Innovation is at the core of business development – whatever stage of the business. With rapid developments in digital technology come more opportunities to adopt technology that will help organisations to experiment with innovation and explore different development frameworks.

Many of these opportunities stem particularly from developments in information and communication technologies and the growth of service-based economies.

With the vast range of options out there, though, comes the challenge of decided where to invest. I’ve heard from many business leaders who have fallen into the trap of investing resources and money into new technologies without having first assessed the strategic area that they will impact.

In this article, I’m going to look at the key areas of business innovation you need to be considering when you’re deciding on the priority areas for investment in new technology.

But first things first. Any organisation considering investing in digital technology to drive the business forward needs to ensure that their employees have the skills sets to match.

Increasing Your Organisation’s Digital IQ

The most important element of any digital transformation programme is not the technology, but the people. A great team can lead to high performance, but just one individual can cause a project to fail. The need for digital skills in organisations is gaining traction – becoming front and centre as business technology use increases and customers become more reliant on digital interaction.

Poor digital skills hamper digital transformation programmes, damage the confidence of your staff and harm your organisation’s competitive advantage.

Although businesses are increasingly making investment in technology, in many cases this investment isn’t matched by investment in digital skills development in their people.

According to the European Commission in 2019, 88% of organisations have taken no measures to improve the digital skills among their employees.

As part of your planning for building a more innovative culture, consider whether your workforce needs to be upskilled first, and be aware of the realities of the investment needed to make that happen.

The 9 key innovation areas:

1. Strategy

Your business strategy is the foundation of its future growth and sustainability. Many organisations are still basing their future on traditional, or even outdated, growth strategies.

New and emerging technologies support innovative growth and competitive positioning strategies, potentially offering you the opportunity to completely change your game plan, and become a real disrupter in your sector.

2. Business Models

Similarly, could new technologies enable your business to innovate in the way that it generates income?

Could you adopt new forms of pricing (eg subscription services or retainer programmes)?

Are there new technologies which will enable you to implement more effective management control methods and models? Information management, knowledge protection and management are areas in which digital technologies (such as blockchain, for example) can streamline and improve business processes.

Access to improved technology presents the potential to share information as well as protect it, opening up opportunities for new strategic partnerships and alliances.

3. People Roles

People in any organisation can put up resistance to change. It moves them out of their comfort zone, and may radically alter the way they work. Successful leaders of organisations aiming to escape the status quo have often used promoters (or champions) internally to support and shape the innovation process in order to bring people on board.

Top management needs to be fully on board in order to exert influence through power and persuasion.

But the larger and more complex the organisation, the more necessary it is to establish a project steering group as having a clear project owner. The group will encompass executive representatives of all the key areas of the business – such as production, finance, marketing and sales as well as IT. As well as guiding the project owner as to the impact of technical decisions, the steering group will have a promotional role across the business, helping to engage people at all levels.

4. Organisational Culture

Innovation encompasses behaviours as well as systems and processes. Generating a new organisational culture can influence the way that people think, behave and work, and open up more opportunities for innovative thinking; improving levels of teamwork. Opening up new channels for creativity and employee participation promotes change and can improve levels of motivation.

I can’t overstate the impact and importance of culture. An organisation’s digital transformation programme can success or fail based on it. Look at Apple, as a prime example. Its flexible, collaborative and creative culture was responsible for early success, but with this success came a shift towards more control, resulting in Steve Jobs being ousted from the company. 

Whilst this shift in culture was, to a certain extent, necessary, and resulted in a hugely efficient, marketing-savvy corporation, it reduced the company’s ability to innovate through rapid cycles, and it began to lose relevance.

It wasn’t until Jobs returned in 1997 that Apple got its creative mojo back.

The lesson for you as a digital leader is this: your processes and control may be important, and the level to which they matter may well depend on the sector you operate in. But to innovated, you need to enable creativity and collaboration. In this digital world, organisations depending on outmoded systems and processes which stifle creativity are likely to fail

5. Process

Process innovation tends to be operationally focussed, looking at improving efficiency and effectiveness at all levels.

Digital technologies are able to impact process management systems and drive quality improvements. They can support innovations in process management systems and drive more agile approaches.

6. Products and Services

When considering new product or service design, be aware of the distinction between ‘push’ and ‘pull’ possibilities.

Access to improved customer data through adopting information management technologies gives organisations the potential to identify and customer needs more rapidly, and innovate in order to meet them. Whether creating new products or services, or extending or augmenting existing lines, meeting a known customer demand

7. Marketing

Traditional business models see marketing as a cost centre rather than a centre for innovation. Yet marketing teams are often already familiar with the need for creativity and speed that the whole business needs to adopt, and could be well placed to drive customer-focussed innovation across the organisation.

Putting the customer up front, and making customer need the driving force behind decisions can be a good way to bring leadership together and reduce organisational conflict when it comes to questions of ownership or budget allocation.

Ensure that the company is brand-led, with a purpose that is true to itself and the customer. Allowing a clear set of values to drive marketing and customer experience strategies across the organisation creates a more innovative and customer-focused culture.

This culture makes it easier to recognise opportunities to exploit new market segments, marketing channels and approaches to customer service.

8. Sales

Developments in technologies that can drive sales (such as Artificial Intelligence – chatbots, for example) can be hugely effective in building relationships with customers, or a huge turnoff. The secret lies in maintaining a human touch.

The sales supply chain from producer to end-customer is becoming more streamlined, with technology offering the ability to link all transactions and logistics in one transparent network.

Information gathering and management technologies allow organisations to collect vastly more information about their customers, markets and competitors, enabling them to plan better. Capturing comprehensive customer data from every touchpoint, illuminating customer behaviour, purchasing preferences and profiles will provide a completely holistic sales view.

9. Technology Innovation

You might have expected me to deal with this one first, but first I wanted to demonstrate how, even when focussing on digital technologies, digital leaders need to consider all areas of the organisation. Innovation in business doesn’t happen in isolation.

Adopting new technology in your organisation could be incremental – automating a particular process, for example – or transformative.

Digital transformation of a business can increase connectivity across the organisation and with markets, find new ways to meet customers’ needs, and enable new partnerships.

But the adoption of new technology needs to be aligned with the overarching business strategy, not just tech for tech’s sake. People need to be trained, and motivated to engage with change for it to succeed.