The potential of technology and innovation to dramatically improve our personal and business lives has been well documented. Each new innovation seems to lead to the next one, creating a world in which we can connect billions of sensors that can inform us of everything from ways to improve productivity in factories to how to improve our personal health.
However, innovation is not just about achieving technological breakthroughs. Recent research shows that new business models often matter far more than the technology of a given product, and promising technologies do not bring about improvements unless they are adequately invested in and use cases are evaluated.
Richard Firth, CEO of MIP Holdings, says that today’s technology landscape reflects a famous quote by Einstein. A student asked the physicist if the questions on his final exam were the same as last year’s exam. Einstein’s response: “Yes; but this year the answers are different”.
“The benefits of analytics, automation, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI) have been spoken about for every industry. However, one classic problem has remained: productivity. It’s an old issue, but it’s one companies are always looking to address. How can they make better use of their current resources? How can they improve and innovate without breaking the bank?” Firth asks.
Technology has always provided solutions to this challenge, but as each new system and technology has been implemented, it has opened up its own avenues for improvement, he adds. “It all comes down to solving problems. To be successful and a leader in your field, you not only have to come up with good solutions, you need to be innovative; and innovation requires finding new answers to old questions.”
Tina Seelig, author of Insight Out: Get Ideas Out of Your Head And Into the World, says most people don’t have a clear understanding of what creativity and innovation really are. “Imagination is envisioning things that don’t exist. Creativity is applying imagination to address a challenge. Innovation is applying creativity to generate unique solutions. And entrepreneurship is applying innovations, scaling the ideas, by inspiring others’ imagination,” she writes.
Firth says that, taken in this context, technology is the means to an end, and not the end in itself. “If you rethink the question and unpack your assumptions, it’s very likely that you’ll get a different answer. If the focus is on the technology that will enable a certain result, you’re limiting the ability to innovate. It’s only by viewing technology as the tool through which innovation happens that creativity can come into play.”
He adds that the way to innovate is to look at situations from a fresh perspective, and technology should provide the lens through which this is achieved. “Reframing a problem or a situation helps you see it as an opportunity. With technology breaking the barriers of possibility on a regular basis, companies should stop looking at what tools are available, and rather focus on what tools they need to solve problems and innovate.
“Take, for example, the old term ‘workflow’. Workflow was used to automate and measure a process within an organisation in accordance with a specific standard. It measured the time it took an employee to complete a process and then refactored the process if the employee differed substantially from the standard set for the process. The workflow also decided when we needed a supervisor to intervene in a process to change the outcome,” Firth says.
“The new term for workflow is BPS or Business Process Socialisation. The objective today is to take the traditional internal process and externalise the process with the consumer or customer. Using an app today we can communicate process data directly to a consumer for intervention rather that a supervisor.
“This simple use of an old methodology gives us a completely different outcome to the process. BPS satisfies the demands of GDPR and POPI as the consumer is making decisions rather than a supervisor, the process and decision is documented, the decision is secure and a BPS process is using less resources to complete an action.”