I believe we are arriving at the point of real value by organizing dedicated innovation scientists and engineers into a specialized innovation unit. Innovation has emerged into part science, part art and design, and plenty of engineering (social and process). Today to successfully manage innovation is getting increasingly challenging and placing considerable strain on the present design and structures of organizations. A dedicated unit or group that draws from a range of disciplines and combines these into a new organization unit has significant value to be at the forefront of designing the organizational change needed for innovation to be more embedded and integrated.
Let Me Explain Why
IBM have been investigating and promoting the concept of SSME – Services, Sciences, Management & Engineering for some time. I recalled a presentation by Jim Spohner of the Almaden Service Research from 2006 that has significant relevance even more today. As most are very aware, IBM have shifted dramatically into a service organization and innovation is absolutely essential.
To quote from Henry Chesbrough with his opening remarks in his latest book Open Service Innovation: “A few years ago, I sat in Paul Horn’s office at IBM. Paul was the Senior Vice President of Research, in charge of IBM’s 3,000 researchers, scientists and engineers. We had a wonderful conversation about innovation, and the many successes IBM had obtained from its research activities. At the end of our time, I asked him a final question: what is your biggest problem today? His biggest problem was that his research activities were geared to support a company that made computer products: systems, servers, mainframes, and software. But most of IBM’s revenues were coming from services, not from its products. “I can’t sustain a significant research activity at IBM if our research is not relevant to more than half of the company’s revenues going forward”, he stated. His answer intrigued and stimulated me to start working on an academic area that has become known as “Service Science”
The ability to combine sciences, engineering and innovation management offers much.
I believe both IBM’s & Henry Chesbrough’s focus is absolutely right, to focus upon service, but I would argue much of that thinking also applies across all of an organizations innovation activity. I believe we are at a point of time where we need to create dedicated Innovation Scientists & Engineers that focus upon the discipline of innovation and build this into a center of excellence within the organization.
Drawing from this work of IBM and applying it to the broader application of innovation let me outline the profile, skills and what these specialist units can accomplish.
First we need to agree that there is this need for a ‘call to action’
Every organization is working through their view of innovation, it seemingly is complex, the issue is that innovation will all of the best efforts still remains ‘ad hoc’ and not recognized as an emerging discipline. It needs to become an established academic discipline, it needs to combine different methods and turn these into the ‘science of innovation’. We need to become more systematic about innovation. It needs a new type of specialty, a different mindset to tackle the broad issues surrounding innovation.
Establishing and Combining Science and Engineer Innovators
Innovation is a huge field of research. It needs understanding of its design, its systems and how these can be scale-emergent. We need more predictability in a whole raft of areas relating to innovation activity: in quality, compliance, productivity, sustainability and in improving success rates for innovation activity. We need to turn more ‘promise’ into economic value in our innovation activity. It needs dedicated, specialists that ‘grasp’ the different aspects of innovation and successfully translate them.
This dedicated team or person delivers real value
Through their own specialized understanding they create knowledge others can use and quickly translate:
- Through their science application they create this knowledge
- Through their engineering they can show the way to apply this to create new value
- Through their management understanding they demonstrate the improvement of the process of creating and capturing value for the organizational good.
So having a dedicated innovation scientific emphasis can create knowledge, the engineering aspects can show ways to employ the knowledge, with the understanding of business models and how the different aspects can capture the potential value and finally how specific innovation management can improve the process, climate and environment to deliver innovation.
It is the ability to combine these as a dedicated unit or group of people can rapidly accelerate and embed innovation within organizations
What are the disciplines required to be mastered?
There is a real need to blend the exciting areas emerging from social sciences, drawing from the many disciplines of engineering schools and schools of science (operations, computer sciences, industrial design & system engineering) and finally the school of management (marketing, accounting, management of technology, operations and customers found from MBA programs) and a fair level of working experience and exposure across organizational problems and present disciplines.
The skill-set required will be incredibly valuable by being ‘pooled’ together.
A huge blend needs to be within the mix: the combination of technology, business and social- organizational. The team needs to be able to use tools that are more empirical (simulation work, investigative, experience applicable), analytical tools and techniques, engineering (workbench application, prototyping, assembly understanding, infrastructure deployment), theoretical (academic savvy, knowing standards and principles), science based and design applicable.
