Thursday, October 19, 2017

Chasing innovation in a digital world

by Matt Smith, CTO – N.EMEA, APJ & South Africa, SoftwareAG

It doesn’t matter what industry you look at; everybody, everywhere wants to be an innovator. Innovation, transcends time and place and is far more than a throwaway buzzword.

Before we go forward and explore how to be innovative, it’s crucial we define the word itself.
Innovation for me is the application of disruptive technology, methods and cultural changes in order to empower problem solving and create opportunities where previously there were none. Many businesses will find it suitable to define innovation, simply, as: opportunity.

As technology continues to evolve at breakneck speeds, businesses today are facing several fundamental and very serious challenges. Indeed, the mantra of modern business seems to be “disrupt yourself or be disrupted.”

Rather than seeing innovation as investing in new technology or adopting new practices to achieve a few points of improvement, organisations need to view innovation as executing fundamental change.
Digital transformation is a prime example of this fundamental change. It’s important to be aware that when pursuing digital transformation – or innovation at large – technology is only half the battle, if that much.

Cultural acceptance, change and defining common goals all play a crucial role in successful transformations. Companies must be ready to embrace innovation around working practices, staff engagement, customer engagement and board level guidance.

An example of this, which also takes “disrupt yourself or be disrupted” to heart, is a particular company that went as far as setting up a rival company within the company itself. This company had one goal: disrupt the parent company’s business as much as possible.

They even had their own C-level team and their own budget. What they came up with was at the same time incredibly interesting and incredibly worrying for the parent company. The idea, as the CEO put it, was relatively simple: “do this to yourself before someone else does it to you.”

Digital technology is also key, as it has the potential to deliver information, analytics and visualisations that allow staff to make better, faster and sometimes automated decisions. Digitalisation enables faster gathering and movement of information, automation technology, sensor technology, analytics technology, collaboration technology, containerisation, mobile devices and new security solutions.

Across the globe, innovative companies are deploying these digital technologies and making the right cultural changes in order to usher in a new era of innovation.

This includes: trials on busy commuter rail routes in which sensors observe how busy carriages are and suggest better places for you to board the train via an app, speeding up boarding, reducing delays and increases customer satisfaction; ships using analytics and communications to determine how fast they should traverse the ocean on the way to port to ensure they arrive in a staggered order, which has greatly reduced fuel consumption and port turnaround time; factories examining their output automatically and comparing themselves against one another to look for deviations from the best in their collective group and offering automated suggestions for improvement. The list goes on, with literally hundreds of examples that show digital technology is driving innovation.

Innovation, after all, is much more than just a marketing buzzword. Innovation is combining the right technology, workplace culture and disruptive methods to create new opportunities.

Businesses looking to become innovators must constantly strive for the title, looking across sectors and borders in order to find the right answers.

Matt Smith will be delivering the welcoming message and presenting Innovation Awards at Innovation Day on 16 November.