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Innovation 06 Oct 2017

Amazon: “If we stop innovating, we’ll be dead in 10 years”

Companies usually don’t brag about not having a clear roadmap, but Amazon is different. The head of technology at the company since 2005 explains that constant change and trial and error are essential to Amazon’s innovation policy.

Born in the Netherlands 59 years ago, Werner Vogels describes himself on his LinkedIn page as an engineer, computer scientist, salesman, programmer and up to 22 different occupations – some of which include being a father, musician and cyclist. But if Vogels has been one of the stars at the South Summit it is because of just one of these professions: since 2005 he has been the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Amazon and its cloud computing services, Amazon Web Services (AWS).

“10 years ago I never would have said that we would be where we are today,” admitted Vogels, who believes that that in order to stay on top, the key is to continue innovating: “If we stop innovating, we’ll be dead in 10 years.”

But innovation can become a mantra void of meaning if the company in question doesn’t have a clear idea of what it does. AWS has a method that paradoxically can be described as not having too much faith in methods. The fundamental rule, basically the only rule, Vogels explained, “Is always having the customers at the heart of everything.” And from there “a lot of trial and error, a lot of work without a clear roadmap – precisely because customers are in charge and we have to listen to what they need.” He also stressed the importance of developing the innovation policy with small teams that are free “from all bureaucracy and boring work processes.”

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Werner vogels, CTO responsible at Amazon

In addition to discussing innovation, Vogels spoke with professional pride when emphasizing the importance cloud computing, supplied by AWS, played in the growth of several companies that are now leaders in the digital economy like Slack, Dropbox and Airbnb. “We are the most customer-centric company in the world and we are proud of that. Our secret is that we have never seen ourselves as sellers, but as partners. We don’t gain anything by squeezing one more dollar out of our customers. What we want is for them to be successful. If they win, so do we.”

Cloud computing (the business that giants like Microsoft and Google also exploit) is at the heart of AWS and Vogels acted as an apostle of it virtues. Thanks to the cloud, “startups around the world can start out with a global mentality. You don’t have to talk to a technological services supplier in Japan. You have everything a click away.” Amazon’s CTO underscored the corporate innovation in Spain, citing BBVA and the startup Wallapop as examples.

And the future? Vogels believes that voice recognition systems, together with new, more attractive interfaces could be the driver behind the next big change. “We already have digital systems that only require voice, which are perfect for people who have never used a computer.” But customers will be the ones to decide what they want – that’s the principle they do not want to forget at Amazon.

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