The Infosys Labs research blog tracks trends in technology with a focus on applied research in Information and Communication Technology (ICT)

Main

September 30, 2013

Ten Challenges of a Chief Innovation Officer

It is very easy to allocate funds and develop a strategy for innovation within an organization, however it is very difficult to make it successful and keep the interest of innovators. If innovation program is not managed well then it loses its importance in very short period of time. While implementing innovation program, there are many challenges such as operational, financial and resources, etc. However, ten main challenges for sustainable innovation management are discussed as following.    

1. Innovation Governance is the key for major decision making, such as acceptance of an idea for incubation, funding of an idea and marketing of finished product or service. Innovation governance should have decision makers from various functions of an organization as well as from outside of the organization. It should also have subject matter experts. This varied group helps to select the best ideas for incubation. They also decide the funding required and helps to calculate the risk associated with the innovation idea. The challenge for innovation officer is to define most effective governance structure and proactive members for various roles of governance.

2. Innovation Team is essential to execute the innovation program. This team must have entrepreneurial mindset. Thus, they have to be psychologically assessed on their entrepreneurial skills before they are selected for various roles of innovation office. These team members should have varied experience and skills. Identifying such team is a serious challenge for chief innovation office as entrepreneurial quality people are few.

3. Innovation Process has to be very simple and transparent. There should not be delay/gap between two connecting processes. For example, after submission of an idea by innovator, its result has to be declared in very short time. Otherwise, innovator usually loses interest and rarely pursues idea to the next level. Also, chances of innovator to participate again are rare. Thus, innovation processes should speed up the procedure and not to hurdle the innovation program. Also, numbers of processes have to be minimal. Innovation office has to work like a startup. Thus, has to be more informal in processes and quick in action. Therefore, innovation officer has to manage the balance between organizational formal set of processes and informal set up of innovation office. Automated innovation program management portal is very useful for managing innovation processes.

4. Innovation Tools are essential for training of innovators. Very first time, innovators mostly fail to realize the concept of innovative idea. Thus, their ideas are unrealistic or less valuable to the organization. Many participants are enthusiastic to contribute in innovation program but may not be able to understand how to participate because they face challenges in generating ideas. Thus, innovation tools come handy for innovators. These tools help them to make their idea more powerful and useful to the organization. There are many tools available. But, the real challenge for innovation officer is how to train innovators on these tools. It is very difficult to train every interested person in class room. Therefore, best way is to use online learning.   

5. Idea Selection for incubation is the process after idea submission by innovators. In this step, every idea is thoroughly investigated for its possible business potential and investment required. As investment is required in incubation and commercialization of an idea, every idea has to be analyzed on various risky parameters. Usually idea selection model is used to quantify the potential of an idea. Thus, innovation officer has to see that idea selection model is well defined and customized according to the need of domain and organizational business needs.

6. Innovation Portfolio has to be well balanced with combination of ideas having low (L) risk, medium (M) risk and high (H) risk. More the risk better is the rewards. However, more risk also leads to chances of investment loss. Thus, innovation officer has to define initial portfolio with lower risk and has to transform it to moderate risk portfolio over a period. Thus, first innovation portfolio should look like 10-20-70; it mean that 10% resources allocation for high risk projects, 20% for medium risk and 70% on low risk projects. After transformation, new portfolio should have more projects from both medium risk and high risk. Thus, new innovation portfolio should be 15-35-50 or 15-45-40 on H-M-L risk. The challenge for innovation office is to select the best proportion of projects of various risks, which suits the organization.

7. Rapid Prototype is the key in assessing the idea quickly and also reduces time required to take the idea to market. Agile methodology has to be adopted to develop the quick prototype of an idea. It reduces the investment required and gives better picture of an idea in a short period of time. It also reduces the risk because the idea can be judged before going into full-fledged production. Survey can be conducted on prototype to understand an acceptance of idea by customers. If the idea is well accepted by customers then prototype is transferred for production otherwise idea can be scrapped, thus it reduces further investment. The challenge for innovation officer is to select tool(s) and methodology for quick development of prototype with less investment.

