Tag Archives: innovation

3-Step approach to evolutionary innovation

In my last blog post, I explored why everyone isn’t innovating if it’s so important. I surmised that innovation can be evolutionary as well as revolutionary. In this scenario, I would like to offer 3 steps to approach evolutionary innovation.

How is it possible to have your cake and eat it – to keep up with your urgent tasks while moving forward at the same time? Various solutions have been put forward, such as the idea of bimodal IT.

From what I’ve experienced, a good, pragmatic approach is to follow what is sometimes called “evolutionary innovation”. By building incrementally on what you have, it’s often possible to push forward with innovation without putting everything else on hold or disrupting business-as-usual.

Let’s look at how to approach evolutionary innovation under three headings:

  1. Build on what you have
  2. Make the most of the available ideas
  3. Be ready to fail

Uniface Innovation

  1. Build on what you have 

An idea doesn’t have to be brand new to be innovative. It’s often about doing the same thing better. Think about mobile phones. An initial step was going from wired to cordless. Since then, we have seen a lot of evolutionary steps, bringing us to the smartphones we use today. There have of course been some revolutionary jumps; however, for the most part, the innovation has been evolutionary.

Rather than await a flash of inspiration and light-bulb “eureka moment” – going from nothing to revolution – we can innovate by listening to people’s challenges and turning these into creative new ideas.

Those ideas can often be implemented with what you already have. In the case of IT innovation, it’s possible to work with solutions that take care of encapsulating technical complexity. That way, you can quickly utilize your existing business assets, getting more out them, with zero (or minimal) rework effort. For example, you may be able to move a legacy application to the web without rewriting core business code. This means you have the time and resources to go on continuously improving your solutions to keep pace with business, consumer and technological change.

  1. Make the most of the available ideas 

It’s important to listen to what other people are thinking – everyone is innovating. The best ideas of all will often come from your own workforce, so it is important to find ways to develop this important resource. With the consumerization of IT and the 24×7 access available to users, particularly through smart devices, the era of apps, bots and assistants sparks many ideas and demands. Combined with the many continually improving features available on these devices, the scope to innovate is immense.

Organizations should try to provide employees with “play time”. Children learn and very rapidly develop through playing; the adult version of this is called R&D. Unfortunately, as we mature, the amount of play appears to decline. Organizations should aim for a range of individual and group activities such as personal experimentation time and team hackathons. It’s important to include individual activities as well as group ones because not all ideas come to the surface in the context of a group, especially if a few people are particularly dominant. As simple as this last statement may seem, it is often overlooked.

The trick is to strike the right balance between business tasks, prescribed learning, and play time. When you hit the sweet spot, you may be surprised how many ideas you have at your disposal – who knows, you may even have enough to spin off additional solution offerings or even new business entities.

  1. Be ready to fail 

With any form of innovation, you must be prepared for some of your ideas not to work. Eddie Obeng’s TED talk on Smart Failure for a Fast-Changing World memorably captures why this is so important. We don’t experiment enough, and although companies pay lip service to the idea that it’s OK to fail, they often find it hard to follow through.

This is one of the biggest blockers to innovation, and we need to overcome it. We have to find ways to experiment with new ideas, some of which will fail. We must ensure that businesses of all sizes fully understand and account for this requirement. If we take the phrase “Be ready to fail” and replace the word fail with experiment, test, try, learn, play, develop, grow, evolve or many similar words, the emotional response is very different – however, the end goal remains the same. Whatever word we choose, the process of innovation is normally iterative. It is important to understand this principle and not give up at the first hurdle.

This series is based on the paper: Agility and Innovation in Application and Mobile Development. You can download the paper here.

If innovation is so important, why isn’t everyone doing it? 

So why isn’t everyone innovating? Sometimes people simply get too comfortable with the status quo to try something new. Think how many users were reluctant to move from Windows 7, which admittedly let them do their job fine, to Windows 8, which some considered less perfect. But, once they were through the Windows 7/8 mourning curve, it was easy to change to Windows 10, with very quick emotional acceptance and significant benefits.

Another major reason for not innovating is that people have more pressing things to do, and this is no doubt true. Throughout life, we often hear phrases like: “I’m too busy,” “I’ve got higher priorities,” and “We have to clear the backlog.” Within the IT function, some technical teams are big enough only to keep up with day-to-day maintenance, leaving no scope to craft new solutions or modernize legacy applications. Large organizations may also find they spend too much time and resources “keeping the lights on,” with little left for innovation.

