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Business and Technology Insights

Nurturing Innovation to deliver on the Digital Agenda

 
November 16, 2016

In the first post, I shared my views on the paradigm shifts required in skilling IT teams to take on digital projects. However, these skills work in tandem with the ability to envisage meaningful and creative applications of digital in the context of business. Whether innovation is a skillset that can be built at all or is even required of the wider workforce has long been a contention. Contrary to popular belief that the ability to innovate is an inherent trait, experts believe that certain skills that are considered innate can be acquired, given the right environment and opportunities. Also, innovation as the prerogative of a select few may work to bridge immediate gaps, but in the long run, nurturing innovation as a culture is unavoidable. Here are a few strategies organizations can use to acquire the mindset and skills required to make innovation a core capability.

  1. Build digital fluency –Although several organizations have already made significant investments in acquisitions, start-ups, innovation labs, and co-innovation partnerships, digital fluency can be achieved only when it is implemented at the grassroot level and woven into the cultural fabric of the organization. Only a workforce that realizes the potential of digital and how it makes a difference to the way people connect, work, and collaborate will be able to deliver big on digital. Many leading organizations have made their websites and intranet multi-device compliant, appified workflows, set up corporate social collaboration platforms, and adopted bring your own device (BYOD) initiatives, gamification, and video channels, to further digital across the board.
  2. Create a conducive environment – An analysis of organizations such as Apple, Amazon, Google, P&G, and Samsung that thrive on innovation shows how these organizations have built a supportive work environment. Senior leaders, chief executives (CxOs), and the boards of these companies have adopted innovation as a strategy for long-term growth. They nurture innovation by placing a premium on idea generation, and facilitating quick evaluation and experimentation of ideas. They tend to protect developing ideas from pressures to cut corners, and encourage employees to express half-formed ideas, even learn from failure, and move on to the next big thing. For example, Amazon continues to be nimble and innovative even as it grows, due to the strategies they use to drive innovation. Their two pizza team strategy helps create conditions in which employees can act as entrepreneurs and be relatively autonomous in their pursuit of creative ideas. Similarly, Google reorganized itself into multiple entities under the umbrella Alphabet. They did this to delink the innate risk of innovation from the financial responsibility they have to their investors.
  3. Innovation needn’t always be radical –Sometimes, even small innovations have the power to redefine business. For example, the introduction of the Buy button on Twitter commercialized social media, and caused a chain reaction with Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube following suit. While consumers rejoice in the convenience this offers, retailers are excited as they expect it to reduce shopping cart abandonment, especially on mobile interfaces. Even technology companies such as IBM and Magento that have e-commerce platforms have created accelerators that allow retailers to integrate their e-commerce platform with Pinterest Buy It buttons. While radical innovations give organizations a high degree of competitive advantage, they are risky and have a relatively low success rate.
    IT organizations must not sit around waiting for the big idea and in the process shy away from recommending incremental innovations.
  4. Stay in touch with end-consumers – Innovation is triggered by a perceived need or pain point for which solutions are either non-existent or inadequate. For example, Hointer, a U.S. retailer for mens denims that uses robots to deliver clothes to the fitting room, was founded by a lady on the universal premise that most men detest making several trips back and forth from the trial room and would rather avoid the possibility of awkward interactions with store associates. Similarly, Oculus Rift was developed by a gaming enthusiast who craved a virtual gaming environment, with giants like Sony and Microsoft joining this technology trend much later.
    To perceive need, organizations must be in touch with end-consumers. In the retail context, this could involve knowing what shoppers want out of their shopping experience and unmet expectations. However, it would be wrong to conclude that all innovations come only from proximity with customers. Apple is the best example of an organization that did not base their innovations on what customers wanted or market research. They believed in finding what customers wanted before they realized it. For example, while the iPhone was an enhancement of the smartphone, the iPad was a new product that even customers didnt know they needed.
  5. Look beyond traditional boundaries for inspiration
    BMWs iDrive system is inspired by a gaming console; sushi bars serve food on airport-style conveyor belts; GE Healthcare drew inspiration from theme parks to make CT scan rooms less scary for children. These are examples of cross-industry innovation where inspiration comes from non-related business areas. Organizations should encourage their workforce to look beyond their core industry. Wide ranging interests lead to better ideas. And better ideas often lead to innovative solutions.

Conclusion
Building digital skills without nurturing the ability to innovate is like setting up the workforce to once again execute run-of-the-mill sisyphean like projects. They will not explore the power and excitement of digital in creative ways, eventually leading to solutions that dont ensure customer delight, enhanced user experience, or opportunities for strengthening your brands the market position.

Article Sources:
Discussions with:
Aashish Chandra, Global Head of Technology, Retail and CPG, TCS
Janardhan Santhanam, Lead – Analytics, Big data & Information Management, Retail & CPG, TCS
Gaurav Motani, Consultant, Digital Strategy, TCS

Indira Perumal leads the Retail Domain Training initiative at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). She has over 15 years of experience in instructional design and corporate training, spanning various industries such as IT, retail, insurance, and healthcare. Indira specializes in competency definition, instructional pedagogies, program development, and technology adoption for better learning outcomes. The programs built by her team have won the leading industry Brandon Hall Awards for Excellence in Learning, under various categories.