In this post, we will discuss the innovation challenges high tech companies face in today’s rapidly evolving international environment, and the diverse ways in which they resolve them. In all industries there is a need to constantly innovate, but within the world of High Tech, dominate players like HP, Adobe, Sony, and Cisco are seeking to optimize their innovation pipelines to meet growing competition and demand.
Technology products are quick to become obsolete within a few years, so rapid consistent innovation is essential. Moore’s Law states, “the number of transistors incorporated in a chip will approximately double every 24 months,” a trend that has continued for almost 50 years as the processing, pixel and memory capabilities of digital technologies have increased exponentially. Therefore, companies are frequently tasked with developing products that will leverage things like increased bandwidth or computing power that currently aren’t available.
Apart from the technological challenges, Wharton’s Mack Center for Technological Innovation discusses how “rapid economic change and resource scarcity has motivated decision-makers to seek creative ways to access resources of other organizations, to create and sustain value.” Tech companies must keep up with constantly changing technologies in addition to working with a diverse international consumer market and diverse employee base.
To help with these challenges, as well as the need to remain efficient, and systematically innovate over time, readily evolving methodologies and tools are available that can improve the product development process and meet ever-changing customer needs.
Innovation for Tech companies has always been a double-edged sword. You have to do it, but how do you do it right? The concept of managing innovation has gained rapid acknowledgment and adoption within this space due to its similarities in early adopters being willing to try out new tools and methodologies as well as software itself has evolved to become more agile, enterprise-level, adaptable, and of course, social. High Tech companies that deploy an innovation management system, or develop targeted campaigns to source breakthrough innovations experience:
- Faster development of new services and products with reduced risk.
- Cost savings through streamlined processes.
- Improved customer loyalty and retention.
- Reducing the duplication of efforts from the lack of visibility across different Business Units
Today’s high tech companies tend to have a large international employee base with communities such as call centers and programmers in India, R&D labs in the Silicon Valley, etc. which poses a series of problems such as language, cultural and legal barriers. Language gaps limit the community’s ability to collaborate, while cultural differences impact how various groups are incentivized and communicated with. Despite such technological advancements, basic challenges such as physical distance and differing time zones continue to make international technology and communication difficult as the tech market becomes more global.
One such barrier to international collaboration is Export Administration Regulations. These regulations impact dual use items that have both commercial and military or proliferation applications. Samples of these include, but are not limited to GPS technology, encryption algorithms, and other types of sensitive material. The challenge arrives when international companies and departments attempt to collaborate on ideas and share information across countries. There are further challenges in that depending on the topic, people in certain countries like Iceland may be able to join the discussion while those in Hong Kong may not.
An additional consideration is Intellectual Property. As organizations look to tap their global intellectual capital, great care must be placed to properly protect these ideas, even when posted to an internal audience. Without properly covering oneself on the intellectual property standpoint, one could lose millions if required protocol isn’t followed. With an increasing amount of companies looking to the world for ideas, even greater care must be taken since each idea is exposed to the general public.
Another common problem with large companies is their ability to sustain consistent, incremental innovation over time, as well as continue to identify and develop potential breakthrough, disruptive innovations. To become an enduring technology company in the global market, organizations need to be armed with the tools and processes that allow for both kinds of innovation to flourish. Systemic, repeatable, continuous innovation can be a challenge for big well-established companies as well as startups. Whereas a technology startup can introduce and identify breakthrough technologies quickly, larger, more established companies need to embrace new ways of tapping external stakeholders and groups and expand the traditional boundaries of R&D to maintain competitive edge in an ever-changing environment, giving it more options and leverage to control where the market is going than simply acquiring smaller companies and their technology. Similarly, technology companies must build the user into the product development lifecycle where instant feedback and demand for new features and integrations never stops. The key to sustainable innovation is seeking both spectrums of ideas that can continually evolve products while sourcing potentially disruptive technologies with the power to create entirely new markets and business opportunities.
A few years ago, began Hewlett-Packard (HP) set out with a goal to wire the company for ideas. Looking to its large base of 300K+ employees, wherever in the world they worked, no matter if you were a programmer, executive assistant or VP of Product, HP sought a place to collect and develop all types of ideas. The Garage, powered by Brightidea software, is an internal innovation platform to capture the knowledge of the company’s employees, while the keeping submissions across many departments organized and easily accessible. HP’s goal has been to change the top-down model to an innovation federation where users can contribute while seeing others’ submissions, and receive recognition and some sort of incentive for participation. The platform has been a great success with users all across the world interacting on a scale never before possible, increasing cross-silo collaboration around all types of ideas. The Garage continues to expand with hundreds of various campaigns running simultaneously throughout the company netting thousands of ideas under consideration and in development.
Cisco, the worldwide leader in network technologies, didn’t let IP challenges discourage them from launching an ambitious campaign to seek out disruptive technologies from outside the organization. One of the first-ever open innovation competitions was launched by Cisco back in 2007. I-Prize engaged employees and the public in sharing their ideas with a $250,000 prize and signing offer at stake. Developing a platform that abided by Cisco’s complex security and branding guidelines along with a 28-day deadline was possible using Brightidea software turn-key setup and configuration as well as built-in processes for social collaboration, community management as well as idea development and decision-making. The results were a powerful indicator that Cisco got it right- thousands of users, ideas, votes and comments and the competition’s deadline was extended by a month. The winners were rewarded not only financially, but with an opportunity to develop their smart grid technology in-house at Cisco. Continuing with the I-Prize movement, the more recent Cisco’s I-Prize in Russia saw similar success and aims at building relationships to grow Russia’s emerging technology market.
Rather than keep things internal, Adobe sought to create a platform where-by incremental feedback on emerging products could continuously feed into the product development lifecycle. Adobe Labs is an online platform powered by Webstorm, which allows users to easily post ideas, while organizing its content and automatically filtering for its product mangers. The efficient user-feedback also provides real-time insights on their customers for market research and a better understanding of consumers wants and needs. Adobe Labs gives users a chance to have their idea developed into a feature enhancement, which results in more efficient, better functioning, products quicker.
Technology is driven by the accelerating pace of innovation, making collaboration essential to its constant evolution. Although there are challenges, tech companies continue revolutionize to the way people live and interact through their innovations. Building in the software, processes, and culture to inspire and maintain all types of innovation at every level of the organization can boast radical innovation while facilitating continuous improvements over time.
Author Bio:- James Pasmantier is Vice President of Professional Services at Brightidea. As an innovation management expert with over 12 years of experience, James has worked to create and foster cultures of innovation at UBS, AMEX, HP, Austrade, Centrica, Bayer, Emerson, Conifer Health Solutions, Cisco, McGraw Hill, Tecom, WMS Gaming, Swift, and many more.