Importance Of Designing A Platform For Innovation In Indian Inc.

Posted in Operations & IT Articles, Total Reads: 1854 , Published on 13 October 2012

Design: The thing that happens when art meets engineering. Function improves, effort reduces, and joy multiplies. And one more thing, revenue grows.

To create or improve a design organizations promote ideas seeking culture within them. These employees are full of with great ideas. So, the organizations that promote these creativity or innovation always have a better chance of being more efficient in that process than its competitions. Take Google, which has regularly been awarded as a Best Place to Work, for example. The people always appreciate its open learning and innovation promotion culture.

But the main challenge of organization is not only in being first to launch this new idea or technology into the market but also to envision its true potential and make it reach its true customers. Apple was not the first one to come up with the idea of portable music. It was Sony with its product walkman. But undoubtedly, Apple has banked upon its true potential.

Need for Innovation

Failure is almost certain even when we give a right answer to a wrong question. Innovators who have so far been betting on faster, better, cheaper innovation or out-of-the-box paradigms for success are finding themselves and their customers disappointed. Asking "How can I enrich user’s experience on the mobile keypad" in an era of touch-screen is not a recipe for success. Innovation has now transformed itself from the creation of ideas to something akin to an investment in product enhancement or customer experience. Moreover it is an investment in the customer's future i.e. a human capital investment in who your customers really want or need to become.

The word innovation has a positive feeling attached to it. It connotes a stream of ideas, improvements into the process we are talking about. But we need to re-design this process now more than ever. What I am pointing to is that an organization has to build a creative environment. It means bringing all your positive energy, all your negative energy, all your ideas, and especially all your criticism to work.

In this context, the economic scenario in India is changing fast. Global companies have brought world-class industrial and product design to Indian cities. This has suddenly raised the expectations of Indian customers: A Volkswagen car on the road puts pressure on Maruti Suzuki. A Cadbury Oreo makes a Britannia Bourbon do a rethink about its most popular chocolate sandwich biscuits.

Since global products are offering world class ease, technologies and experience, the same is being expected from Indian products The Indian companies have a need for meeting the global innovation standards to create breakthroughs because of the following factors:

  • Global Competition
  • Higher Expectations
  • Product Differentiation
  • Cost Efficiency
  • Aesthetic Awareness

Rising disposable income has enabled urban Indians to spend on good looking products. Their choices are influenced by ergonomics, user friendliness of product, etc. This competition has made it urgent for India Inc. to rise in creativity. They have to have the power mantra of “More Speed and More Greed”.

Continuing the talk about creativity in Indian companies, we have a handful of examples of world-class product designs to quote to the world: Tata Nano, HUL Pureit, etc. Surely, all these were breakthroughs in their category, but design thinking is not part of the Indian business psyche. Let’s take a daily life example for this. Look at how we build our cities or our roads: Why isn't there a patch of green on the new flyovers? Honestly, how many of us have even thought about it?

Current Levels of Innovation in Indian Companies

Technology has proven that design premium is dispensable. No longer can companies hide behind the excuse that good product design is prohibitively expensive and hence no game changer for a value-conscious customer.

Take for example Blackberry. It ruled the business phone market for many years before the entry of the likes of Apple and Android entered who imitated the same technology along with many more to offer to the customers. Now, we can see Blackberry tasting the lost battle and whatsoever the new CEO Thorsten Heins says about his new products, analysts see a little chance of its resurgence.

According to a survey by NKC (National Knowledge Commission), India in the year of 2007, the split up of Indian firms having Breakthrough, incremental or both types of innovation can be shown as:

There were some more points brought to the notice with respect to the Indian industry trends:

  • SMEs have more innovation intensity than the large firms
  • Innovation intensity is higher in privately owned firms than that of government owned firms
  • Again, Innovation intensity is higher in the firms with majority foreign ownership than that of majority Indian ownership

Designing the Innovation flow within the Organization

In the present scenario, for the companies aware of the importance of innovation, it’s not unusual to have a separate Innovation Cell or alike. But the main problem with this concept lies with the extent to which these innovators can push themselves. According to Harry West, CEO of Continuum the following Innovation spectrum lies in front of these “innovation-responsible” people:

On the left extreme lies the concept of incremental change. It is a low risk zone and to a certain extent predictable. Example can be an engineering redesign of an auto-component because of which the fuel efficiency of the car increases. The right side comprises of cold fusion which includes all our sci-fi fantasies like the time machine. According to Harry, true and beneficial innovation lies in the scary zone i.e. where a mixture of both concepts lies. This area generally results in products what we call as breakthroughs.

Now, to improve the offering we need to get the insight from the customers. The first approach is by doing a market survey / research wherein improvement to the existing technology can be found out. But to create a breakthrough in the field which even the customer is not aware of, known as to serve to its latent demand; we need to Find Experts or interpreters who know about the product / service being in question and then see what the customer is saying. This will provide us the arena which was not visible to us by the research process and where the scope of improvement is needed.

So as we can see that the usual approach of the organizations of designing a process flow diagram has to be changed and they have to come up with “Experience Flow Diagrams”. We have to shift the focus from extracting value from customers to making customers more valuable. Simply put, this new focus redefines the purpose of innovation, which is not just designing better products and services, but designing better and more valuable customers.

In the end, a prototype of the new breakthrough has to be launched to test it across the customer segments. This marks the end of the in-house processes and the product is all set to go in the market once the prototype begins a hit.

A classic example in the Healthcare sector is that of Philips Ambient Experience for Healthcare or Philips AEH as it is popularly known. After the introduction of CT and MRI, doctors were facing a lot of problems in getting accurate results as the patients used to move a lot because of anxiety. This was even more in case with children. Philips then catered to this problem with the experience flow diagram as discussed above and came out with its product of AEH to control the anxiety. This reduced the cycle time and hence time for radiation exposure by 25% to 50%.

Hence, Philips catered to the core problem of doctors as well as the customer’s customer (patients) by studying the experience of the consumer and eventually, presented the sector with its breakthrough offering.

The Future of the Breakthroughs in the Indian Industry

In the current market scenario with a demanding need of innovations and breakthroughs, India faces two options now. As the creative goal posts keep moving forward, Indian businesses can either learn to copy faster or decide to build design capabilities of the future. This doesn't only mean setting up design labs but also collaborating with academia. The well-worn cliché of a creative eco system must be brought to life. And secondly, our engineers and managers must learn to imagine and design to improve the Experience Flow Diagram for their customers.

According to PMI (Project Management Institute), an amount of US $100 billion is wasted on fuel and time due to traffic on congested roads. It also points to an amount of US $85 million to be invested over next 20 years to upgrade the roads and bridges. Imagining the scenario in India then, are we ready to get better than this? The solution lies not in technology first, innovation second but in innovation first, technology second.

This article has been authored by Sarthak Agarwal from SIBM Pune.

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