Dr Karippur Nanda Kumar works as Professor of Information Technology at SP Jain School of Global Management, Singapore. Dr Kumar is responsible for teaching, applied business research and industry collaborations in the areas of Technology Management, Digital Business and Consulting across SP Jain campuses in Dubai, Mumbai, Singapore and Sydney. Dr Kumar is actively involved in applied research in areas such as Digital Leadership, Enterprise Digital Transformation, Digital Supply Networks and Innovation Management. In 2018, Dr Kumar has been conferred as a Fellow of the Singapore Computer Society for outstanding contributions and the advancement of the tech profession.
In the context of an enterprise, we can broadly define innovation as any change to a process, product or service that adds value. Enterprise innovation in the digital age starts with envisioning how organizations can bring together digital technologies, people, data, and processes to provide impactful and personalized services to their customers and sustain a competitive advantage. To compete in a fast-changing digital environment, there is an urgent need for enterprises need to accelerate innovation through rapid experimentation and continuous learning.
Leaders such as CIOs traditionally were tasked with focusing on automating and improving the processes of an existing business. Today, enterprise leaders require the ability to challenge assumptions and reimagine and reinvent that business itself. They need to sense changes in the competitive environment, potential shifts in technology, customer expectations and set strategic priorities for enterprise innovation. For example, the assumption that customers are mass market are no more true there is a need to connect and engage customers as a dynamic network through digital platforms. This creates a great opportunity to innovate and co-create with customers. In traditional businesses, data is stored and utilized in organizational silos. Today, data is being generated at an unprecedented rate—not just by enterprises but by everyone.
Leaders need to be digitally savvy to understand that digital technologies are transforming the ways that businesses innovate. Enterprise innovation requires competent leaders, who, with their knowledge and experience, will be able to drive the change to integrate technology and business organizations toward innovation and business transformation to achieve the desired outcomes. Digital literacy along with tolerance for ambiguity and customer centricity are some of the key attributes to flourish in this digital age.
Traditionally, innovation development and testing ideas were expensive and done by a few in the organization in isolation. Today, digital technologies enable continuous testing and experimentation through technologies ranging from simulation to predictive analytics to 3D printing that were inconceivable in the past. Such prototypes can be built rapidly at a fractional cost and ideas tested quickly with user communities. Technologies such as digital twin, which is a virtual representation of a physical system, enable enterprises to engage in product-centric, model-based innovation processes. The approach is to focus on the customers and their needs and not one product. Rather than concentrating primarily on a finished product, this approach focuses on identifying the right problem and then developing, testing, and learning from multiple possible protypes and solutions.
Leaders hence need to encourage constant learning and the rapid iteration of products by putting in place in place both technological and operational foundations that foster cross-functional collaboration and constant evolution. Some of the challenges leaders s face today include organisational silos in storing and utilising data, legacy processes and cultural resistance to change. Leaders need to encourage data-driven innovation capitalising on data sharing and data analytics to sense new customer-centric trends, facilitate data driven decision making and add value to business. Enterprises undertaking innovation projects need to ensure that these projects potentially lead to scalable initiatives that are capable of enhancing business performance. Developing related metrics early in these projects to measure success in areas such as customer experience, revenue growth and retention and employee productivity and sustainability is often challenging too.
For enterprise-wide innovation, leaders need to provide employees the opportunity to generate their own innovative ideas and propose where digitisation / digital technologies could and should be adopted in the business. Investing in digital skills, encouraging risk taking and innovation through competitions such as hackathon across divisions is one way to achieve this. Encouraging collaborating by forming external partnerships with partners such as platform companies is another way to explore new innovation opportunities. Use of technologies such as blockchain enable enterprises to participate and evaluate potential partnerships in the innovation process.
To facilitate such collaboration effectively, there is a need to balance innovation with good governance. Leaders need to put in place good governance practices that support organisational changes, enables collaborative communications across organisational boundaries and a promote shared digital decision-making culture of an organisation. Such practices may include developing innovative and creative processes, new polices, roles and responsibilities to manage innovation projects effectively. There is a need to ensure that businesses build their digital innovation capabilities on top of a stable and secure infrastructure whether internally or externally sourced and are effective at selecting the most appropriate technologies and architectures.
Leaders of small and medium enterprises, may proactively tap on various government incentives for enterprise innovation and collaboration as possible. Our past studies indicate that government incentives and regulatory support across Asia Pacific vary widely. Consequently, there is for leaders to lobby the respective governments to provide incentives for innovation and collaboration and put in place or update regulations in the areas of cybersecurity and policies that promote digital governance.