8. Rewards and Recognitions is the integral part of innovation program. It attracts innovators for participation as well as it is the way to recognize their contribution. Though, the overall structure of rewards and recognition has to be in parallel with an organization policy, but considering the importance of innovation and psyche of participants, it has to be tweaked to match their interest. It is essential to give rewards or recognitions at each stage of innovation process. This keeps participants involvement very high. The challenge for innovation officer is to decide the rewards and the recognition given which will appeal the innovators. Officer also has to balance the organization's rewards and recognition policy and rewards given to innovators.

9. Innovator Engagement tactics keep innovator's participation high in the innovation program. Better engagement is possible only by transparent and automated processes. Innovators also have to be supported for idea elaboration and should be allowed to lead their ideas if selected for incubation. The innovation officer has to identify and implement all possible means to keep innovators engaged. Rewards and recognition also helps keep them engaged.

10. Success Measurement of innovation program is necessary as organizations are investing into program.  Hence, they are interested to know how innovation program is effective within the organization. Challenge for innovation officer is to define the best measurement method. While defining measurement method, innovation officer has to decide the combination of non-financial and financial parameters for measurement. The non-financial parameters are very important during the early stages of innovation program. Also, it is essential to note that success measurement has to be aligned with the purpose of innovation program. Linking success only with the return on investment is most likely to showcase as failure of innovation program, which is not always true because many in-tangible benefits can be realized through innovation program.

How should an Innovation Portfolio be?

Deciding an innovation portfolio is one of the big challenges for chief innovation office. It involves deciding about which innovation ideas have to be incubated, considering the investment required and risk involved in every idea.

Every potential idea may look like a gold mine which may change the fate of the company. However, it may not be always true because there is a risk of failure in every idea. Thus, before investing into an idea, it is required to assess an idea to manage the investment risk. Adoption of portfolio approach for incubating ideas is a better way to manage the investment risk.

Innovation portfolio should typically look like a combination of multiple ideas of low, medium and high risk. We can use the analogy of A-B-C rule where, A stands for bucket of projects of high risk, B stands for bucket of projects of medium risk and C stands bucket of projects of low risk.

Organizations should have their initial innovation portfolio based on A-B-C- or H-M-L Rule. Thus, initial innovation portfolio should look like:

  1. A or H Bucket of Projects: This is a bucket of high risk innovation projects. These projects are usually radical/transformational and mostly new to industry. These projects are focused on developing new generation products or services, and usually use emerging or very new technologies. Being high risky projects, the numbers of projects are limited to few so that sufficient attention can be provided to control the risk and maximize return. Return on investment on this bucket of projects can give up to 60%, while which resources allocation can be up to 10% of total resources/efforts used in innovation. 
  2. B or M Bucket of Projects: This is a bucket of medium risk projects. These innovation projects are mostly new to organization and focuses on development of products or services those are new to the organization but known to industry. These projects usually leverage existing technologies. Considerable return can be expected from this bucket which may rise up to 25% and resources allocation can be up to 20% of total resources/efforts used in innovation. 
  3. C or L Bucket of Projects: This is a bucket of low risk projects. Resources allocation can be 70% of total resources/efforts used in innovation. These projects are usually incremental changes in existing products or services of the organization. Thus, risk is very low; hence, return on investment is also not much and may be up to 15%. Many times benefits may be non-financial or in-tangible. The use of technologies is restricted to mature and well accepted technologies.

How to allocate the project into L, M or H bucket is a critical task. Organization can have their own model for allocation of the project into their respective buckets. While developing the model, following parameters and questions can be used:

  • Novelty: What is novelty of an idea?
  • Market: What is market size of an idea?
  • Customer: What is the benefit to a customer?
  • Growth: How is it supporting the growth of the organization?
  • Allocation of resources: What are the resources required?
  • Investment: How much is the investment required?
  • Return on investment: How much is expected return on investment? Is it tangible or intangible?
  • Competition pressure: Is there any pressure because the competitor has adopted it?
    Risk: How much risk is involved?
  • Technologies Used: What kind of technologies are required to develop an idea and, are those mature?

Aggregated reply to the above questions on certain measurement scale will help to allocate project to any one of the buckets H,M, or L.

