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Technology Innovation Principles

Technology innovation has the ability to bring disruptive technologies to the business. The challenge is to bring these technologies forward at the right time and in partnership with the business to enable the best possible chances for success.

Seek Approved but Minimal Time and Funding to Explore

Ideally, you should be able to get a limited amount of business-approved work time to explore new technologies and trends. This may take the form of Citing successful and innovative companies such as Google, 3M, and HP that allow employees “innovation time” to focus on and research new areas may also help in your efforts to obtain approval.

  • Small research projects
  • Exploratory prototypes
  • Reading research papers
  • Attending conferences that are focused on the area of business interest
  • Reading blogs, magazines, or books that may enable new capabilities

Ideally, your research request would be done in conjunction with your business partners in an area that

  • They are looking to move into
  • Is currently extremely hard for them to solve
  • Requires a significant amount of manual effort to deal with

Make Small Bets

The goal is to survive to live another day. You don’t want the entire business riding on a single investment if you are unsure of its long-term future. Being prudent with these kinds of decisions allows you to fail quickly, with the least amount of disruption to the business, and learn how to improve.

Use Technology Scouting to Scan and Track the Trends Regularly

The goal with scouting technology trends is to learn about new things on a regular basis (see Figure 10.4) and find out

Figure 10.4

Figure 10.4 Trend scouting

  • What is applicable to the business
  • What things need to wait on the back burner while they mature
  • What things warrant further investigation

Keep an eye on new and emerging trends using the scouting method of scanning the landscape to identify what’s new and interesting, then track those trends that look promising and apply them to your business. Scanning and tracking technology trends is of less value if the information obtained is not shared, so try to find a venue to share your findings and continue to make updates so your research is up-to-date and relevant.

Unless you are in some special circumstance, trends and trend investigation should not consume a large portion of your time. Major trends change less frequently—you may see the direction change every 6 to 12 months—while minor trends change more rapidly.

By quickly scanning an area of research interest and tracking any major changes, you’ll build up a knowledge base that will make your efforts more efficient the next time you scout the area. Catching these changes, whether the trends are gaining momentum or fading, gives you an indication of whether or not it is worth spending additional time and resources to learn more about a particular area and report out your findings.

Have a Lab Area

Having a lab environment can allow you play around with new technologies without a lot of visibility from other areas. For the areas in which you find success, you can bring them forward and have them progress toward a production environment.

Setting up a small lab typically doesn’t cost too much and allows you to do things that would scare the data center folks to no end.

Use Rapid Experimentation with User Feedback Loops

Experiments allow you to get firsthand knowledge of what is working or not working and a sense of what the real problems are. When experiments are combined with user feedback, you gain the ability to navigate toward customer needs. In many respects, this is similar to driving a car. You use the information that surrounds you to navigate toward your desired goal.

Show the Business and Customers Prototypes

As you have success with new technologies, show the business what is possible. A working example is worth an amazing amount to the business:

  • It demonstrates initiative on your part.
  • It reduces risk on the part of the business if it chooses to pursue the opportunity.
  • It engages your mind in thinking of new ways and approaches to solving problems.
  • Small innovations can grow into large enterprises and help sustain the business for the long haul.
  • It engages the development team and shows them that working in your company will give them the opportunity to work on cool things and stay current with the industry.

Introduce New Technologies at the Edge

As you look to introduce new technologies into existing systems or even new systems, try to find areas near the edge of the systems that will have minimal impacts on the core (see Figure 10.5). This enables you to operationalize the new technology in a quiet manner.

Figure 10.5

Figure 10.5 Keeping trendy areas near the edge of your activities will minimize the overall risk of trying out new things and the visibility of failures.

If it fails, the impact will be relatively small and the executives will be less likely to take notice.

On the other hand, if you take out the core revenue-generating software for any period of time, you are likely to get a direct call from senior executives and have some very unpleasant meetings in which your judgment is questioned.

If this does occur:

  • Be the first to approach the executives.
  • Let them know what the situation is.
  • Let them know what the possible resolutions are.
  • Let them know what path you recommend.

You are much better off being proactive in this situation than reactive. It gives you an opportunity to be in control and to some degree manage the message that is delivered.

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