Innovation: It’s not (just) about the technology

Mike Sewart
By , - Enabling Digital

Last week saw the Fujitsu Distinguished Engineers’ (FDE) Conference in London. The Conference is an opportunity for Fujitsu’s leading technology experts to get together, share knowledge and celebrate engineering excellence within our organisation.

So you might think the conversation revolved around bits and bytes, the latest programming developments or R&D breakthroughs?

While there was plenty of that, I was fascinated to hear just as much, if not more, discussion of the business challenges facing our customers. Technology is nothing if there’s no business application or context, and this came through loud and clear.

Just to pick out a few highlights…

Challenging myths around innovation

On Wednesday afternoon we were treated to a breakout session from Tendayi Viki that was both entertaining and informative, on the topic of “Building Successful Innovation Ecosystems.”

First off, Tendayi challenged much of the conventional wisdom around innovation, citing McKinsey research that suggests little meaningful correlation between R&D investment and company performance.  He went on to describe some of the common mistakes large enterprises make, such as setting up siloed “Innovation Hubs” and spending too much time (and post-it notes) on creativity & ideas.

So what is the answer to making meaningful innovation happen?

Tendayi suggested that the key lies in management and organisational structure, with many corporate processes being actively harmful.  For example, a £5,000 proof of concept should not need a 50-page business case!

He also explained the importance of clearly defined processes to enable rather than hinder innovation, particularly around budgeting and investment decisions.  And at a strategic level, this innovation framework should map back to a long-term plan for which areas of innovation to focus on, taking into consideration the existing markets & products of the organisation.

Lots to think about – you can read more on the topic from Tendayi on his blog.

Unexpected challenges in IoT pioneering

Later I joined a presentation from our colleagues Camilo Mesias and Roger Whitely, taking a very honest look at some of the IoT projects the Fujitsu team have worked on.

Clearly, IoT is an exciting area of development, attracting lots of attention from the technology community.  But it’s not all glamourous state of the art labs, as Cam’s vivid description of the unique challenges faced by IoT sensors in a sewage pumping station made abundantly clear!

Returning to the theme of business challenges, one of the key takeaways from Cam and Roger was the importance of setting clear scope and success criteria with the customer for any IoT pilot.  With such a powerful, pervasive technology there is a great temptation to explore every possible application – but this can lead to huge disappointment.  It’s far better to start small and prove the business value before expanding.

It was also interesting to see the importance of creating a story & excitement around the potential for new technology.  Cam & Roger used the example of a consumer Kickstarter product to show how getting customers enthusiastic about an offering by getting them engaged in the development process can achieve great results.

This kind of approach hasn’t typically been common in the business technology world, but as buyers are increasingly open to disruption and working with smaller partners, it’s something that has to change.

Being truly in tune with your customers

In one of the final breakout sessions, my colleagues Tim Moody and Eric Pierson from GlobeRanger explained how they are working to get closer to their customers to provide better solutions.

To set the context, Tim cited Gartner analysis suggesting that, contrary to much industry hype, the advantage of “digital native” organisations isn’t down to the technology, the money or secret IPR – it is in fact superior leadership thinking and competencies.

One of these superior competencies is being user-centric – making the experience of technology perfect for the customer.  This makes sense in the consumer world, but how can we satisfy this demand for large enterprise customers?

The first step adopted by the GlobeRanger team has been to deeply understand the customer – not as monolithic organisations, but as individuals.  For example, in a warehouse environment, an operations manager will have very different requirements to a picking operative.

Working from this understanding, the next step is to understand where technology can really add value.  Perhaps surprisingly, the GlobeRanger team found that value is often not in end user roles – for example, the picking operative may not see a huge material difference in their day to day work with better use of technology.  However, the improvements for back-office teams can be immense.

This process helps the team to continually improve and optimise the service for customers.

Finally, wherever possible we should use data rather than intuition to understand what customers really need.  A great example of this is analysis of app usage. Taking the warehouse example, looking at where & how employees are using an inventory tracking app can deliver vital insights into overall business performance.

This isn’t just valuable intelligence for the customer, but again allows the GlobeRanger team to optimise and improve.

Top takeaways…

It was a pleasure to attend such thought provoking sessions with some consistent themes emerging.  Lots of food for thought and indeed a few challenges for us at Fujitsu!

To summarise the key points for me:

  • Innovation isn’t just a technology exercise – the whole business needs to support it.
  • To deliver rapid innovation, customers and partners need to work together, agree clear success criteria and keep the scope of proof-of-concepts small and well defined.
  • Customer understanding is absolutely crucial to delivering business value through innovation, and data can be key to this understanding.

That’s not all from our FDE Conference – you can catch up on our report from the keynote here.

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