During initial phase of innovation, typically innovation portfolio may have maximum number of projects of incremental changes or low risk. These types of projects will never generate expected growth from the innovation portfolio, thus portfolio has to be transformed over a period from low risk to medium risk.

As organization matures on innovation, it should systematically analyze innovation portfolios and manage risk to increase the proportion of innovation projects having more risk and more rewards. Thus, H-M-L portfolio should not look like 10-20-70 or low risk portfolio. The new portfolio should have more projects from medium risk and from high risk. Thus, new innovation portfolio should be 15-35-50 or 15-45-40 on H-M-L risk.

Periodically or every year organization should evaluate their innovation portfolio to see the ratio of H-M-L. It should neither be in low risk zone nor be in very high risk zone. Having low risk or very high risk in innovation portfolio may always lead to failure of innovation program.

References:

  • Day, G. S., (2007). Is It Real? Can We Win? Is It Worth Doing? Managing Risk and Reward in an Innovation Portfolio. Harvard Business Review, December, pp. 110-120.
  • Nagji B., & Tuff G., (2012).Managing Your Innovation Portfolio. Harvard Business Review, May, pp. 68-74.

September 27, 2013

Dilemma of Innovative Idea

Innovator usually has two questions - Is my idea innovative? The answer is simple- YES, but at the same time organization may or may not accept it for incubation. Thus, innovator has next question- How organization select the idea for incubation.

Dictionary meaning of innovation is something new, may be a new method, process or a product, etc. Thus, innovative idea has to be new. When we say an innovative idea or a new idea, we always think about a path breaking idea or a very unique idea which never existed in this universe. However, this common perception is untrue. Are we looking for innovation or invention? In an invention, we look for something new which never existed, while in an innovation newness has an importance but it may exist somewhere else and not in the current context of idea. Innovation can't be an invention rather it is smart adoption of invention. One of the best and the most commercially successful nature inspired invention- Velcro is biommicry of burdock burrs. This invention has innovatively used in various products and we always see new innovations of it. Thus, Velcro is a single invention and has used in multiple innovations.

There are many such examples of innovations which are derived from inventions. Most of us believe that touchscreen based mobile is the best innovation. Is touch-screen an innovation? No, touch screen technology was invented in 1965, and it is in the use since then for various purposes. Some of us might have seen touch screen based Kiosk before the launch of touch screen based mobile. Then, what is the innovation in touch screen based mobile; and the answer is - replacing physical keypad by touch screen to improve user experience. Thus adoption of technology for better experience is the real innovation. Another good example is LED. They are in the market since 1968 and since then we have seen many innovations around them. The recent one is adoption for house/office and car lighting. Thus, innovation necessarily need not be invention.

Innovative idea can also be the smart implementation of things from the other fields. Use of camera and social media in a mobile is the best example of innovation which integrated two known different technologies. It helped user to take a picture and upload immediately on a social media site. E-commerce is the good example of better implementation of the same idea. Amazon used it successfully and made it popular though it was in use before Amazon. Some innovations are also adopted from the nature. Most innovative aerodynamic designs of automobiles are inspired by nature.

Therefore, apart from the dictionary definition of an innovative idea, it can also be defined as any existing idea which is new in the context of its use.

By this definition, organization may not always accept and invest in new ideas. Organizations will always look for some qualifier to nominate an innovative idea for incubation. This qualifier is an opportunity in pursuing the idea. The opportunities are mostly financial or nonfinancial. After using touch screen into mobiles, the handset manufactures earned a lot of money. This is a clear case of financial benefits. However, improving the processes within the organization for the speedy approval of employee's welfares may be nonfinancial benefit for the organization but positive impact on the productivity because of the employee's happiness is the real benefit for the organization.
When an organization is looking for a new idea, it is mostly judged by the size of opportunity or impact of an idea over a business and a customer, and infrastructure readiness of the organization. Every organization has its own model for calculating size of opportunity or impact of an idea over a business.

If organization is ready for accepting the innovative idea then the next question is, how and who will pursue it in the organization. The answer is simple- it depends on the size of opportunity or impact of an idea over a business. If opportunity or impact is huge then organization usually pursues it on the high priority and may be incubated centrally or at unit level. If opportunity or impact is not so great but organization has advantage if implemented and also investment required is also manageable, then idea is implemented as a routine work. Mostly incremental changes are implemented through regular channel rather than innovative idea.  Sometimes, idea may be implemented without considering an opportunity or impact because competitor has implemented it or it is pursued as an edge over the competitors.