The principle role of this dedicated innovation group
They ‘own’ the body of knowledge, they seek consistent improvements, they perceive and evaluate emerging opportunities and they often identify unique avenues.
Where do they get involved?
This specialized unit or group works across the whole organization and its stakeholders for innovation; they don’t necessarily manage it, other more highly focused disciplines do (research, operations, supply chain, marketing, customer services) but they ‘orchestrate’ it, for the economies of co-ordination this can bring in improvements in creating and capturing innovation value that translates into new economic and commercial success.
- Firstly they are judged by their ability to relate & transform. Today, we have growing co-production relationship need of working both with internal and external parties (e.g open innovation). This growing need has to be translated increasingly into the goals, rewards, risks and work, both explicitly and tacitly, to be captured between the parties so as to manage the ongoing state and efforts needed. This task is increasingly falling to newly forming dedicated ‘relationship’ groups but I would argue that there is a need going well beyond this current structure seen today, as concepts do need to have both the strategic and tactical implications well understood beyond many of these current open exchanges today are generating. It calls not just for a senior manager to have the oversight but a broader strategic team capable of broader innovation assessments and understanding of the strategic and tactical implications. It is this teams ability to be the central point for co-production as overseer’s of the core process of innovation and fostering it.
- Supporting the Front stage activities: Variance at the front stage is largely due to often consistent changes to requests and misunderstandings, resulting in actions that can step well outside a specific brief. More importantly they can miss or simply ignore different opportunities as they were not in the initial brief. Spotting these different opportunities can be discovered and then linked into the organizations broader strategic intent by a dedicated unit, and through this, can provide even more higher value services or concepts. Eliminating front stage variance can lead to improving standards and higher quality, better and faster time to market but it can also ignore or destroy a lot of high end value creation opportunities by lacking this broader insight and deeper organization understanding. This needs greater balance and dedication that this specialized unit could bring. It becomes a strategic innovation unit (SIU).
- Contributing to Back stage activities: These presently involve less the external stakeholders but more how the internal process of innovation works within organizations. The speed, time to market and engagement of all involved in any innovation process determines ideas moving through to successful implementation. Making innovation more visible comes in many forms. This could be working with different levels of management to provide them improvements in tools, techniques and raise its meaning. It could mean exploring the impact points within the innovation value chain and often the knock on effects, it could mean managing portfolio aspects, investigating execution value (what works, what doesn’t), evaluating redundancy and legacy issues within the innovation process, providing innovation assessments, anchoring innovation thinking into institutional change, and moving custom processes into standard ones that become more sustainable.
- Delivering the complementary aspects of Service, Product & the Business Model: as products and services have the potential to be combined in unique ways to increase the value for organizations; these are often having increasing tension on the present business model. These ‘tensions’ need to be evaluated and organizations increasingly re-designed to seize the different opportunities that come from new combinations. This requires a fairly detailed understanding of the effects on the system and what needs changing, spinning out or altering.
- Orchestration: they have the express intent to manage the total innovation platform in co-producing the value and extracting the different contributions from suppliers and customers alike and achieving the economies of this dedicated co-ordination. The intensity of innovation will continue to increase, it needs dedicated managing to provide a more holistic assessment of its impact, effect and dynamics upon both the organization and the market it operates within to clarify the economic value in different terms. They orchestrate the innovation business platform.
- Improve dynamic evolution: Understand the dynamics of innovation, their interrelationships and the gap points that need resolving to deliver successful innovation.
- Improve the capabilities of people and organizations: so the ability to add higher value creation and capture changes to reconfigure and improve productive capacity to contribute to innovation activity.
Innovation is Certainly Becoming More Intense
Innovation is becoming more intense; in activities, knowledge, organizations, networks of partners, relationships with multiple external partners and customers. It is becoming more demand-sided that require different approaches than those traditionally from the past. We do need a greater dedicated focus to manage this. It needs to be more systematic, more organized so it can draw upon an increasing set of disciplines (old and new) with the aim of integrating them into a new specialty of innovation science and engineering.
There is this powerful need to combine innovation in science, engineering and management. We are increasingly dependent on the successful outcome of our innovation activity: to evolve, interact, coordinate, specialize and value co-produce. We need to recognize we do not have the dedicated, combined structure yet in place to meet the innovation challenges not only of today but rapidly coming towards us in the future. Perhaps its time has come?
Paul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities.