Leading with change: How 9 Chicago companies innovate to drive industry shifts

by Alton Zenon III
March 14, 2019

Putting any idea into action can be challenging, and the bigger the idea, the greater the trial. That challenge can seem even greater when working with new and innovative technology.

To learn more about how companies use technology to push their industries forward, we spoke with nine Chicago tech leaders. They told us how they managed to separate themselves from competitors, and what upcoming developments they’re watching right now.

 

West Monroe Partners Senior Director of Technology Erik Brown

West Monroe Partners is a consultancy that offers services centered around optimizing their operations, customer experience, technology implementations and more. Senior Director of Technology Erik Brown said his team will be working on AI integrations as that technology continues to become more accessible in the future. 

 

How has your company set itself apart in the industry, and what tech innovations have helped differentiate you?

We are people-oriented and focus on providing opportunities to build leaders within our teams and for clients. Our technologists work side by side with clients to help evolve their capabilities and thinking rather than simply solving technology problems, and we often supplement our technical teams with industry experts. By organizing internally around innovation and combining that with our blended teams, we’re experimenting with solutions that have the potential to be disruptive in the industries we serve.

One example is in the energy and utilities space: We built a tool to better manage the approval and deployment of solar technology to the energy grid, and we experimented with AI models that would advise utilities when and how weather will impact solar output regionally.

Our technologists work side by side with our clients to help evolve their capabilities and thinking.”

 

What do you think will be the next big tech trend in your industry, and how do you plan to stay ahead of that trend?

AI has created an industrial revolution driven by data. The ability to harness data to drive intelligence is no longer limited to large institutions, and has become more accessible than ever with tools like TensorFlow and Keras. We are excited to bring that capability to middle-market clients. We’re working with healthcare payers and providers on how predictive models can be used to identify high-cost and life-threatening situations, resulting in better outcomes and more effective patient care. As the workforce evolves, this intelligent software will be supplementing and informing humans in their efforts, allowing them to focus more on activities that require common sense and abstract thought.

 

STATS team on a balcony

STATS is a sports data and analytics company providing athletic organizations with quantitative insights as well as fan engagement services. Senior Data Scientist Jennifer Hobbs said the company’s extensive backlog of data has helped it cover lots of ground in the industry. 

 

How has your company set itself apart in the industry, and what tech innovations have helped differentiate you?

We leverage computer vision and machine learning techniques to deliver and analyze vast amounts of data. The over 35 years of data we have positions us to do analysis outside the reach of other companies. We were leaders in the field when we created SportVU — a product that captures player and ball tracking data. Today, we are going a step further to track the pose of players directly from broadcast video. Our understanding of the complex multi-agent interactions — which is characteristic of sport — enables us to model how teams and players move and behave.

Our teams are encouraged to stay up to date with the latest advancements coming out of both academia and industry.”

 

What do you think will be the next big tech trend in your industry, and how do you plan to stay ahead of that trend?

We recently released AutoSTATS — a product that aims to produce body-pose tracking and event data everywhere there is video across sports, leagues and time. This next generation of data will enable us to understand and analyze sports on an entirely new level, like understanding a player’s shooting form. 

Our teams are encouraged to stay up to date with the latest advancements coming out of both academia and industry within the fields of machine learning and artificial intelligence, as well as within the broader tech community.

 

Bringg staff at cooking event

Bringg is a logistics solution provider for enterprise companies in industries like retail, restaurant, services and consumer packaged goods. CTO and co-founder Lior Sion said the company’s initial approach of giving the logistics industry a technological makeover has been a large part of its success.

 

How has your company set itself apart in the industry, and what tech innovations have helped differentiate you?

When we founded Bringg, we understood that the world of delivery and fulfillment needed a new approach and fresh look. The days of old, on-premise route optimization engines that improve results in small increments were gone. What people needed was enterprise scale and agility when using mobile devices, and big data-powered machine learning technology. Our engine was built with this approach in mind, and that’s how we’ve managed to be one of the few companies who are ready for what’s happening in today’s logistical world.

It’s not enough to have the technical know-how or tons of real-time data — you need to combine them with a smart business understanding.”

 

What do you think will be the next big tech trend in your industry, and how do you plan to stay ahead of that trend?

A lot of people speak of machine learning, big data and AI, but very few actually know how to use it. It’s not enough to have the technical know-how or tons of real-time data — you need to combine them with a smart business understanding of what’s important and what’s not. Connect the offline and online and create a change that moves the needle. We can see the next problem because we are the first to run into it, and we find forward-looking customers to go to the front with us. 

 

Nerdery team on the rooftop

Nerdery is a consultancy that provides tech implementations to healthcare, retail and manufacturing companies. Delivery Director Mukesh Pitroda said that when discussing the company’s future, AI is a big keyword. 

 

How has your company set itself apart in the industry, and what tech innovations have helped differentiate you?

Nerdery is diverse in background, interests and culture in addition to our professional experience and qualifications — our people are what truly set us apart. Our clients benefit from our deep expertise as we partner to create solutions that improve digital experiences for all users — whether that’s improving efficiencies through data science in manufacturing, helping patients better interact with their implanted medical devices or streamlining grocery shopping.

Our people are what truly set us apart.”

 

What do you think will be the next big tech trend in your industry, and how do you plan to stay ahead of that trend?

Artificial intelligence will impact every industry, but it will require the right combination of data, infrastructure and insight to ensure that the future we create is better for everyone. 

 

Codifyd team working at a table

Manufacturers and distributors across a wide variety of industries enlist Codifyd to enhance their user experiences, content design, e-commerce strategies and other aspects of their business. Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Solutions Vincent Maurici said his team will be focusing on how to hone in expansive technologies to best suit client needs.

