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Should you introduce operational innovation without digital innovation?

Many organisations are looking to introduce digital and technology innovation to introduce operational innovative solutions, but is this really the most effective method for organisations to innovate? Or is it advisable to introduce operational innovation, without leading-edge digital innovative technologies?

Recently, I worked with a consultant who informed me that his client was looking to introduce a best-in-class innovative technology to drive sales & operational effectiveness. When discussing his approach, including the issue(s) his client was trying to solve, the operational and/ or financial opportunity his client was planning to achieve, and what the technology would actually deliver, he advised me that his client had been “shown” the innovative technology and believed (?) that this technology would allow the business to grow more effectively…

Unfortunately, these views are not uncommon in many corporations. With the continuous cost and revenue pressures, managers are often jumping for the most innovative digital technology to meet these challenges. Although these technologies are able to deliver the effectiveness that the client is looking for, unless this innovative technology is introduced through bringing the employees, the stakeholders and the relevant business partners on this digital innovation journey, it will not be as effective as expected.

It’s comparable to introducing the concord in the year 1940. Even though nobody can argue that even at the end of the 20th century the technology was many years ahead of it’s time, in the 1940, this brilliant piece of technology would be absolutely useless as the pilots wouldn’t be able to use this technology to it’s advantage. And even though this is a very extreme example, many corporates have been introducing innovative technologies without the ability to truly embrace, embed and fully utilise the technology.

Although, you might think that I’m heavily exaggerating, on many occasions I have seen best-in-class innovative technologies being introduced in mature organisations, which are not able to solve the business challenges, are not aligned to the business goals and have not been adopted by the employees.

So, why would you introduce operational innovation without digital innovation?

There are two main reasons why it’s crucial to introduce operational innovation before introducing digital innovation.

  • Many technologies have been developed to automate existing processes or automate manual steps to complete a task, instead of automating innovative processes. An example of is the Nespresso machine. It’s function is to provide the consumer with a cup of “coffee”. Instead of “automating” the old process, of “boiling” water through an electric kettle or on gas/ electric stove, using a coffee filter/ can and then pouring the coffee from the coffee can into a coffee cup, Nespresso has made the “electric kettle”/ stove completely redundant and directly allows you to obtain a cup of coffee with a simple coffee cup and cold water.Nespresso has not automated an existing process, but innovated the process and automated this innovation.
  • Most people and employees require to be guided on an innovation journey, and need to understand the innovative process first. It’s in most cases far simpler to deliver change management/ new ways of working through existing tools in which the employee understands the journey first, before the technology is introduced. Just giving people an innovative technology with a “manual” will be far less effective than to guide them through the innovative journey and “ultimately” using technology to replace the “manual” steps.

In both examples, I have on many occasions seen how easy it is to introduce innovation in existing businesses. Through the use of non-technology-focussed operational innovation I have seen organisations deliver more sustainable leading-edge innovation then by introduction of solely digital innovation.

 

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