Innovation in large organizations as well as in medium-sized companies usually happens in many places at once with lots of different stakeholders being involved. Each of these business unit serves a specialized purpose along the value chain and thereby has its very own approach and perspective towards innovation.
Customer service, sales and marketing are the obvious contact points for client feedback and insights. Therefore, their innovation focus centers a lot around creating a convenient customer journey and optimizing current offerings. Furthermore, they keep their eyes and ears close to the market and to competitors trying to identify future trends and requirements early on.
Product, R&D and manufacturing on the other hand are more employee driven relying heavily on their own ideas, knowledge and creativity or having access to external sources. Here, innovation is often supported by using data, dedicated analysis mechanisms and intelligent technology. The main goal is to design new products, services or business models and quickly push the most promising ones to a marketable stage.
Procurement, business development and partner management are the departments which risk a look across organizational boundaries more often than the others. Either searching for new competencies, assets and synergies or valuable talents and partnerships. Their innovation approach tends to shake organizational structures, alters corporate culture and focuses on internalizing new potential.
In the best case all those business areas derive their initiatives from a unifying company strategy, yet each innovation activity demands another method and mode of implementation. This creates a series of probable challenges for a company.
- several initiatives running parallelly with no contact to one another
- many entry points for innovation creating dependencies and uncertainties
- incompatibility of frameworks, systems and data
- silo structures with no interaction and collaboration
- little flow of information, ideas, knowledge and skills along the value chain
- risk of the same work being done multiple times in different departments
- business areas competing with each other over responsibilities and financing
- common innovation strategy only exists on paper
One infrastructure to unite it all
In order to avoid the aforementioned problems as best as possible, companies should look for a solution which is flexible enough to host specialized use cases for various departments while tying them all together via one central infrastructure.
This not only helps to make innovation a real company mission integrating as many stakeholders as possible, but also connects ideas, knowledge and assets across organizational boundaries making them available for broader innovation initiatives.
Of course, it’s not practical to crush all existing solutions at once and replace them with something new the next day. The existing frameworks usually evolve from a long journey of optimization and discussion to meet the requirements of the respective departments. In the best case they stay intact and are either transferred to the new solution or docked onto it via an interface.
The main goal of the new infrastructure is to depict proven frameworks, close known weak points and introduce ways of doing it better or tap into not considered potential. It should fit organically in organizational structures while pushing the implementation of fresh connections and more collaboration.
For companies it is a good starting point to look for methods and approaches that are missing in the current innovation portfolio. There is no need to start big right away. Best to start with one use case and then build on that foundation depending on what is needed to get projects and ideas to the next stage.
Linking the value chain
For example, a company has various innovation initiatives in place, but is still struggling to meet the expectations of their customers. Why not setting up an additional project, which enables the company to get in direct contact and interaction with the users of their offerings?
A variation of the design thinking approach mixed with elements of crowdsourcing and intelligent voting mechanisms should do the job of identifying and condensing the feedback and ideas or a large number of participants into actionable outcome right away.
Now, the company has generated valid insights for better decision-making in the following development steps. But, knowing what to do and actually doing it are two entirely different things. What if the created ideas are all great, but the company doesn’t know which ones it can pursue with its current assets and production capabilities?
The company takes this first use case as a foundation and now attaches another one right behind it, which ensures that the promising ideas get the chance to unveil their true potential. Some sort of funding and accelerator system comes to mind, which provides ideas with money, resources and manpower to get them started.
After a set deadline all funded projects deliver their results, prototypes or other deliverables that have been promised. The company is now in the position to evaluate which ideas it can pursue, how much investment is to be expected and which competencies or technologies are maybe missing.
Again, with a unifying innovation infrastructure it’s no great effort to add yet another use case along the value chain. It’s likely that the company wants to collaborate with one of their partners, suppliers or even new stakeholders to internalize the last missing pieces they need to push the original idea of the customer to manufacturing and market launch.
They can simply set up a dedicated tender or an open innovation challenge to their business contacts and tap into the knowledge and skills of their own network. This not only helps for this specific challenge, but also strengthens relations with business partners while establishing a reliable framework for future projects.
With the right technology all business areas of a company go hand in hand and profit from one another rather than operating on their own. Especially for the task of innovation there is hardly any other way, if companies want to shake off their competition and be fast enough to set new standards in the market.