Nine tips to make digital innovation viable

Anyone can innovate. There is so much information out there, there are so many tools to help you – with a minimum budget and a little technological ingenuity, anyone can become an innovator. Only: if innovation is not embedded in an organization’s strategy, it will never be viable. As Geoffrey Moore put it in his ‘Crossing the chasm,’ many innovations get stuck with the ‘early adopters’ and fail to really break through. Are you working on innovation? Then read the nine tips below. They will help you cross the chasm.

At ACOMPANY, we supervise quite a few innovation projects. We have often learned the tips below through trial and error. In these projects we use several phases. Therefore, I have divided the tips into the phases in which we discuss them during our workshops.

Setting the Stage

1. Fit innovation into the overarching business strategy

Innovation should not happen in a vacuum but should fit into the business strategy. Organizations have a mission, a vision and goals. All efforts and processes within the organization must serve the strategy to maximize its success. So too should innovations. Innovations should support the strategy, not weaken it. For example, if the strategy is focused on better ‘customer intimacy’ and starts from the needs of the customer, you must maintain that direction, even if it means that an innovation project does not immediately recover all the costs. Customer intimacy is typically something that pays off in the longer term.

Of course, sometimes there are very disruptive innovations that turn an organization and the entire market upside down. Think, for example, of the invention of the digital camera at Kodak. But those are the exception rather than the rule.

2. Start your innovation in a timely manner

Sometimes there is a ‘compelling event’ to innovate, for example, because regulations force you to do so. Currently, many companies have to launch programs to comply with European regulations around NIS2 and DORA, which come into effect at the end of 2024. Companies may also have products nearing the end of their life cycle. Those who wait too long to innovate risk running out of time and skipping steps. Up against it, they are forced to put an immature innovation on the market. That is not a recipe for success.


3. Think of the customer

We live in a customer-centered economy. Innovations must take that into account as well. With new products or services, the first thing to consider is the value an innovation will bring to the customer. What customer problem are you solving? Is your innovation more likely to improve internal processes? Even then, the innovator must put himself in the shoes of the internal customer. The technique of ‘design thinking’ is appropriate for this, as we also pointed out in our previous blog.

4. Work data-driven

Regarding innovation, we often have the image in our heads of a ‘Eureka’ moment. “I have my best ideas in the shower,” you sometimes hear. That makes innovation seem easier than it really is. Gut feeling is not enough and in fact – with exceptions – there is no shortcut for the hard work that is innovation. Innovation is always based on an analysis of the current situation and research into customer needs. Even if an innovation comes from a creative hunch, its elaboration must be based on data that supports your thesis.

5. Involve the entire organization in the process

We mentioned it already: innovation does not happen in a vacuum. It must fit into the strategy, and it must also be supported by the entire organization. An innovation in the marketing department will not only affect the marketing department. The IT department will have to provide technological support, Accounting may have to adjust processes, and if a marketing innovation really succeeds, Production and Distribution will also have to be ready to meet the increased demand. So make sure every impacted department is along for the ride. There is the famous quote from Confucius: “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” Confronting the organization unexpectedly with an innovation is the best way to provoke a ‘not invented here’ reaction and ensure that your colleagues dig their heels in.


6. Don’t limit innovation to the facade

Innovation should not be narrowed down to a new interface or a shiny new tool. In practice, we find that innovations are sometimes developed on an island. In the effort to serve the customer better, a new service is put on the market without any thought to the underlying processes. This leads to breaks in the flow of the organization, which can only be solved through manual interventions. This is not how you help an organization move forward.

7. Consider dependencies

This ties in closely with the previous point. Every organization has lots of processes running, and in an ideal world they are aligned. And there are usually several change processes running simultaneously. When you change something within an organization, it impacts existing processes and can also disrupt other ongoing or planned projects. All these processes and projects have to take each other into account, including technology. Every organization uses a specific technology stack. So leverage the power of the existing technology and tools rather than simply introducing new things that don’t fit that stack. And now that we live in a world where various organizations collaborate and exchange information and processes with each other, the technology and processes at those external partners must also be considered.

Planning for action

8. Ensure scalability

Allow me to delve into the culinary world for a moment. I know many people who can cook fantastically for their families or for a limited group of friends. I can only envy them. On the other hand, I am not sure that they are also able to cook in a restaurant for 40 people who all choose something different from the menu. Compare that to pilot projects that try something on a limited scale and succeed 100%. Will a large-scale rollout be as successful? From the start of a pilot project, the reality of the overall project must be considered. This also applies to the budget that will be required for an organization-wide rollout. To make another comparison: it is easy to launch a speedboat and dock it at a jetty. But will that same jetty also accommodate the tanker that needs to dock?

9. Establish a realistic roadmap

An innovation that has real impact usually consists of several phases. A successful rollout will not change everything at once, and will consist of several waves of innovation that follow one another. That way, you limit the impact on the organization, but move forward steadily. When you start with the first wave, make sure you know which waves of innovation will follow. Calculate what budget you will need in each phase, and check whether the organization has the necessary skills to carry this innovation. By working in a planned way, you can make the necessary adjustments in time. 

Innovation is necessary. The markets in which businesses operate are changing rapidly. So an organization must have the necessary business agility to respond to those changes. As we showed above, there are a number of conditions for innovation to succeed. ACOMPANY is happy to play a role in this. Our holistic approach ensures that innovation fits perfectly within an organization’s strategy and considers all technological and other dependencies. ACOMPANY always works in co-creation, ensuring that the innovation program is widely supported within the company. Moreover, our pragmatic approach and strong program management ensure a fast time to value.

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