Unpacking Innovation with a Legacy Topcoder Partner

While at Praxair, Sam Marrazzo was one of Topcoder’s very first customers back in 2004. Since then, he’s gone on to different organizations, taken on different roles, and recently cofounded a new kind of consultancy called i4 Studio — continuing to partner with Topcoder through the years. Currently the CIO of Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC), Sam is now also the COO of i4 Studio, an innovation arm of BNMC that leverages best-in-class local and/or crowd resources. Today, Topcoder helps BNMC (and now i4 Studio) with everything from innovation and design to research and development (R&D) efforts.

i4 Studio and Topcoder: where creative immersion meets rapid innovation

At its core, i4 Studio wants to offer innovation as a service — and to serve as the new R&D team for traditional companies seeking to turn the corner on innovation. Sam advises companies to elevate their innovation profile; not simply to think outside the box, but to create their own box. To that end, i4 Studio wants to make it easy for companies to access designers, introduce creative immersion, and essentially change the way a company thinks about innovation.

About the Topcoder platform, he says, “We love the iterative nature of the Topcoder platform. We can quickly prototype and lead to a project we can drive. When Topcoder releases a product, it goes into GitHub, and that product has to be operationalized. We do that really well with teams of folks who know how to deal with the corporate world’s backend. The last mile is where i4 Studio is really efficient.”

But how does partnering with Topcoder benefit his clients? “By offering them quick, iterative innovation tools they can’t afford on a bench — that they can’t get out in the market, such as a rapid UX design,” Sam says. “A lot of folks are at or over capacity, and can’t deal with the stresses and pains of going out in the marketplace. With Topcoder, we get more velocity, and a huge amount of access to talent — all from within a browser.”

3 ways i4 Studio partners with Topcoder

There are three ways i4 Studio generally works with Topcoder:

  1. Topcoder presents an opportunity to i4 Studio — particularly if it’s a co-selling opportunity that goes beyond the norm for our self-service platform, Topcoder Connect.
  2. The reverse: i4 Studio does a demo leveraging Topcoder Connect because, as Sam says, “It’s an easy sell. You go into Connect and want to do something like a quick prototype, you add your requirements, and in a day we get results.”
  3. Through events like our annual Topcoder Open (TCO). Sam says, “Last year at TCO in Buffalo, the mayor came, we catered to the competitors and locals, and showcased what the designers and developers behind Topcoder can really do.” Being a key part of TCO also enabled BNMC to showcase their focus on innovation to current and future customers.

Examples of successful execution

Sam has seen several successful projects through his partnerships with Topcoder. For instance, a dental group in Charlotte, North Carolina, had read about Topcoder in Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World and wanted to build an application, and Topcoder reached out to Superior Group (where Sam was a CIO before going to BNMC). Together, they delivered an application that would enable the dental group to search for talent such as dental hygienists, and even gamified it, enabling doctors to rank employees by quality of service, role, etc.

In another instance, Sam says, “With Praxair, we helped build an eMoc Management of Change application about a year and a half ago that tracks safety incidents around the world — such as driver accidents — and has an automated response system to alert the right people.” The Management of Change (MOC) program is to ensure all changes to a process are properly reviewed and hazards introduced by the change are identified, analyzed, and controlled prior to resuming operation. Conceptually, MOC often seems deceptively simple, but can be one of the most difficult elements of Process Safety Management to implement effectively.

For those looking to leverage crowdsourcing for the first time, Sam advises, “Start with a small project — a design project if your team has lots of ideas for new apps that can drive your business. The best way to quickly and affordably validate those ideas is with rapid user experience (RUX) design competitions on Topcoder. Consider innovation as starting from within with a fast-paced RUX. In this case, low risk comes with a high reward.”