continues to advance more radically into what we still consider to be the analog parts of our lives like grocery shopping, ordering pizza, and driving, joint efforts between the businesses that traditionally help us do those things and tech companies that can bring us new ways to do them are necessary to continue towards a future full of innovation.
This has manifested itself in a few ways over the past few weeks. While not as surprising as a partnership between Domino’s and Ford, neither of which are “tech companies” per se, Amazon and Microsoft announced an momentous partnership between their respective voice assistants, Alexa and Cortana. Users can use Alexa to open Cortana and vice-versa, and the two parent companies have shared that they eventually foresee this partnership running much deeper.
Voice is, by virtually all indications, growing by leaps and bounds. To highlight just one, ComScore predicts that 50% of all searches will be done by voice by 2020. By joining their efforts, Amazon and Microsoft stand to learn a great deal from one another, advancing their products and pushing voice and AI in general forward. Just like how Ford needs a steady stream of experiments to test out autonomous driving in the real world, and Domino’s provides that, Microsoft and Amazon need an enormous volume of real world data to improve voice and the AI that powers it. Working together and fielding data from more sources allows for potentially exponential improvements down the road.
Of course, even when large-scale collaboration is to be encouraged, there is still healthy competition to be found. In what can only be considered a challenge to the direct line that Alexa gives its users to Amazon and its products, Walmart and Google recently announced a partnership to allow Google Home users to order items from Walmart.
As Walmart, traditionally a physical retailer, continues its push to survive as a retailer in a world that is increasingly focused on e-commmerce, this kind of partnership makes perfect sense. They’re attempting to expand in ways they hadn’t previously and hold Amazon back from completely dominating in the space. Although Amazon has a massive lead in the smart speaker market, taking up about 70% of it to Google’s 25%, according to Business Insider, Google Home is the second most popular smart speaker on the market. Google has impressive AI and dominates in the digital world, but could use a partner that handles retail. Not only will this help keep Amazon’s world-bending ambitions in check, it will help push Google and Walmart into spaces where they could stand to grow.
As we continue to search for real, impactful innovations, partnerships like this will only become more helpful. At the moment, there are any number of organizations working to improve how information is delivered to us, how physical products are delivered to us, and even, in the case of autonomous driving, how we ourselves might be delivered. Competition is certainly an important part of a healthy economy, and not every group needs to rid itself of practices where it keeps proprietary technology close to the chest.
However, finding innovative ways to partner will, in turn, breed better and more innovative technology. Advancement happens at a much faster rate when efforts are combined and the same work isn’t being done in any number of walled-off facilities. When we work alone and resist collaboration, we set up unnecessary roadblocks to the future. When partner, even if it means leaving some profit on the table, we all move forward together, and we all stand to benefit. As a society, let’s hope that partnerships like the ones listed here continue, that new partnerships form, and that our levels innovation continue to rise.