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December 24, 2012

Got the Technology? Now get Innovative.

Posted by Madhu Janardan (View Profile | View All Posts) at 6:49 AM

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From merely supporting business competitiveness to becoming a catalyst of change and tomorrow-readiness, technology has come a long way. There is growing understanding and increasing consensus about its potential to seed opportunities of the future. Few will argue about the proactive role technology is playing in shaping business; and we all agree it's an equal participant in generating ideas for "what else" business can or needs to be. Yet, often times, I think it's not the technology, within the enterprise, so much as the organization's innovation quotient, when it comes to levergaing that technology meaningfully and innovatively, that can make that 'survive-or-thrive' difference.

Really, it's quite simple. Imagine, for instance, a race where one participant's technology is a Formula 1 car. Behind the wheel of that hotrod sits a teenager who has scant experience maneuvering any car, let alone an F1 model. Now imagine that a regular SUV represents the technology owned by the racer's arch rival. But suppose a professional driver operates that car. Even with the underpowered car, there's no doubt that the seasoned professional will win the race against the teenager in the hotrod. The pro knows how to squeeze every last ounce of power from his machine. He knows how to make the car operate to its fullest potential. To be sure, I'm not an advocate of investing in sub-standard technology for the organization. I'm simply demonstrating the role of experience and skill when it comes to leveraged technology - innovatively. Effectively. Even though the novice driver might have a superior machine at his disposal, he doesn't know how to make it do what it was designed to do - win races. He doesn't have what it takes to exploit the real potential of the F1 model.

Today's competitive marketplace is filled with daily races won by those enterprises that know how to utilize the technology at their disposal. Think of those banks that have expanded their customer base profitably to include the hitherto unbanked. They leveraged the humble yet ubiquitious mobile phone to make that happen. Look at smart firms around you modernizing infrastructure. They are not replacing hardware or undertaking on-premise transformation. They've simply moved to hiring Cloud infrastructure and capacity on demand. Many firms have stopped grappling with the challenge of building new products all by themselves. They are innovating with existing technology to co-create products and services with customers, and integrate customers into their core processes.

A savvy retailer client of ours is using Bluetooth and allied communications technology to scan for individual shoppers within their stores. Once a shopper launches a particular application on her mobile device, (made available for easy and free download by our client) it notifies the store's system about where the shopper is within the store. The system can build upon that shopper's buying preference and actually direct that person to particular aisles where there are items that she is more likely to buy. By using mobile technology in harmony with supply chain management systems and a customer database, they custom-target each person within their stores with a unique message. They also use all the derived collective intelligence, from these interactions, to evolve their store experience. That's the kind of strategy and execution that comes from a marriage of technology and innovation within an enterprise. Their rival retailers, of course, have many of those systems at their disposal. But without innovation in using the technology to differentiate and evolve business, they might as well put up a large billboard with sale items for all customers to see.

Speaking of billboards, there's a reason the advertising industry, that used to be run by creative teams, and now run by algorithms. It's a variation on the supply chain theme: Innovative enterprises use their customers' Web shopping preferences to stock merchandise and develop new items they know their customer base is sure to demand in the future. They use technology to data-mine for buying preferences; customers are driving merchandising decisions.

As business leaders look to grow in these turbulent times, a significant number believe their success depends on doubling their revenue from new sources over the next couple of years. To me, that reads as - "Technology with a big dose of innovation"

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