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The innovation game is a results-driven business

Businesses are increasingly turning to IT as the source of their innovative opportunities

Gulf News

As Jose Mourinho lurches from one disaster to another, it seems increasingly likely that the Chelsea boss will be the next Premier League manager to fall on his sword.

The clocks may have only just gone back in the UK, but we’ve already seen supposedly long-term plans ripped up at Sunderland, Liverpool, and Aston Villa, and Roman Abramovich seems certain to act next. Football clubs like to talk a good game when it comes to being pragmatic, but the reality is that their toys are soon flying out of the pram after just a few bad results.

We shouldn’t really be surprised by this turn of events, because the time between the present and the future has been collapsing for years. Football clubs may talk grandiosely of “being in it for the long haul”, but the rest of the business world realised long ago that time stands still for no one; you either evolve or die. And it is for precisely this reason that businesses no longer routinely engage in five-year plans on the assumption that the world will remain fundamentally the same for that period of time.

In the so-called “beautiful game”, they react to this newfound reality with tiring predictability, blindly chasing after the latest tactical mastermind in the vain hope that he will somehow deliver a different set of results with the exact same resources. Albert Einstein would take one look at this lot and immediately dismiss them all as insane, but the managerial merry-go-round continues regardless.

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results has never been a blueprint for success in any walk of life, which is why business leaders the world over are increasingly viewing innovation as the true key to competing effectively.

And with the rise of revolutionary technologies such as cloud, mobility, Big Data analytics, social media, and the internet of Things, businesses are increasingly turning to IT as the source of their innovative opportunities.

So what exactly is “innovation”? It’s actually a tricky concept to pin down as no single definition can adequately encompass what it means to all the people all the time. In business terms, there are myriad different inventions and progressions that could qualify as innovation. From small but significant incremental improvements in processes to the most advanced leaps forward in products and services, innovation is the word that is applied to describe the resultant benefit.

At IDC, we believe that business innovation can be classified into a “spectrum” of five distinct styles: Maintain, Increment, Change, Transform, and Invent. Each of these styles has its own characteristics, but they’re not mutually exclusive. Indeed, nearly every enterprise will have projects, programs, and initiatives that belong to more than one category, but the most important thing to realise is that innovation doesn’t mean that every business has to focus on changing the world.

The desire to maintain the status quo may not seem like an opportunity for innovation, but the current rate of technological change makes it virtually impossible for enterprises to “stand still” without regressing and falling behind. Simply put, innovating to maintain requires a business to adopt technologies at a rate that is no slower than their market standing demands in order for them to not lose ground on the competition.

Incremental innovation is the next step up and signals a persistent, long-term commitment to gradual change. Enterprises that take this approach are often characterised by repetitive business practices that can’t be obliterated but can be improved in terms of efficiency, service delivery, and quality.

Change-directed innovation aims to deliver significant leaps in capability within a well-understood business paradigm. For example, developing hybrid cars changed the discussion about fuel efficiency but did not alter the basic configuration of a car or its use.

One of the principal goals in change innovation is to leap ahead of competitors by offering new features or qualities that are differentiated, without necessarily requiring the underlying business infrastructure to radically adapt.

IDC views transformative innovation as the process of redefining businesses in the context of their industry by radically altering the way they operate or reach their markets. Businesses like salesforce.com, Google, Apple, and Facebook took existing business-customer processes and transformed them.

For example, before iTunes and the iPod there was already Napster and portable MP3 players, but Apple transformed the music ecosystem. Equally, Facebook didn’t invent social networking, but it tapped into a way to use it that transformed social interactions on the Web.

Innovation by invention is perhaps the most obvious of them all, but it is also by far the hardest to achieve. The emergence of a technology, class of medicines, or means of travel where none existed before requires an all-out and all-in business commitment. It creates markets that didn’t exist before for something that might require a radically different infrastructure to support it. And there is no middle ground in this regard — businesses that fail to achieve their goals at this stage simply fail altogether.

However, as long as some form of progress is always being made, innovation doesn’t have to be a radical game changer. Ultimately, innovation initiatives must be judged by their individual goals, and as we have seen, these can vary wildly depending on the size of the business, the scope of its resources, and the benefits it envisages.

Crucially, these goals must be measurable in order to determine success, because just like football, the innovation game is a results-driven business.

The columnist is group vice-president and regional managing director for the Middle East, Africa and Turkey at global ICT market intelligence and advisory firm International Data Corporation (IDC) He can be contacted via Twitter @JyotiIDC.

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