By Ron Batra
Senior Director and Fellow, Innovation
In today’s hyper-competitive and fast-changing business environment, it is innovation and innovation alone that is separating businesses that will survive and thrive from the ones who will get disrupted. Innovation and disruption are often the two sides of a coin. You don’t have to look very far to see how cutting edge software and solid operational models can succeed. As an example, look at how the ride-sharing app companies are disrupting taxi cabs all over the world.
Recent advances in technologies such as cloud computing, 3-D printing, big data, the growth of the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence advances in machine learning have enabled change in an irreversible manner. Products and services are making their way much more quickly to market, accompanied by a reduction in the time duration of Product Lifecycle Management. The rise of cloud and subscription-based models has reduced the need for massive capital outlays, lowering the bar of entry for competitors who previously could not raise capital to innovate and disrupt. This is in addition to advances in software provisioning and automation that greatly reduce cycle time, shortening systems development times.
In addition, for products with Internet distribution, defects as well as killer features are noticed quickly, and can become viral very quickly. Buying decisions for most people are influenced by community feedback, with real capability to disrupt known brands and take away market share from established businesses.
In this environment, the following working tenets must become second nature:
- A Systematic Innovation Culture
- Agility and Speed
- External Feedback and Validation
- Instead, Ideation + Passion + Focus is a great way to do it. It takes a different kind of a DNA to ideate and innovate. There are team members who are brilliant at operations and execution and typically they are not the ones who innovate (but often do Business Process Innovation, which is a step in the right direction). You need “Believers,” more “Can-Do” versus “Cannot-Do” people. I recommend developing the ideas with passionate people and getting them focused on key decisions and strategies to solve for something real.
Businesses have to learn to fail faster and fail-often, in the evaluation of new concepts, products and ideas. In most cases, this means the lifecycle of Product Lifecycle Management cannot afford the luxury of waterfall style approaches and long windows from inception to phased introduction to revenue and growth scaling.
As an example, in software development, techniques such as Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) help automated processes and enable agility – resulting in product updates – from monthly and quarterly to weekly. Processes to tap into external feedback have to be set up and the loop has to make its way into the requirements intake process – think weekly or even daily!
Innovation can mean many things depending on context and the lenses your organization chooses to utilize. Depending on whether you are a products (many type of products from internet to consumer to packaged goods such as cookies) or a services organization,innovation could be viewed as many things.
While money or capital is needed, it can sometimes create more problems than solving them. Capital for a lot of companies means large teams and incredible effort managing egos, personalities, alignment, keeping a high signal-noise ratio going – after some time it can be easy to forget why one started. Before you realize it, the dashboard-crowd takes over and there are armies of Program Managers engaged in marking Red, Green, Yellow etc. I know of companies who could have literally put a Cloud Data Center on the moon for the amount they spent on not- so-successful programs. Keeping it true to the now famous “Two Pizza Box” guideline is the way to do it.
Instead, Ideation + Passion + Focus is a great way to do it. It takes a different kind of a DNA to ideate and innovate. There are team members who are brilliant at operations and execution and typically they are not the ones who innovate (but often do Business Process Innovation, which is a step in the right direction). You need “Believers,” more “Can-Do” versus “Cannot-Do” people. I recommend developing the ideas with passionate people and getting them focused on key decisions and strategies to solve for something real.
Secondly, innovation is not just great ideas percolating in a vacuum. They have to be made real. How do you get these ideas? You can’t just walk into an office and ask people to step away from their day-job and come up with “Top-10” things that will move the needle.(Well, actually you can and yours truly has tried it in a few places, but…), it takes a lot more than that. It takes teamwork and agile teams who have a bias towards taking action. Especially in existing line of businesses, it is not always easy for just one visionary to brilliantly come up with the proverbial “killer-app.” The right kind of team structure compliments and supports each other, filling in gaps and helping shape ideas and concepts into more something more meaningful and concrete.
The best innovation programs have a bias towards commercialization and revenue growth – essentially “moving the needle” – sometimes by brilliant product and/or service innovation, or brilliant business innovation models.
How will your organization innovate?
Ron Batra brings 25+ years of leadership across different industry verticals covering most aspects of Enterprise Software, Infrastructure, Multi-Cloud Architectures and Networking in some of the most world’s most respected corporations and brands, from startups to Fortune 10.
Currently at Equinix, he is an Innovation Fellow/Senior Director of Technology Innovation and Strategy. His role entails shaping company strategy and advising the Senior Executive team in IOT, Big Data and Multi-Cloud architectures focus areas. Prior to Equinix, Mr. Batra was hired by AT&T to co-found and startup their Public Cloud Program.