Invest in Research to Innovate Successfully, But It’s Not the Kind of Research You’re Thinking

Directing resources away from research and development is a gamble for marginal and short-term revenue gains at the cost of eroding sound market foundations. Research and development are engines of technological innovation which is in turn much of the source of growth and wealth creation for companies. The demise of past innovation leaders is caused by failures to respond to the market forces driving customer value.

However, an area in which companies often fail even when investing resources into basic, applied, and development research is appropriating the value created through these activities. Four company policies could improve appropriability rates by making key changes in the way they tie research activities to product or service development.

  1. Financial incentives in the form of increased funding could be provided to researchers that team up regularly with development staff.
  2. Processes and activities revolving around basic materials, methods, and equipment should be standardized within the company with both researchers and product developers relying on these same or equivalent essential tools.
  3. Cross-training research staff with development engineers exposes the researchers to their counterparts encouraging interaction in a non-competitive environment.
  4. Proposals for research funding must be evaluated for results in competitive advantages or strengthened competencies for the firm in order to be considered for funding.

But don’t make the assumption that customers drive all innovation. An innovation is by its definition something that didn’t exist before. The most crystal examples are organizing form of innovators, such as the Internet retail sales site Amazon.com. Its innovation was the way the firm organized itself to leverage a new technological development to sell books. Given the success of these previously unknown innovations, the market more often than not will not know except in hindsight its own wants and needs. In the case of Amazon, the product didn’t change at all but the sales vehicle convenience and ease of use gave the firm a competitive advantage over traditional brick-and-mortar bookstores. Since then, the company applied this same model to every product with a reasonable shipping profile.

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Can You Make Out the Risk Behind those Clouds?

Risk Behind CloudsDon’t get me wrong, I use and rely on cloud technologies everyday. But I’m also not one to execute a cloud strategy blindly. My IT cool factor never much worries me if by following the cloud crowd due diligence must be discounted as “fuddy-duddy” or “unadventurous”.

The more considered among us have to think of how these uncontrolled, third-party solutions expose a firm to service-level and security risks. In the first category, the risk of an outage at a pivotal point in a deal negotiation leaves the entire organization helpless to answer based on archived or shared documents. Think of the time limit that might be placed on seemingly acceptable terms during a contract negotiation. Let’s say a negotiator recalls information that will sell the counter-party’s offer to his own team but then cannot gain access to that resource. Without a backup cloud or local backup solution, the team may find itself unable to accept or continue negotiating. The repercussions could be disastrous if the counter-party refuses to wait or accommodate the team.

Firms relying on the security protocols of public cloud solutions or remote private clouds accept the same risk threshold of the service provider and then some. Should data records be subpoenaed by governing authorities, the third-party service supplier will interpret its lawful responsibilities according to its own legal department. It’s highly unlikely that the client firm’s legal team will be involved in any of the negotiations or arrangements.

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Posted in Technology Management

Risk Aversion Syndrome – Innovation Killer

There is a new risk making it’s way to a project near you. The risk of risk aversion is motivated by the belief that it is better to never try than to try and then fail. This is the prevailing career protectionist attitude. It is based on the belief that failure in an organization is not acceptable and tantamount to career suicide. Management in large organizations may express their frustration and lack of confidence in the efficacy of innovation initiatives (http://www.accenture.com/us-en/Pages/insight-low-risk-innovation-costly.aspx?c=mc_prposts_10000040&n=otc_1013). However, the fault probably lies primarily with them and the corporate cultures they encourage (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media-network/media-networkblog/2013/feb/01/reasons-fail-business-model-innovation).

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Corporate Social Responsibility and the Triple Bottom Line

To find an example of how profit-seeking businesses achieve their corporate social responsibility goals, look no further than the food and drink industry (FDI). Whether we agree or not, the social and government pressures on the FDI to address obesity in their marketing  and product strategies continue to be powerful motivators. FDI companies can trace the start of CSR programs as reaction to increased legislator attention and litigation concerning high calorie foods and drink products.

Showing remarkable foresight, Kraft and PepsiCo inspired hope for an industry struggling to find profitability when considering reshaping entire lines of product. Past and current investment brings healthy alternatives to their core markets and exemplifies the use of market incentives to  holistic corporate social responsibility. In the case of Kraft and PepsiCo, branding for health as a strategy produced increased share price, meaningful change in corporate behavior, improved image perception of the industry, and grew the market for other CSR inspired efforts.  Continuing to invest in this type of product development harmonizes the profit, people, and planet dimensions of corporate social responsibilities.

