Information technology is enabling business innovation through new types of product and service, transformed business models and improved lives for customers, consumers, shareholders, employees and citizens.
For example, when Sam Walton famously recognized the competitive advantage Walmart could gain by ‘turning inventory to information’ he was experiencing (and then acting upon) an insight that would innovate supply chain management for big box retailers and, ultimately, for retailing in general. When Max Hopper‘s team at American Airlines recognized (and then acted upon) the power of yield management as a means of dynamically pricing airline seats based upon supply and demand, he created a competitive advantage that put promising low-cost airlines such as People Express out of business. When Jeff Bezos recognized (and then acted upon) the opportunities in reinventing online retailing for an exceptional customer experience, he created a new buiness that today captures $75 Billion per year of retail business and continues to innovate products and services.
These are examples of “big” IT-enabled innovation, but smaller examples appear all the time. Domino’s Pizza reversed its slumping performance in large part by making online ordering a cornerstone of its business through its web-based tools such as voice ordering, Pizza Tracker, 3-D Pizza Builder, and Pizza Hero tools.
Stories such as this appear frequently — though not as frequently as one might hope!
What Limits IT-Enabled Innovation?
With the emergence of all sorts of innovation enablers, such as the “Internet of Things“, inexpensive ways to identify and locate objects, people and places, powerful analytical capabilities, wearable technology, agile methods, smart phone apps, and so on, why does it seem that most businesses, government agencies and organizations of all sorts are stuck in the last century? Why does IT-enabled innovation always seem to refer to “over there?”
I’ve been fortunate in my career to be involved in IT Management research and learn from many talented academics and practitioners. One multi-company research study into IT-enabled innovation about ten years ago highlighted three key success factors:
- A clear and compelling ‘innovation intent.’
- An effective channel and structures that bring together business need/opportunities with IT capability/possibilities.
- An effective process for filtering, refining, testing and deploying innovation opportunities.
Business Relationship Management — A Missing Link for IT-Enabled Innovation?
The skilled and properly positioned Business Relationship Manager (BRM) can help inject the success factors identified above. For example:
- As ‘demand shapers’ the BRM helps stimulate the business appetite for innovation. The skilled BRM uses techniques such as Value Network Analysis, Scenario Planning, Appreciative Inquiry, Competitive Intelligence, Bibliometric Analysis, and Capability Gap Analysis to help establish innovation intent.
- As ‘demand surfacers’ the BRM discovers innovation opportunities using techniques such as Design Thinking, Brainstorming, Knowledge Café, Synectics, Why-Why Diagrams, Behavioral Prototyping, Mind Mapping and Storyboarding.
- With their focus on business transition and value realization, the BRM helps deploy innovation opportunities using techniques such as Design Structure Matrix, Force Field Analysis, How-How Diagrams, Stakeholder Mapping and Analysis, Organizational Change Management, Business Experiments, Rapid Prototyping and Agile Development.
So, if you are in a BRM role, become knowledgeable in Design Thinking (see my 3-part post on Design Thinking here, here and here) and the disciplines and techniques of business innovation. Understand how innovation can create business value in your context. Of course, this means truly understanding your business partner’s business model, business processes, marketplace, competitive strategies, and market forces. It also means knowing the key stakeholders and influence leaders — where is innovation thinking taking place in your organization? How well connected are you with the innovation thought leaders? How are you learning about innovation in your industry? How are you keeping up with IT-enabled innovation?
So much to do — so little time — no time to waste!
Image courtesy of Business 2 Community