Five minutes with Matt Boyd, Head of Futures at Applied Intelligence
Many of history’s ‘innovation defining’ moments have involved a slice of drama - from apples falling from trees, to the chocolate bar that melted next to a radar systems device (leading to the development of the microwave).
These stories of inspired and sometimes accidental discovery have led many of us to associate innovation with creative or unexpected moments - a belief that has perhaps played a role in the development of beanbag breakout rooms from Silicon Valley to Shoreditch.
But for the Futures Team at Applied Intelligence, innovation has taken on an entirely different meaning.
This entrepreneurial team, led by the energetic Matt Boyd, has developed a ruthless new innovation methodology, which is delivering tangible value to the BAE Systems business, at pace.
What started with seedcorn investment from the Office of the CTO back in 2015, is now a high-performing team that has just spun out its latest venture, SOC.OS, with £2m external investment from top tier venture capital firms. And there are plenty other ventures waiting in the ranks.
Hunting down the next problem
So what’s different about how the Futures Team works? “Well, a lot of the solutions we build at Applied Intelligence are developed with a specific customer issue in mind,” explains Matt Boyd, Head of Futures. “But in Futures the problem is never pre-supposed.”
The team has developed a new entrepreneurial methodology that harnesses key concepts such as lean start-up and design thinking. Using this, Futures harvests market problems to identify new concepts and take them from ideation, through market validation and testing into operational delivery, to uncover new business value at speed.
It’s all about reducing venture risk by hunting out the hidden value, working out how to realise it and de-risking until we can confidently make the case for serious investment. We’re really establishing a new way of building value for the enterprise business. Matt Boyd, Head of Futures, Applied Intelligence
“This is the approach through which the SOC.OS tool, now an independent venture capital backed business, was proven, built, launched and earned its first revenues,” Boyd explained.
“We went into our cyber security operations ideation session with 100+ market problems to explore for new concepts. The resulting opportunities were tested and refined, then tested and refined again in more depth, until we had just a small number of highly promising concepts to take forward and prototype, including SOC.OS. Once it was proven as a prototype, both technically and attracting real customer interest, we moved into rapid build of the minimum viable operational system and went live, earning our first revenues mid-2019.”
Failure to prepare is preparing to fail
It’s this constant attention on the market problems that allows Futures concepts to stay so relevant.
“If we find that the problem we’re focusing on is not as prevalent or deeply felt as we had previously thought, we’ll pivot to where customer pain is more keenly felt and demand is stronger. Or we simply fail it fast and move our focus to the next set of concepts coming through from our latest cohort,” says Boyd.
“It’s all about reducing venture risk by hunting out the hidden value, working out how to realise it and de-risking until we can confidently make the case for serious investment. We’re really establishing a new way of building value for the enterprise business.”
SOC.OS exits the building
Testament to the Futures Team’s approach, SOC.OS, the intelligent alert triage system developed from that cyber security ideation week, was launched as an independent company in June 2020, with Futures Team member Dave Mareels taking the reigns as its CEO.
The venture had been put through its paces with rigorous piloting and market validation and has exited BAE Systems with eight live customers, including UK Atomic Energy Authority and The University of Sussex. It received £2m investment from top tier venture capital businesses - including Speedinvest and Hoxton (an early investor in Darktrace), plus a couple of highly influential angel investors.
“SOC.OS may now be an independent organisation, but it continues to be part of the Futures family,” says Boyd. “We’ll stay in touch and continue to learn from their development.”
What’s next for Futures?
The SOC.OS success story wasn’t just a lucky hit for the Futures Team. Rather, it proves that the rigorous Futures approach works. “We have plenty of exciting ventures coming through the pipeline,” agrees Boyd. “All are focused on solving problems within the BAE Systems purpose space, pushing the boundaries, uncovering new strategic value and aiming to deliver new revenue streams.”
The Fincrime Testing Service is one such concept. Lead by Harriet Shaw, this venture is designed to help banks improve their ability to spot crimes such as human trafficking by simulating criminal behaviours in synthetic data. It’s currently being piloted by three banks in the UK and Europe.
Meanwhile other concepts range from a tool to help improve law enforcement analyst productivity, through to a ground-breaking new entity and network analysis system for detecting criminal behaviours.
All have the potential to make a real difference to society, acting at the heart of the BAE Systems Applied Intelligence strategy to protect nations and citizens from crime, terrorism and state conflict. From helping to protect victims of human trafficking, to improving police forces’ abilities to process extreme layers of data, all have been borne out of the Futures formula for innovation.