Inspired by Universum’s CSR Top 10 and curriculum study of Shifting blame/selling health: corporate social responsibility in the age of obesity.

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The Importance of Leadership Competence and Integrity

Competence Is Not Optional

Circle of CompetenceTo develop confidence among stakeholders and team members, project managers must exhibit professional knowledge and acumen. When a team has reasonable questions about the competence of a project manager, they cannot predict what will happen when problems are identified and solutions are sought. Stakeholders might experience unease trying to answer how the project manager would be evaluated against questions such as:

  • Will the direct and indirect consequences of not addressing the problem really be understood?
  • Could someone with confirmed competence in this market better anticipate and prepare the team for changes that might be material to meeting delivery requirements?
  • Does this person really know what the end goal is?

Integrity: Get Some or Fail

Another area of concern that team members will observe is the individual integrity of the project manager. Daily interactions and subsequent interactions should fall along a continuum of interpersonal dynamics. A project manager whose demeanor and personality changes drastically depending on the faction of stakeholders he or she is addressing at the time is not honest behavior. Subsequent conversations and issues being referenced by the manager with team members could be tainted by such deceptive practices. Being boisterous and excited explaining progress to upper management and then later having disinterested conversations about progress with subordinates or partners in the project destroys the predictive component of trust. No one will know what the manager will do nor what he or she truly finds important for project success since that will change in an essential way depending on the audience.

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Posted in Innovation Management, Technology Management

Get Your Tech Body Fit (Step 4. Time for Recovery)

$Maintaining motivation to stay on a tech body fitness track requires proper recovery time. Staying ahead of competitors and keeping pace with collaborators is an endless struggle punctuated by personal bests. Inspiration can come from tales of caution as well as tales of success.

Surveying the business technology departments in most organizations reveals two reactions to the self-eroding nature of technological progress. In the majority is a protectionist and risk-averse stance. After all that hard work to create business-value, the majority become protective of their previous success. They cannot see the relative upside to keeping their tech body challenged when operational needs are so much more immediate. The resulting gradual decreases in efficiency and effectiveness can be ignored and obfuscated for years.

There does exist a high-profile minority capable of staying technically strong and focused on value creation year after year. Those organizations accept failure with purpose, provision in anticipation of experimentation, and act to mature technologies that strengthen their business offerings.

It will take more than skills development and cross-disciplinary collaboration to reshape your tech body. Be inspired by both positive and negative examples in much the same way individuals are motivated to exercise. Take heed of failing and unfit tech groups. At the same time, model your tech body against those who seem to drive value with tech innovation.

Thanks for following along. Stay fit for success!

Get Your Tech Body Fit (Step 1. Warming Up)
Get Your Tech Body Fit (Step 2. Strengthen the Core)
Get Your Tech Body Fit (Step 3. Build Endurance)
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Get Your Tech Body Fit (Step 3. Build Endurance)

Part 3 of 4 in a series

Runner legs

Based on my own professional experience, technology departments spring to life from real live business needs. Technology staffing begins by pulling over technophiles from other disciplines. When a needed skill set is missing, short duration contractors may be called upon to augment the staff. Those that seem to fit the bill may be offered permanent positions depending on the staffing goals for technology. In lieu of that, an ongoing contractor relationship would be established to keep the staff management overhead costs low. This is the beginning of the schism between technology value and business value.
The particular skills you need to succeed today will not be sufficient in the long run. Stacking technology strengths on top of existing technology strengths does not expand the potential for exploring new uses of existing technology. For the sake of tradition, ease of management, or short-term tactical goals, the innovative and entrepreneurial vision that spurred the business now fades to routine. With continued disuse in favor of incremental, localized efficiencies, technology makes itself irrelevant as anything but a cost center.

The great news is that with a few changes to your portfolio management, staffing roles, and hiring process, technology can rebuild its strategic relevance in the business.

Take stock of how your staff are spending their days and compare that Read more ›

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Get Your Tech Body Fit (Step 2. Strengthen Your Core)

Part 2 of 4 in a series

Muscular Body

Take a look at your tech body: those people, processes, and products that represent your organization’s pure technical capability. Does an amazing variety of languages, methodologies, and systems make or save money? Or is all that muscle just for show?

