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Key steps to stress test your enterprise innovation

Larry Prusak noted that “the only thing that gives an organization a competitive edge, the only thing that is sustainable, is what it knows, how it uses what it knows, and how fast it can know something.”

Information is foundational to business success, but understanding that data — and acting on it — is not always a simple matter. Using IoT allows your enterprise to access real-time data, and analytics allows you to elucidate insights. But then what? At IBM’s InterConnect 2016, Chunka Mui, managing director of the consulting team Devil’s Advocate Group, laid out five key lessons to “stress test” your enterprise innovation approach. How can companies drive innovation, create value and help create “fans” who are loyal? Mui’s key lessons were to embrace the gap, think big, start small, learn fast and cultivate a sense of “patient” urgency.

Time and technology waits for no man

Mui emphasized the need to embrace the gap: this chasm is the difference between the rapid development of technology and the incremental change desired by companies. He stressed that embracing the gap is not simply deliberating about ways you can serve customers’ needs or wants. It’s about approaching that chasm and then seizing the opportunity that lies there. Mui noted that a failure to embrace technology quickly limited enterprise ability to thrive in the marketplace. He noted that IoT is augmenting a range of disruptive “gap” technologies, such as social media, mobile devices, cloud computing, and analytics and artificial intelligence.

It’s bigger than you

Uber. Lyft. They’ve had an astounding effect on the taxi industry (and are being banned in certain areas because of it), but they are also revolutionizing cars and travel in ways never thought possible. Mui noted that in order to “think big,” enterprises must also be willing to move in directions that were never considered before. Businesses are being disrupted by technology (such as the shift to mobile), but are not investing enough time and consideration for new directions — or even completely novel problems. Startups have the advantage of a clean slate; they are small and agile, able to take advantage of the technology to serve a particular customer demand. Larger, more established companies may need to approach the marketplace with a clean slate in order to use innovation to drive growth. “Reimagining the customer experience,” Mui added, is key to develop “big” ideas.

The journey of a thousand miles…

After considering ideas about serious market disruption, Mui’s suggestion to take small steps seems anachronous. However, his reasoning is based on a solid approach to development: break the idea into smaller pieces and test them. Each small test provides a mountain of data which can be used to provide insights into whether the product or service is going to be successful. Many companies do not learn enough from playing around with or developing their prototypes (or identifying the best possible location to test them, either). Starting small can mean your company invests R&D resources in your app or considers a new connected device on a small scale. But none of this will be successful without his fourth step, which is…

Learn. Fast.

It’s a given that enterprises need to be in a constant state of innovation — they need to be relentlessly adding to their knowledge base and pursuing new avenues for meeting customer needs. Mui pointed to Bob Lutz’s 9­3­1 approach to car design as one method for moving swiftly through the research and development phase. The most important part of the process is that the information that is derived from each step is understood and analyzed before moving into the next phase of development. IoT sensors can provide significant amounts of data, and companies can realize value by implementing data driven tweaks throughout the development cycle. (Currently, only about 1% of IoT data is actually used.)

Hurry up. Now wait.

Perhaps the most difficult lesson to implement is Mui’s final one: knowing when to move an innovation into the market is a highly sought after but sometimes elusive talent. The perfect timing to release your innovation is an amalgamation of well-informed analyses, a deep understanding of market trends, a thorough comprehension of your competition, rich, rounded insights about your customers — and yes, even pure instinct. History is littered with visionaries who were well ahead of their time — the Da Vincis and Teslas who imagined truly innovative creations … that the world was not ready for. Analytics can offload some of this problem by pinpointing what your customers desire now and predicting patterns of behavior that can inform your launch strategy.

“Innovate or die” is a business maxim that not only pushes companies into the red, but moves many others into the development of profitable, useful creations that disrupt the industry. Mui’s lessons underscore a key aspect of modern enterprise innovation: it is completely data driven.

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