Thus, innovator has to understand the two set of questions to overcome the dilemma

  1. Idea: Is the idea new? Is it completely new or adopted from other areas? What is it the best way to adopt a new idea?
  2. Idea Buying by Organization: Why organization should adopt the idea? Who will be benefited from the implementation of your idea? Why is this idea important for the organization? What is the size of opportunity? What is the impact on business? Is it financial or nonfinancial gain to organization?

The last and most important question is: Will you start your startup with this idea? If answer is yes, then there is high probability that your idea may be accepted for incubation by the organization.

 

March 29, 2013

The Year of the MOOC - Part 2 of 2

In my previous blog, I spoke about how MOOC companies have made eLearning scalable using technology for content creation and delivery. In this blog, we will explore possible revenue models these companies can look at. Any successful company has three components to it: the market, the offerings, and the revenue model. Going by the number of people registering for such open courses, there is clearly a large market for this. Given that the courses are administered by faculty from top universities and combining this with scalable delivery model, the offerings piece is addressed. If MOOC companies can crack the revenue model, it is only a matter of time before they become profitable .

The education market in US is expected to be a trillion dollar industry. The market across the global is much more. How can MOOC companies grab a piece of this pie? According to the standard definition of MOOC, the participating individuals are neither required to be registered in a school nor pay a fee to access the course content. Hence the companies cannot charge a fee for administering the course. So the key to a successful revenue model in this industry is for companies to offer paid services around free course content. Following are some thoughts on how MOOCs can build a sustainable revenue model

1.     Premium Memberships: The premium membership model has been tried, tested and perfected by companies such as linkedin. MOOC companies can adopt this model and convert a section of students and corporations into paying customers. Students with premium membership will have access to targeted job opportunities while employers will be able to view student profiles and recommend courses for securing interviews along with administering online tests and interviews. Students with premium memberships could also attend company sponsored weekend meetups and classroom sessions at local colleges.

2.     Platform/Content Licensing: MOOC companies can license the platform/content to universities and businesses and provide a host of related services for a fee. Universities can primarily use this platform/content for hosting 101 level courses which can be completed by enrolled university students during breaks. This will allow the students to get started on higher level courses without wasting time on basics. This will also free up the faculty time to design and teach higher level courses and conduct academic research. Businesses can use this platform to customize and host their own training material along with using this to interview prospective employees. Businesses can also establish partnerships with universities through which professors can design and deliver tailored courses. MOOC companies can provide paid services such as training for corporate trainers along with a host of other services such as course content design, assessment and grading.

3.     Personalized Curriculum Design: The current day online programs offered by some universities are highly structured and are administered at regular intervals. Compared to this, the courses offered by MOOCs are fairly arbitrary. MOOCs can allow individuals to design a personalized curriculum by mixing and matching courses from different universities and tie up with certifying vendors to offer proctored exams thus allowing individuals to earn course credits for a nominal fee. Such an offering will allow the individual to treat the MOOC as a regular college course with credits that can be used for employment opportunities.

The traditional college experience is about to change and MOOCs will be driving this change. As individuals attain the basic employable skills, they will prefer to join the workforce and start earning, simultaneously building their skills by enrolling in MOOCs rather than bear the opportunity cost of earning that comes with a full time classroom course. If MOOCs can successfully implement course credits, proctored exams, and offer basic employment services, individuals will be open to pay for the high quality content and services around it putting MOOCs in direct competition with universities. The future of MOOCs depend on how best and how early they can get individuals to start paying up for services around free courses.

