‘New business’ doesn’t have to be a startup. It can be innovation within a large company. Here, I cover problems I have seen with innovation in larger businesses with some thoughts on how to go about re-gaining some control.

New innovation areas include mobile, cloud, AI and IoT. There are also super-sets of areas such as Industry 4.0. Whatever the area, the problems are often similar because they come about mainly due to organisational rather technical reasons.

Out of Control

  • There’s often paralysis when faced with questions such as which tools, vendors, architectures or platforms to use. There’s usually ambiguity as to who is responsible for answering these questions.
  • Departments tend to argue over who and how new tech development should be performed within the organisation. Such cases usually result in separate parts of the company going it alone with separate ‘do it yourself’ or outsourced work. An example manifestation of this, in mobile, is multiple app publishers on the store, from one company, confusing end users.
  • Some companies make the common mistake of overloading an existing IT operations person with sole responsibility for some or all aspect of new tech. They won’t get the time, existing operations will always take priority and new tech won’t get done.
  • Bold companies try to do everything in house but run up against productivity barriers. There’s often a common theme of building things from scratch, rather than re-use, due to not knowing what is worth using. There are also other common problems such as over-long initiatives, no oversight, not creating domain specific libraries for re-use and lack of knowing what to test.
  • Most large organisations have, so called, siloed data that could be used to provide for disruptive innovation but that data is protected and closed by overzealous staff and departments.
  • Many organisations have challenges scaling solutions, particularly in the area of AI machine learning. It’s often the case that the skills needed to champion something and get it going in a lab are different to those required for rollout.
  • Some projects stall because stakeholders expect and look for an off-the-shelf solution that doesn’t exist. While vertical solutions sometimes exist, it’s usually the case they don’t solve all the key problems and are inflexible to current and future changes.
  • There’s a general shortage of skills in key tech areas, both within businesses and externally. It’s not just the skills themselves but also sub-areas such as designing, creating, securing and operating within these tech areas. Demand for these skills is exceeding supply. Traditional IT departments usually can’t cope as they are already treading water managing legacy IT infrastructure.

Gaining Control

  • Improve IT Skills. It’s of limited use and expensive to rely solely on external skills. Start an internal IT skills revolution to upskill and re-skill staff. Create a team to train staff. All IT and admin staff need to work more with data, engineer solutions, diagnose and repair data problems and gradually take on more data analyst roles. Consider upskilling all staff, even those that are not IT literate by providing basic IT training. It helps when every employee understands how IT-related processes work and brings everyone up a level.
  • Get help. You can’t go it alone. Establish a few strategic partners. Suppliers bring in technologies as well as much needed experience. Encourage them to work with existing staff for upskilling and ensuring you can become more self-sufficient. Avoid expensive consultancies that will sometimes try to lock you in to suit their own needs. Instead, maximise your budget through the use of self-employed experts and SMEs who are designers, developers, engineers and repair/maintenance experts.
  • Change emphasis. Innovation needs to be business driven rather than tech driven with a focus on business concepts and the end users, rather than on the technology. There needs to be an emphasis on the use of new tech to solve identified problems, not its novelty value.
  • Avoid multiple independent initiatives so as to avoid redundancy, incompatibilities and competing visions.
  • Create a new internal steering team to govern and prioritise new tech and large-scale implementation of new skills and processes. Try to include staff across departments, stakeholders and maybe even suppliers. Include a new ‘chief innovation officer’ or ‘chief digital officer’ who is on the board. All this obviously needs significant support from senior executives without which your tech initiatives will quickly falter.
  • Change the way the company works so that legacy processes don’t stifle innovation. For example, streamline recruitment and purchasing for new tech to prevent blockages.
  • Take small, iterative steps rather than a large, long term initiative that gets cancelled before it is completed.
  • Combat siloed data problems using so called new ‘orthogonal data’ that is separate but related to existing data and provides analysis that can bridge the data to provide new insights and models. The advantage of creating new data is that it can be collected in an appropriate format for later analysis.
  • Avoid looking for a one-size-fits-all supplier. No single entity, whether a service provider, a software or hardware provider, or a vertical industry specialist, can address all of the many facets of an initiative.
  • Don’t seek a one size fits all solution that doesn’t exist. Instead, look for off-the-shelf standards based hardware, components and componentised software that can communicate in and out via standard protocols.

Summary

Aiming for a strategic, rather than random, deployment of digital technology provides cost savings, improved efficiency and better productivity. This, in turn, will allow you to outperform your competitors in areas such as revenue creation, profitability and market valuation.