Business Model, Methods

Developing an innovation mindset

One example of innovative use of space is how firms operate by adopting the concept of flexible workspace

TECHNOLOGY has shaped lifestyles and businesses immensely. The use of devices such as smartphones and tablets has permeated daily activities to the point where they have become a functional necessity in society. It would have been unthinkable a little more than a decade ago that today we can shop online while on the move, or that a ride-hailing company could offer services to users and drivers jointly through an app.

Ride-hailing companies or e-commerce services do not develop technology; they adopt technology by innovating to create powerful systems specifically suited to their business. Innovation can be developing new or better processes, the newest technology, a new way of using space, or introducing new and improved products and services to the market.

The digital economy is one of the key drivers for Singapore’s growth in the long term, with innovation and productivity crucial to this growth. This presents many opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to harness digital technologies and platforms, such as advanced freight forwarding systems. Regardless of size, companies can now seek out new businesses or customers globally, and transact with them through digital network and payment solutions anywhere, anytime.

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Singapore has the best airport in the world according to Skytrax, a robust digital infrastructure and one of the fastest Internet speeds. We are also ideally placed – at the heart of a region that is significant to global economic growth. The opportunities to grow are abundant, and it is up to SMEs to seize these opportunities and be equipped for long-term growth.

 The government is providing support through grants, as well as broad-based and targeted programmes to assist firms with transforming their businesses successfully and go digital. Some businesses are at different stages of maturity in terms of adoption of digital technologies. SMEs will receive help at identifying technology to aid in innovating and competing, while more digitally advanced companies will get advice from the proposed SME Technology Hub that is slated to be set up by the end of the third quarter of this year. Traditional ways of doing business could still remain for a while, but companies must be prepared and willing to transform.

Innovation and going digital does not necessarily mean an overhaul. Both, however, require a change in mindset. Some businesses may not be willing to upgrade and adopt technology, they feel that the implementation of digital technology is too complicated. Conversely, there are companies with innovative ideas that go beyond technological advancements. They assimilate technology into their business to ensure that they keep up with the pace of change, but crucially, these companies understand and anticipate market trends, and find solutions.

For example in retail, a firm is now building a strong e-commerce platform beyond its brick-and-mortar model. In addition, it is now using a digital accounting solution from its banking partner to synchronise transactions from different operating accounts. This solution provides the business with real-time information as well as an auto-reconciliation of transactions with the bank, such as purchase orders to suppliers and daily takings, thus improving productivity and freeing up important resources for other key business functions.

Another firm, an established local jewellery group, has adopted three-dimensional (3D) printing technology into the process of jewellery design. Developed with funding support, its research and development team adapted the technology to provide customers with a precision-printed 3D model of their jewellery design. A process which used to take up to three weeks, this has been shortened to three days. In addition to increased productivity, the group has also seen an increase in conversion rate of sales by up to 10 per cent due to the increased likelihood of a purchase with a view of a 3D model.

One example of innovative use of space is how firms operate by adopting the concept of flexible workspace. Depending on their operational needs, companies are remodelling spaces – converging traditional serviced offices and coworking space – hence “flexible workspace”. Coworking within a flexible workspace set-up also helps to foster an interactive community where ideas are borne. By implementing a flexible workplace strategy, firms can make efficient use of space, expect a reduction in operating cost and increase productivity by making adjustments to the space ratio within their premise. It also offers businesses a good point of market entry with reduced capital expenditure, or capex, in comparison to conventional space.

Take a company whose business is data and cybersecurity for instance – both are important assets for firms as businesses adopt technology and go digital. It could be that part of a data and cybersecurity business offers computer and network security via Cloud computing, while another part offers client solutions through hardware and physical controls. This company could remodel its physical workspace to scale up or down relatively quickly according to its projects and operational needs, thus reshaping the way that the office looks and its staff interact.

The logistics industry is harnessing both existing and emerging technologies to tap into the growth of e-commerce. For example, many warehouse, fulfilment and distribution centres are familiar with automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) which offers highly accurate, efficient and high throughput inventory management capabilities. Installed applications of ASRS is wide ranging, including retrieval of packages in warehouses, retrieval of books in libraries, retrieval of bicycles from a bicycle tree (bicycle carpark), and even retrieval of cars from a factory or carpark.