January 3, 2013

The Retail Shrink Problem

The next time you are in a retail store and you hear a loud beep at the exit, only to see somebody being stopped and their bags/ bills being checked, you can be sure that the retail outlet is relying on some form of 'anti shrink' solution. You would be surprised to know that retailers in the US, lost about $41 Billion (source: Global Retail Theft Barometer 2011) last year to some form of shrinkage or the other. So what is this shrinkage problem all about? Simply put, it's the discrepancy between physical inventory and the recorded inventory through its movement in the supply chain (from the manufacturer through Point of Sale). Shrink can be attributed to multiple reasons, major reason being theft by employees and shoppers (shoplifting), and in a majority of instances, theft is committed in connivance with each other. According to the 'Global Retail Theft Barometer 2011', the main causes for 'shrinkage' was Shoplifting (35.8%), Employee Theft (44.1%), Suppliers/ vendors (4.2%) and internal error (15.9%).

Almost all the retailers have been focusing on 'theft management', using multiple solutions, these include - Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) systems, RFID tagging, Point of Sale (POS) exceptions tracking solutions , video surveillance etc. Other solutions include - hiring people and training them on theft prevention, routine audits to track exceptions between various points of entry and exit in the sales process, physical security of high value SKUs, pre-employment checks etc. Despite these measures the shrink rate is still a cause of concern, mainly because these reasons

      - Solutions are designed to address symptoms (theft prevention) and are not comprehensive solutions focused on integrity of the inventory

- Reactive and event based solutions - shrinkage is recognized post the 'shrink event', and not in real-time or as a pre-emptive measure

- Data of Physical inventory is based on non-periodic physical counts, which are not helpful in any real-time visibility of inventory, thereby making any predictive analysis impossible

- Key decisions for loss prevention are based on analysis of historic data and there are no data points available to analyze the effect of any remedial measures implemented

- Shrink management is largely dependent on the people stationed on the retail shopfloor to spot potential shrink events

- Unclear ROI matrix for investment in new technologies for managing 'shrink'

I believe we need to address the problem of shrink with an integrated approach, which looks at bringing integrity to the physical inventory cycle, rather than focusing only on theft. This is possible by increasing the number of data points within this cycle to analyze, especially between the entry and exit of inventory from the retail shopfloor. A potential solution is envisaged as below,

- Comprehensive solution which gathers data at multiple points in real-time

- Avanced Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS)/ RFID tags at an SKU level

- Smart shelf and Smart cart (Infosys products) solutions which tracks inventory on retail shelf and its movement thereafter in real-time

-  Image recognition/ video analytics at POS terminal, to address potential employee/ shopper connivance, matched with POS data

- EAS/ RFID sensors at exit matched with POS data

-  An analytics engine which uses the above data to provide exception management in real-time

- Predictive/ Preventive analysis based on patterns/ trends that will enable management to 'heat map' incidence of shrink events, which could be at a SKU level, store level, geography, time of the year and other significant metrics 

 

Continue reading "The Retail Shrink Problem" »

December 26, 2012

The Year of the MOOC - Part 1 of 2

 

2012 may well be known as the year for disruption in the education space. Ever since the formal establishment of education systems, learning was primarily a physical activity where a student visited a school to listen to the lectures, interact with fellow classmates, complete group projects , and finally clear an exam for earning credits and a degree. The whole activity required a student to dedicate significant amount of time and money.  The first entry of technology into the education space was by companies such as Blackboard Inc. which started building enterprise software to improve  efficiency and streamline processes in educational institutions. However, the consumer side of the education did not witness any disruption until after the financial crisis.

 

The financial crisis, was in one way, a key trigger which led to revolutionizing the consumer side of the education business. Millions of people lost jobs and were looking to ride the recession by going back to school which would put them in a good position when the economy bounced back. At the same time, the cost of education was rising as universities faced budget cuts and saw decreasing enrollments from foreign students due to a weak job market while crisis ridden banks pulled the plug on student loans. The time seemed ripe for a revolution in higher education which would offer high quality content at zero cost.