That mass of unfocused technology investment is slow and likely contributes insufficient value. Tools and toys are not what’s important to the company. So stop posing in the mirror of technical prowess. Preen and posture your way toward the business value in technology.

The real strength of technology lies in its empowerment potential. Think of yourself as the personal trainer of the enterprise. With your guidance and expertise, functional departments benefit with improved tools and automation.

Don’t let a finance analyst wimp out and plateau early in an unshared data and templated reporting routine. Push them to ask for hooks within the enterprise data store. Get them on a data pull exercise to combine with their financial agility. The company gains valuable business intelligence, the finance department gets more work done in less time, and tech proves itself a valuable strategic partner.

Keep your head on a swivel and offer to form the right relationship with you to meet their departmental goals. Your business tech training sessions should suit their needs not your own. Keep checking in and offering to tweak their technology technique. Be supportive and encouraging even when they backslide into bad tech habits.

Heads up! Marketing needs a spot over there in big data.

Next – Get Your Tech Body Fit (Step 3. Build Endurance)

Finally – Get Your Tech Body Fit (Step 4. Time for Recovery)
Previously – Get Your Tech Body Fit (Step 1. Warming Up)
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Get Your Tech Body Fit (Step 1. Warming Up)

Part 1 of 4 in a series

Does the fitness of your tech body, that being the people, process, and products of technology in your organization, worry you each and every year?

Whenever I feed my technology development budget, it demands more and more resources!  Why do I keep feeding this slothful, greedy beast? What I really want is a slimmer, sleeker business service tuned to my needs and values!

The topic is astoundingly popular and is the core problem addressed by various information technology management frameworks. Tech managers recognize the benefits of implementing IT frameworks including standardization and formalization of process and technique. Practitioners reimagine the business’ technology services in the context of its strategic direction.

But what if the emaciated state of tech in your organization seems too big to succeed? Having a long-term tech fitness goal that can be delivered through COBIT or ITIL implementation is noble but it is not necessarily the way to start. Such an initiative requires solid backing of a skeptical upper management and even more investments. That’s like telling someone who wants to improve their wellness that they can keep eating or smoking and still get fit!

What I’ve never seen are simple hints and rules of thumb to test how efficiently tech dollars are being invested. With some idea of the scope and level of efficiency, business leaders can make smart and value-saving decisions about the state of technology in their company. Throw on some Dri-Fit and let’s get your tech on a basic fitness program.

Warming Up

Raise heart rate A really great way to get ready for a workout is by walking around your organization. Talk to everyone accessible to get an honest appraisal of how well technology is serving it’s primary customers; in case you need a refresher, that’s everyone else in the company.

We’re not ready to start yet. Pick up the pace of investigation and figure out if the picture meets the objectives you’ve established.

A “YES” answer to any of these means you’ve got some work to do. Next, we’ll move to strengthen that tech body and get you focused on business services.

Next up – Get Your Tech Body Fit (Step 2. Strengthen the Core)

After that – Get Your Tech Body Fit (Step 3. Build Endurance)
Finally – Get Your Tech Body Fit (Step 4. Time for Recovery)
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Detecting Faux Innovation

Sniff sniff

Don’t everyone fall down in disbelief but Snapchat is full of it. It’s singular contribution to enterprise is how to use tech naiveté and imprecise language to bilk investors and users. The Snapchat team is delivering a product that has no value proposition, is easily copied or incorporated into existing products, and are themselves already copying other media delivery app players. They deny their product draws the most likely user case and let everyone believe there is a level of significant protection built into their technology.

So how can an investor sniff out the innovation of bullshit?

  • Cursory technical examination: In other words, look at the product in it’s environment from the claims angle. Bring in your own technologist to test the explicitly identified features of the vendor. What really happens when the picture ‘disappears’?
  • Basic contextual understanding: Follow up with some basic user research to identify implicit expectations. What does ‘disappear’ mean to the user?
  • Find a business case for the product’s functionality: Identify the product’s core features and see if you can do something to add value to your day. Even if it doesn’t work well, there should at least be consensus on the whole point of using the thing. What value can anyone derive from ‘disappearing’ media?

Snapchats Don’t Disappear via Forbes.com

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