ASRS could be scaled to integrate with emerging technologies to provide an incremental system design. This would allow great flexibility in customisation and expansion to meet increasing productivity demands, as well as changing business and operational needs. In addition, when supported by advanced technologies, ASRS provides an integrated solution for logistics companies which include monitoring of warehouses, stock-keeping unit (SKU), and shipment globally. The growing e-commerce sector would also look to combine ASRS with emerging technologies such as data analytics to improve delivery and inventory management capabilities.

While technology has become more powerful and embedded into our daily life, some businesses are having a hard time playing catch-up. Companies must be willing to make the transition by scrutinising all aspects of their existing operations. To innovate requires continuous tweaking and not just for business but in every endeavour. The next big thing could well emerge from a thriving SME community.

The writer is head of industrial services, Colliers International Singapore

Business Model, Methods

COMPETE IN ANY MODERN MARKET

Innovation and creativity are essential to compete in modern markets. Companies like Apple, IKEA, and Google work hard to develop the culture, processes, and habits that drive their success.

But how can you be innovative? Is there a way to assess innovation?
Ideo, an international design agency, has tried to do this. After studying several projects carried out in the past, focused on innovative thinking, the company realized that define what was innovation, especially considering very diverse contexts, it was almost impossible.

There are 6 qualities that  help drive any organization to become more creatively competitive.

PURPOSE:
The degree to which there is alignment about a meaningful change that leadership and employees want to make in the world. Scoring high on purpose requires that the purpose is clear, inspires passion in employees, and helps to inform most major decisions.
LOOKING OUT: The degree to which employees get insights and inspiration from beyond the company’s walls. Companies who do well on this score have a strong sense of who their customer is, what’s happening in their market, and what major trends (technical or social) might be leveraged towards the organization’s goals.
EXPERIMENTATION: The degree to which a company is able to explore new ideas quickly and inexpensively. Good experimenters have low bureaucracy in the way of testing new ideas with customers or users. They do a good job of sharing discoveries across the organization, and have a healthy attitude towards controlled failure, knowing that some will be necessary to help discover new opportunities.

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COLLABORATION: The degree to which employees of different roles and within different departments work together to bring new ideas forward. Organizations with a high collaboration score tend to create multi-disciplined teams where members with different skills respect and value each other’s craft.
EMPOWERMENT: The degree to which the organization provides a clear path for employees to create change. These organizations create meaningful jobs where employees are confident that they can improve things for the better if they do their job well. Employees have a reasonable amount of autonomy, and performance metrics and responsibilities are well calibrated to provide guidance, without perverting incentives to cause unproductive behavior.
REFINEMENT: The degree to which the strategy, product, and design functions within a company, play nicely with the execution roles as new ideas move towards implementation. These companies do a good job of problem solving as concepts move from broad outlines to detailed specifics. These companies avoid feature creep, and find elegant solutions to the technical challenges that emerge during development. The results are beautiful, well crafted products or systems, that achieve the original purpose of the design.

Business Model, Methods

Innovation into Your Organization

It takes two factors to make innovation real at an organization: concepts and culture. Work on both at the same time and the rest will emerge as a by-product of the process.

Without working on the culture while generating concepts, new thinking and new value-generating concepts will be rejected by the preset filters and default thinking of the organization.

On the other hand if you just work on the culture, but do not produce concepts that resonate in the market, you have created no new value.

Work on culture and concepts minnovationpic2ust be undertaken at the same time as part of an innovation journey that will assure a positive outcome. You have to work on the people in the business (culture) and on the market ideas (concepts: products, services, business model changes, initiatives, etc.), to transform into an organization that drives new results.

Do exercises and training to change the culture and work on concepts that are consumer- or customer-insight based.
Don’t worry about larger implications such as which department innovation will exist within, metrics for innovation, or how innovation will dovetail with the existing new product development process.

For the first 12-to-18 months keep the approach simple. Host a series of workshops to initiate the culture. Teach your people the methods and mindset of innovation, as tools for complex problem solving. Pick a small, multi-disciplinary team or two to work on a few projects. Generate new concepts that arise from market insights. Repeat.

Then, the right structure and definition for innovation for your company’s unique needs will naturally emerge.