 

Companies such as Coursera and Udacity leveraged technology and built platforms for massive open online courses (MOOC). Coursera founded last year by two Stanford profs Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller has partnered with 33 universities to offer educational content to over 2M registered users who can complete courses online to earn a certificate of merit.  In the education industry, the three important factors that make up the heart of the system are content and its delivery, interaction among fellow students, and assessment and grading. The MOOC companies have effectively leveraged technology to scale up on these three factors

 

  1. Course design and Content Delivery: In the education space, content and delivery is the king and technology has played a key role in the design and delivery of the course content thus making it accessible to millions of users across the globe. The courses are designed to be interactive with easy to follow and understand videos containing pauses for quizzes. Today, anyone with a computer/smartphone and an internet connection can earn a certificate by enrolling in a course and spending approx. 4-8 hrs per week reviewing video content. Each video focusses on a particular topic and is approximately 10 min long. The audio content is primarily in english but eager students from across the world are adding sub titles to make the content usable to fellow students for whom english is not a primary language.
  2. Collaboration: A hallmark of the traditional class room system is the collaboration between students and with the faculty. To bridge this gap in the online world, MOOC companies have created virtual collaboration spaces where students can pose questions that are answered by fellow students. Every participating individual can vote threads which will help the top rated threads to bubble up. Moreover each thread is monitored by teaching associates to ensure the accuracy of the content. Global student base ensures that answers and comments flow in rapidly making time zones irrelevant thus making student interactions pervasive and real time
  3. Grading: In a traditional class room setup, grading is typically done by the professors or teaching assistants. However, in MOOC, due to large number of participating students, it is impossible for a professor/TA to grade every student individually. The online peer grading system has helped solve this challenge. In Coursera, the platform randomly assigns each student, 5 peer students whose work needs to be graded. Only if the student grades a minimum of 5 students, will his work be graded. To address the issue of a particular student giving bad grades to fellow students because of a misunderstood assignment, the system considers an average score rather than a single score.

 

The MOOC companies are a classic example of how young businesses can leverage technology to build scale and take their services to the masses at low cost. Along with building scale, technology has helped remove important roadblocks in the digital distribution and consumption of high quality educational content and has disrupted an industry where innovation has virtually been absent. From the consumer perspective, any individual from any corner of the world with a computer/smartphone and an internet connection can now learn from the best teachers and be part of a global classroom at zero cost.

 

By intelligently adopting emerging technologies around collaboration, media, and social, traditional colleges can easily scale their course content delivery and attract students and professionals from all corners of the globe. By charging a nominal fee for giving credits, this can be converted into a successful revenue generating model. Unless the college get their act right now, MOOCs will displace traditional education systems and colleges will be a thing of the past.

 

An important challenge that yet remains unaddressed is the business model for MOOCs. In my next blog, I'll shed some light on how MOOCs can build a sustainable business model.

November 9, 2012

Changing Trends in the Consumer Ecosystem

A recent study by the global consulting firm Mckinsey&Co suggests that, of the mega trends that will affect the Consumer Packaged Goods(CPG) Industry over the next decade, a change in profile of the consumer is ranked as one of the most significant of all trends. The changes in consumer profile is the result of demographic shifts in certain parts of the world, changes in consumer buying preferences (value products as opposed to 'branded products') and the all-pervasive 'rise of the digital consumer'. To address these changes, the CPG industry will grapple with multiple issues, related to consumer engagement, given the new paradigm of changing consumer preferences for products/ services. Significantly how these products/ services are delivered with the most relevant (and best) consumer experience on platforms which are innovative and accomplishing tasks in the most efficient and effective way

While it seems a tall order to change the traditional mode of engaging the consumers for a mature Industry, these challenges are being addressed by some of the leading CPG companies in innovative ways, where the key aspects of engagement  - Consumer, product and engagement context are brought together. Let's look at the example of a leading food and beverages company, which launched a unique contest to bring crowd-sourced ideas for new flavours for their popular brand of crisps. The result was that about 8 million ideas were generated covering multiple countries, with about 20 of these flavours being launched commercially. The significant outcome of this was that large number of consumers were brought on a platform where they actively participated in creating new products (consumer+product+engagement contex) for consumption by its own community. Take for instance the case of a leading footwear manufacturer who has innovated a kiosk which uses about 2000 sensors to enable orthotics solutions for its consumers, redefining the traditional mode of engaging the consumer, not just to provide more effective and relevant products but also customize the user experience.

There are multiple instances of innovation in the 'consumer engagement' space, especially given the growing pervasiveness of digital media, now being experimented and adopted by the CPG industry. The understanding is that digital media, changing mode of consumer engagement and the given mega trends that the Industry needs to address, more such innovations will become imperative.