Technology opens new opportunities and has made innovation crucial to all businesses. But doing so can be easier said than done
The moment you stop being innovative is the day your competitors start to get ahead. Fortunately, while SMEs may struggle to take advantage of the latest tech and insights, they have a huge advantage over bigger firms: they are quick and nimble. Moreover their managers and owners are naturally invested and curious about their industry.
However, the key to becoming a business open to innovation is to establish structures ensuring you get the best from your employees, partners and decision makers. That enables you to unlock natural innovation rather than being limited to top-down decisions from senior management or the company owner.
There are three types of innovation processes to consider to get this right: core, adjacent and transformational.
As the name suggests, core innovations consist of small yet meaningful improvements to the company’s products and services. Usually, they don't come from the business leadership but from its teams and customers.
Recognising this, it’s easy to see why it's important to be transparent about how ideas can be and are implemented. That way your employees can see how their ideas become a reality and be encouraged to contribute. Equally important is to maintain a central catalogue of all ideas people have.
Ideas should be small and itemisable for quick implementation and so should come from practical experience of existing processes.
Finally look at the level of incremental change that you think is right for the business and ensure this is properly allocated between your internal resources and technology providers, so that implementation is executed to an acceptable timeframe.
While core innovation meant changing existing products and services, adjacent innovation is about creating something demonstrably new that gives your business a competitive edge. For instance, this could mean making your processes more efficient, implementing new customer engagement methods, introducing new CRMs or flexible working.
This type of innovation comes from being aware of changes in technology and how customers are engaging in your market. Importantly, it's about understanding how these changes can be applied to your business.
An efficient way to do this is to have regular reviews with a technology partner that invests in research and development and investigates the wider market for useful tech. This should help you expand existing processes with a focus on new tools to reform areas of the business, rather than incremental change – and in doing so find ways that technology provides new options to create new, more customer-centric processes.
You can also encourage clients and suppliers to bring quality ideas into the business. This can be done through events, networking and good account management with your customers.
This type of innovation will typically involve an element of training and user adoption to ensure the new ideas or processes are properly implemented. Therefore, engagement to keep staff with you on the journey is key.
This type of innovation is about making big picture changes to an organisation, which could mean making business pivots on an innovative idea or technology to become a different business to how it was previously. This will involve changing both your organisation and the skills of your employees.
It shouldn't surprise anyone that these changes can be prompted by the arrival of disruptive startups like Uber and Airbnb. Although, they can also be triggered when existing big businesses look to adapt to changing customer behaviours or the introduction of new technology like AI and machine learning.
Given the huge change this transformation entails, it's crucial that you don’t rely purely on just one source for this type of innovation. Draw upon many different sources from the wider market like competitors and technology partners to evaluate the transformational options available. Remember that big data analytics reports are your friends here.
Importantly: don’t rush it. Many companies are seeing digital disruption as a case of ‘we-must-change-everything-we-do’. But in most cases true transformations flow naturally from the company’s previous state. Looking at how Apple became a media company or how Google grew into an advertising company are good examples of how businesses can fundamentally and naturally transform over time.
The risk of transformational change is that you disrupt your own existing business model without a suitable working replacement. The concept of FOMO (fear of missing out) can apply to digital disruption and accidentally motivate you into changes that are not ideal for your business.
Correctly implemented transformations can help a business occupy a key place in the market that would otherwise have been missed and become the go-to model for other competitors or partners in the industry or vertical, which was exactly what Netflix did when it went from being a DVD-rental business and began streaming movies and TV series instead.
Actualising structures like these creates a more flexible business that better manages the time of decision makers alongside keeping the business relevant in a changing world.
These structures can be simple and draw from the experience and talent both from inside the business and from technology partners. This can build an environment of regular change and innovation, that does not rely on periodic top-down initiatives that have a higher risk of failure.
This article comes courtesy of Paul McQuillan, a business change and CRM architect with CRMCS.