 

How has your company set itself apart in the industry, and what tech innovations have helped differentiate you?

We are a company that is founded on the science of data and analytics. We differentiate ourselves through a multitude of skill sets in an industry that tends to be more or less one-dimensional. Our combination of architects, data scientists and home-grown software bring full end-to-end solutions to life for our clients.

Our combination of architects, data scientists and home-grown software bring full end-to-end solutions to life for our clients.”

 

What do you think will be the next big tech trend in your industry, and how do you plan to stay ahead of that trend?

AI and blockchain technology are certainly the latest buzzwords in our industry. However, the key for us is understanding where these future technologies apply with our customers and provide real business value. These are enormous topics, and our mission is to distill these broad technologies into specific and detailed solutions for our clients.

 

Target Data team in group photo

Target Data helps companies grow their sales by using customer data to inform data-driven, omni-channel marketing initiatives that target individuals instead of audience segments. CEO Ross Shelleman said the company is placing its bets on advanced analytics technology and AI.

 

How has your company set itself apart in the industry, and what tech innovations have helped differentiate you?

We have invested heavily in a technology infrastructure that allows us to quickly and efficiently harness the power of our clients’ data for marketing purposes. We use advanced analytics technology and AI that allow us to manage large data sets quickly without massive human intervention. And we are extensively integrated with partners in the marketing technology ecosphere to take advantage of the latest capabilities and offerings.

The next trend is to utilize highly targeted audiences to enhance targeting for traditional media channels such as search engine marketing and television.”

 

What do you think will be the next big tech trend in your industry, and how do you plan to stay ahead of that trend?

The next trend is to utilize highly targeted audiences to enhance targeting for traditional media channels like search engine marketing and television, and we are investing heavily in that. We have also built the plumbing to connect to all of the cable and satellite networks in order to deploy and measure targeted television, or advanced TV.

 

Inspirant Group at golf outing

Inspirant Group is a consultancy that offers companies strategic, technological and staff-focused developmental services and solutions. Founder and CEO Amir Azarbad said the company works to make sure client ideation is realistic and includes input from staff at all levels. 

 

How has your company set itself apart in the industry, and what tech innovations have helped differentiate you?

From a strategic standpoint, we take an iterative approach and expand the voices involved in the conversation from the ‘ivory tower’ to include the front-line representatives, making sure the assumptions on the whiteboard reflect the reality on the ground. 

In terms of technology, we have been successful in leveraging traditional development with low-code platforms to develop fast and robust solutions for our clients. On the people side, we integrate digital adoption platforms to provide just-in-time training and on-demand knowledge transfer to client organizations. Users don’t sit through a tedious in-class training session every time an update occurs to an app on their iPhone —  they pull the information they need when they need it, and expect the same ability when dealing with business applications.

We have been successful in leveraging traditional development with low-code platforms.”

 

What do you think will be the next big tech trend in your industry, and how do you plan to stay ahead of that trend?

In the past, technology innovation started in the office and then migrated to our homes. Now, many people have more seamless technology experiences in their personal lives with their smart speakers and IoT-connected homes than they do in the enterprise with legacy systems, unintuitive interfaces and unconnected data streams. Companies will continue to turn to digital transformation consultants to examine how they deliver value in a digitally connected world. We will continue to stay on top of strategy, technology and people trends to assure we are providing the best counsel and solutions to our clients.

 

Lightstream staff having discussion in conference room

Lightstream’s in-browser and downloadable video production suite is used by content creators to manifest their ideas and upload their creations to a variety of streaming services. Co-founder and Principal Engineer Dan Trocchio said the company’s early innovation came from how niche of a market it existed in at its founding. 

 

How has your company set itself apart in the industry, and what tech innovations have helped differentiate you?

Building a cloud-powered livestreaming studio is no small feat. When we started exploring this idea, everyone told us it couldn’t be done. I couldn’t even find anything to Google that would give me an idea of what was possible. Now, our technology is powering a first-of-its-kind feature on Microsoft’s Mixer livestreaming platform, personalized Xbox gaming streams without a capture card or high-end PC.

We’re always striving to make improvements to our existing tech and explore new ways to make it easier to create livestreaming content.”

 

What do you think will be the next big tech trend in your industry, and how do you plan to stay ahead of that trend?

Handling multiple remote video feeds and offloading the processing of that video from your local machine is an area I see continuing to grow as we move into this year. We’re always striving to make improvements to our existing tech and explore new ways to make it easier to create livestreaming content. Whether that’s through user interface innovations, our cloud tech, or developing new ways to process video, our mission is to be on the forefront of what’s possible and leverage that technology to put advanced production techniques in the hands of beginners.

 

SpotMe leadership in group photo

SpotMe’s technology helps put on live events and provide virtual workspaces to companies across automotive, IT, finance, and other industries. CEO Pierre Metrailler said the company is gearing up for what he sees as an inevitable shift in the industry landscape.

 

How has your company set itself apart in the industry, and what tech innovations have helped differentiate you?

Our platform vision is what has set us apart. Companies have confused novelty for innovation, and as a result they have raced to build standalone products and load them with features. Our platform strategy creates more breadth — unlocking vertical solutions and depth, powering new conversations, delivering custom recommendations and driving meaningful experiences without becoming a distraction.

Our mission is to connect events to our customers’ greater stories by capturing and sustaining attention.”

 

What do you think will be the next big tech trend in your industry, and how do you plan to stay ahead of that trend?

Our big bet is that five years from now, the event technology category will no longer exist as something distinct from broader enterprise software. System-of-record technology will shift to customer relationship and human capital management systems. Our mission is to connect events to our customers’ greater stories by capturing and sustaining attention. We will continue to do so by leveraging events as an activation springboard and extend our positioning into digital experience platforms for employees and customers.

 

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