Across industries, companies understand that technology is now crucial to their success, as well as a key driver of competitive edge. Innovation strategies and digital implementations feature heavily in many internal discussions, often accompanied by the fear of being left behind. At the same time, it isn’t easy to know where to start when it comes to choosing the right technology. Moving forward can provoke as much anxiety as doing nothing.
This the dilemma faced by organizations of all sizes across the globe, especially since COVID-19 has changed businesses forever. Companies know they need to do something with technology, but they don’t always know what.
The key to selecting a digital solution that works for your needs and goals is simply this: Get beyond the buzzwords and focus on what will truly bring you business value. We call this approach pragmatic innovation.
Pragmatic innovation is about identifying the technology that actually solves your specific problems. It’s not about technology for technology’s sake, trial and error, or crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. AI, blockchain, machine learning, virtual and augmented reality, data analytics, IoT, automation – all of these and more are certainly exciting advances, but what can they actually do for you?
Which will actually increase productivity and profit, reduce expenses, and generate long-term ROI?
That’s what pragmatic innovation helps you discover.
It should go without saying that a digital solution must be grounded in a deep knowledge of your industry, as well as your specific organization. After all, how can the solution truly work if it isn’t built to address targeted problems and goals?
Unfortunately, it’s surprisingly common for organizations to choose technology that is either a poor fit, or not fully thought out, or both. For example, implementing a new enterprise resource management system is pointless if it automates inefficient or outdated processes.
Similarly, selecting a solution without input from everyone who will be using it – from the warehouse to finance to sales – leads to a lack of clarity in what’s actually needed, and what will truly streamline operations across the board. This in turn leads to a suboptimal solution.
Choosing the right technology through pragmatic innovation means stepping back, analyzing the problem in the big picture, and asking the right questions, including:
While this list is not exhaustive, it’s a good start to a big-picture, pragmatic approach to innovation.
Technology implementation, and even full-scale digital transformation, doesn’t mean you should start from scratch. While there are a few organizations that might benefit from a complete technology overhaul, the vast majority of companies already have a lot to work with. Pragmatic innovation means leveraging this for reduced cost, greater efficiency, and easier onboarding.
For example, almost everyone uses Excel, but not to its true capabilities. Let’s say your organization is having trouble accurately tracking inventory. Instead of purchasing and training everyone on a new tool, you can actually use Excel. It can also be used for calendars and scheduling, goal planning, design mockups, checklists, project management charts, forms, time sheets, and as a CRM. Down the road, you may need dedicated tools with specific features for these tasks, but why not start with what you already know, and what you’ve already paid for? It’s a great way to achieve proof of concept before making any major investments.
This is just one simple example. What else do you currently own that can be maximized to its full potential? Your ERP system, accounting software, HR tools, even your email client – it’s extremely likely that you can realize huge productivity and efficiency gains simply by making the most of these and other existing systems.
Similarly, digital transformation does not have to necessitate a complete overhaul of your current business operations. For example, think about the ways you might use technology to better serve customers (and gain new ones) in an existing channel. Yes, you want to eventually reach them in new channels as well, but again, start by leveraging what you’ve already got.
Let’s say you’re a clothing company considering a new app that allows customers to upload their photos and “try on” clothes through augmented reality. While that’s a great idea, it might be better to table it until you’ve maximized user experience in your most profitable existing channels, such as your website or your physical stores.
How would streamlining your online checkout process reduce abandoned carts, and how much additional profit would that mean each year? How can you use predictive analytics to rearrange in-store items for increased sales? These are two relatively simple and inexpensive pragmatic implementations that can make a huge difference to your bottom line, while leveraging your already-proven channels.
Modernizing legacy systems is often an uncertain, expensive, and risky proposition – but not when approached through the lens of pragmatic innovation. As above, dealing with ageing systems does not mean you have to have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
When you modernize pragmatically, you get the best of both worlds – you make use of the rich and valuable data your systems have accumulated over years (sometimes decades), you reduce technical debt, you continue to leverage the core system features that are working well for you, and you introduce the new technology you need.
This is done through a process called digital decoupling, which separates the components of your legacy IT to allow older systems to run in conjunction with new ones. Instead of wiping everything out and introducing completely unknown tools and systems, decoupling allows for the ideal combination of immediate benefits and a smart long-term digital path.
If you’ve already got all of the bases above covered, and you’re in a position to create completely new and customized implementations for your organization or customers, pragmatic innovation is still the way to go.
All of the same considerations apply – what will get you to your goals? What will make your organization run as efficiently and profitably as possible? What, specifically, do you want to accomplish with this implementation that you cannot currently do?
If you’re framing your objectives as “move to the cloud,” “leverage machine learning,” or anything along those lines, instead ask yourself questions like, “How can we use technology to better serve our customers?” Having a business outcome firmly in mind helps ensure you’re choosing the right technology – the one that achieves your goals.
The technological possibilities available today are hugely varied, and indeed disruptive – and any business focused on innovation and competitive edge is smart to be interested in them. At the same time, it’s still important to avoid implementing, say, a drone delivery system if what you really need is a fully optimized supply chain.
Whether midmarket or enterprise, all organizations benefit from pragmatic innovation. It’s the digital framework that allows for choosing the right technology with confidence. Pragmatic innovation helps you quickly achieve significant improvements while keeping investments smart and ROI-focused.