Innovation and investment processes in a 100 person IT company

Richard Lucas April 2015
Introduction
At SKK –  the company I founded and have returned to run in the last few months, – I’ve been thinking and researching our innovation processes.  When I studied economics in the 1980s at Cambridge (UK), we learned how Karl Marx argued that the four drivers of the capitalist system were competition, capital mobility, the profit motive and technological progress.  Marx was wrong about many things, and the dreadful impact of his ideas on world history is hard to overstate, but his insights about the importance of technological change to business are important. Businesses that do not innovate effectively will die.
This article is a generalised version of the concepts I am implementing at a business that is one of my most important financial assets.  Why share ? Ideas in business are only as valuable as the quality of their implementation.
Note that this article is a conversion of an internal document, and the tone and voice may be more of a manager to staff than me to my normal readership.
Tesla's 1891 Wireless transmission of power and energy demonstration

Tesla’s 1891 Wireless transmission of power and energy demonstration

Why do we need innovation ?
Keeping your ears and eyes open to internal and external information and ideas about what is going on the industries and sectors relevant to the one you work in, and thinking about them, is an activity that everyone can contribute to the company they work for.
Technological change is always about either doing what you already do better, cheaper or faster  and/or doing things that could not do before.  Both are potential sources of competitive advantage. 
The purpose of this document is describe  a generic innovation and investment process and suggest tools and  links  that may be useful and set out reasonable  expectations a leader should have of staff who want to engage  in an innovation processes.
What type of innovation are we looking for and why ?  
Innovation can increase an organisation’s chances of providing better solutions for its clients,  making clients’ organisations more successful and through so doing helping you and your organisation to prosper and grow.
By improving our internal processes and organisation innovation can make your organisation more competitive, cut  costs, avoid waste, and add more value.
There are two main types of innovation 
1 Incremental improvements to existing products, services and processes
taking out costs, doing things in new ways. These can be as obvious as improving our intranet,  sales and marketing processes, new products from suppliers. or having a thermos of hot coffee put in meeting rooms at the beginning of the day so that time is not wasted in the kitchen.
Any member of staff can make proposals, explaining how the change can cut costs, raise  revenue, increase  productivity, automate manual processes, make things better for the company  or its clients.   
2 Radical change 
in what your organisation does – offering completely new products and services, what we do and changing our business models 
Proposed radical changes  must be informed by systematic client or potential client feedback. Remember the Henry Ford warning “if we asked people what they wanted we would have given them a faster horse”. Sometimes you just “know” that clients will want something before they buy it.  
We may also come across change and innovation that impacts our clients even though we are not actively involved in the technology or other factors driving the change. Even if this is the case, it’s still good to understand our client’s situation and sharing insights can be important in developing a partner rather than vendor relationship. 
3. Innovation that impacts our clients
Sometimes we may come across a change that is important for our clients. In this case it is a talking point and something that we can let our clients know about, showing that we are thinking about them, leading to a conversation about what we can do for them.  
Where can we get information and ideas about innovation
workshops/ brainstorming
benchmarking against external vendors
talking to clients about their problems
thinking
research
monitoring the external world with tools and processes.
There are many tools for keeping up with what is going on in companies, sectors and the news. We can all do Google searches, with “Google News Alerts” the news comes to your inbox.  Google Alerts https://www.google.com/alerts
As someone living and working in a  non English language environment, I cannot underline strongly enough the importance of understanding and using English. You cannot search in every language, but with English being the world’s second language of choice – > the chances of finding out something new in English are way above those in most languages.
Magazines, websites, radio shows and podcasts, industry portals, trade associations, reports,  clients, competitors, vendors, media,(web,  media)   conferences, internal existing projects,
What should the process be for an employee when he or she come across an innovation that is relevant to the company ? or has a suggestion of a new vendor partner or supplier ?
Make a Google Form and distribute the link to your organisation (and selected partners). Ask obvious questions – What Who Why,
Innovation form

Innovation form

Make sure that nominated managers have nominations on their agenda for regular meetings, get more information from anyone with an important idea or major proposal for change. and give feedback to the person with the idea. If merited, project teams can be formed to do further research, and get feedback from clients. 
Conclusion
In a small company, a founder or CEO may “do” innovation by him- or herself. In a  larger company it may be in the hands of a Product Manager. In a good company innovation  is for everyone. and it is a senior management responsibility to make sure that suggestions are responded to. Companies that do not innovate effectively have a serious problem, and may die.

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