Innovation

A Catch 22 situation then arises, because by not moving forward, it becomes harder to deliver. This can lead to a failure to give the organization the business agility it needs.

Another reason for failure to innovate at the right pace, is that for many organizations, it’s difficult to make innovation work. As discussed in a recent article by Anderee Berengian, the innovation lab model has often failed. I’m going to elaborate on Berengian’s conclusion that “real innovation comes from outside your company,” as although that may be true for some, for the rest of us there is an alternative.

In my first blog post I addressed the question: What comes first—innovation or agility? In my next post I will look at 3 approaches to innovation for organizations.

This series is based on the paper: Agility and Innovation in Application and Mobile Development.  

You can download the paper here.

What Is Digital Transformation?

Over the last five years or so, there’s been a lot of talk on the topic of “digital transformation.”

However, there hasn’t been a generally accepted definition of what that term means, exactly. What is digital transformation? What does it mean for my organization?

At Uniface, we embarked on a research project with Creative Intellect Consulting, Ltd. (CIC) and at the outset, put forward a definition that technology professionals and business leaders could agree upon. For the project, CIC presented the following working definition of “digital transformation” to 300 survey respondents, representing enterprise organizations, value-added resellers (VAR) and independent software vendors (ISV):

Digital transformation is “the transformation of business activities, processes, competencies and models, to fully leverage the changes and opportunities of digital technologies and their impact across the organization, in a strategic and prioritized way.”

Ninety-seven percent of the 300 respondents agreed with the definition; 3% thought either they weren’t qualified to weigh in on a definition or wanted the definition to be a bit broader and not so focused on technology.

What’s key in the presented definition is to notice where the responsibility of such a shift lays. The burden to ensure digital transformation within an organization does not only belong to the IT and technology teams; rather, digital transformation is a strategic responsibility shared by business leadership and IT.

With that in mind, a successful digital transformation undertaking will span both IT and business leaders and should include:

  • End-to-end technology solutions that support speed and integration;
  • A systemic change that’s built with new technologies with existing systems and knowledge, but supports the new digital business;
  • A wider group of professionals spanning departments who can work together to build and deliver an organization’s digital transformation roll-out;
  • An ability to quickly develop and deploy increasingly complex applications.

Why does all this matter? Why is it important for organizations to embrace the digital transformation movement?

In a word: relevance.

In order to survive – and continue to thrive – organizations must begin to think strategically about how to marry technology and business goals. An organization’s ability to be innovative, foresee change, focus on what their customers want – and anticipate those wants — will certainly be positioned to succeed well into the future.

Now that we have a well-defined idea of what digital transformation means, we are better able to begin thinking about the strategic needs of our business and determine how IT can help to implement necessary changes. The health of the organization, its people and its clients depend on it.

What comes first: innovation or agility?

The question of why innovation and business agility are vital –and independent is one that is top of mind for many organizations.

Business agility is essential to survival. With economic uncertainty everywhere, and disruption in many marketplaces, businesses need to respond fast to change. A key enabler for this ability is an IT function that is inherently good at innovating. IT must produce ingenious ideas that will facilitate the required fast business response, for example by equipping the workforce for mobile working. There are any number of innovative uses of mobile technology: for example, a sales person can take and personalize an order while walking around a shop with a customer; a doctor can receive real-time information about a patient’s vital signs.

IT innovation is essential to business agility. However, you also need agility before you can innovate in IT or anywhere else. Which comes first is hard to judge. Organizations tend to start life with both agility and innovation. However, as they get bigger, their agility tends to become constrained for various reasons. Hence their rate of innovation declines, creating a vicious circle.

Innovation and agility

Complex though the relationship between innovation and agility is, we can probably agree that both are vital to a healthy business, and particularly vital when a business is contemplating digital transformation (where the organization rethinks aspects of its existence to take full advantage of digital technology, rather than simply automate the existing way of working). Digital transformation implies that a business must be able to innovate digitally to overtake the competition, with enough agility to reshape itself around the resultant landscape. An agile IT department has the ability and opportunity to create what the business needs – or else to go out and find it fast.

This blog post is the first in a series based on the paper: Agility and Innovation in Application and Mobile Development.

You can download the paper here.