• Brian Shirey

The CanaRII Initiative

Updated: Jan 28



With a name like Research Innovations, it seems obvious that doing innovative research and development is part of RII's DNA. In fact, two of RII's Core Values - "Let your geek flag fly" and "while (true) {learn(); share(); innovate(); }" are directly tied to that passion for innovation. We have a long history of customer-focused innovation such as our RapidAdapt™ and ATOMIC platforms, our C2-related programs, our advanced analytic/A.I. solutions, and our Cyber Solutions programs. These efforts have led to success for our customers' missions as well as our business, creating enormous opportunities for us to make RIIdiculously Awesome® impacts to the country and the world.

We have realized, however, that our successes have caused us to be busy enough that it would be easy to focus only fulfilling our program commitments and ignore the focused innovation activities that got us here in the first place. Getting effective, scalable solutions in the hands of warfighters and customers must always be our top priority, but as a company we want to continue increasing our impact on future missions as well, and we need to ensure we foster innovations that can become future programs and impactful solutions.


Many of the best innovative ideas come from employees; they don’t always start from leadership and they don’t always start from customers understanding all the options ahead of time. These ideas happen either through personal passion or through the process of solving problems in the course of their normal efforts. We have seen this before at RII through community activities such as the Pi Day projects and presentations. At the same time, many employees aren’t directly connected to the customers enough to know the problems the customer is trying to solve or constraints they are facing that we could address. The CanaRII initiative is designed to match good ideas with customer problems so that we can ensure we are sponsoring innovations that can turn into customer engagements and growth of the company as well as innovative solutions for customers’ challenges. In some ways, you can think of the program as a small venture capital fund which can seed and foster good ideas throughout the organization and get them in front of customers that might be interested.


Goals of the CanaRII Initiative

The term CanaRII invokes the ideas of canaries as sentinels, going ahead of the group and testing the air before committing too many resources into a risky situation. Similarly, the CanaRII initiative intends to lean forward with innovations to see if there is a business opportunity associated with the innovations, but with off-ramps to ensure we don’t invest too much in an idea that won’t excite or be useful to our customers’ missions. More specifically, the goals of CanaRII are:

  • Invite and encourage innovative thinking throughout the organization.

  • Provide employees access to senior business leadership and expose them to the strategic considerations within the company and LoBs, offering career growth and mentorship.

  • Provide an outlet for promising ideas to be fostered and matured.

  • Develop whitepapers, demos, proofs of concept, and/or presentations that can increase customer engagement and intimacy.

  • Channel employee passion into business opportunities.

  • Learn and fail quickly. Obviously we don’t want an idea to fail or prove infeasible; however, we are willing to try new things and should take some risks if the potential reward is high enough. In those cases, we need to determine feasibility as early as possible.

How it Works

CanaRII projects will get sponsored by the CanaRII team. This team includes senior technologists, Line of Business (LoB) VPs, and business development. The CanaRII team has a number of priorities and responsibilities, such as:

  • Understanding needs of current and potential customers, including problems that don’t yet have funding allocated to them.

  • Relay those needs to the organization and engineering teams to spark creativity and innovative solutions.

  • Review proposed and approved CanaRII projects to ensure they are focused on customer problems and not just an interesting technology.

  • Allocate a number of hours for the team, deconflicted with other commitments.

  • Guide and mentor engineers/employees during the development and innovation process.

  • Ensure that the innovations get presented to the appropriate customers.

One of the key responsibilities of the CanaRII team is to spark innovation from the rest of the company. Regular emails, Confluence pages, blogs, or teleconferences are held so that the customer problems can be relayed appropriately to a larger community. In some cases, analogues of the problem will be described, such as when the actual problem is a classified one that is inappropriate to share broadly.


Any employee can present their idea to the CanaRII team at our regularly scheduled pitch days. The CanaRII team then can have a conversation with the presenters, understand the goals, help modify the direction if necessary, and get time approved to work on it. The whole process takes under 15 minutes, and the CanaRII team assigns a person to be the project’s mentor to ensure the project continues in a valuable direction.


Summary

RII has succeeded in leveraging innovations to grow to the point where we are having a RIIdiculously Awesome impact with our customers and making the world safer. The CanaRII initiative is designed to continue to encourage similar innovations while ensuring we are solving strategically important problems that we can grow into our future business. The CanaRII initiative is designed to provide an outlet for innovations that are meaningful to the innovator, the company, and our customers and provide a long term pipeline of growth and opportunity.


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