In this digital age, there’s a perception that investment in the latest disruptive technologies will equip businesses with everything they need to stay relevant and competitive. However, Rudi de Sousa, CTO at software engineering consultancy YLD, explains how there are several flaws in this approach – not least because innovation is about far more than just gadgets or machines. It’s about how we do things, and the culture in which we do them.
Business in the 21st century is defined by a relentless parade of new technologies, where every advance is billed as a breakthrough, and the list of “next big things” grows ever longer. Fuelled by hype and media attention, the implied promise is that investment in the latest technologies will equip businesses with everything they need to be relevant and competitive.
Yet, buying into emerging technologies is not without its perils. Indeed, not every new breakthrough will alter the enterprise or social landscape, and when businesses do take the step towards investment, it should be with the awareness that innovation is as much a cultural exercise as it is a technological one. It is therefore critical that businesses understand which technologies ultimately provide the tangible return on investment that they’re looking for.
Here, we take a look at the common mistakes businesses make when procuring new technologies, and what can be done to avoid them in future.
1. Viewing technology as a panacea to end all problems, without first considering the internal changes that need to happen
Large, established businesses often feel threatened by smaller companies using the latest disruptive technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, the Internet of Things or containerisation. The perception is that these newer competitors are gaining the upper hand entirely through early adoption.
The reality, however, is that these upstarts are able to compete because they are internally set up for success, with a clear vision undiluted by layers upon layers of management. Rather than addressing the internal factors that may be preventing them from reacting quickly and competing more effectively with these new players, many enterprises will often focus their attention on disruptive technologies with the hope that they will provide a miracle, cure-all solution. This is both unrealistic and unwise.
Moving forward, there essentially needs to be a shift in mentality here and the mantra “Make it, don’t react to it” needs to be considered. Businesses shouldn’t be throwing good money at each and every disruptive technology that hits the pages of Wired if the basic foundations are not in place to support them. Flattening hierarchies, building cross-functional teams and breaking down siloes should be the first port of call for any company on a mission to become more innovative. After all, no amount of investment in new technologies will achieve that.
2. Choosing “trends” rather than best fit technologies
The latest and greatest technology on the market might be impressive, but it may not be what the business needs. Blindly purchasing the newest systems, or rolling-out the flashiest new website could actually cause businesses to lose sight of their end goals, resulting in customer dissatisfaction or wasted time and money.
Take Apple Music Connect as a real-world, consumer facing example. Was there a legitimate business reason that Apple went out and built Connect when there didn’t appear to be a market for yet another niche social media platform? What was the problem they were trying to solve, or was it developed solely so that they had an answer to similar products from the competition? Importantly in this case, the actual music experience itself is often negatively compared to its biggest rival Spotify and instead of resolving this fundamental issue Apple has continued to invest heavily in a feature that no one appears to use.
Organisations need to think more carefully about where the problems they have are, and what the justification for the decisions they take is. By working with a good vendor, they can then establish how technology can be implemented to tackle their key concerns.
3. Failing to develop a holistic innovation strategy
Disruptive technologies alone do not equal innovation. Innovation is about how we do things, and the culture in which we do them. Businesses don’t necessarily need to be the first to adopt something, rather they need to make sure they’re working smarter than anyone else in the market, and answering the fundamental questions: “What is the problem we are trying to solve, and what changes do we need to make to get there?”
Investment in new technologies must therefore sit within a broader framework of strategy for innovation, and considered within the context of the wider company. With this in mind, the CIO must be prepared to work with employees across the business to establish what skills are needed to make the most of any technological change. They must recognise that training and support are a core component of any innovation strategy; employees will only be motivated to use the new tools at their disposal if they have taken the time to involve them in the procurement process from the start. This will mean finding out what makes their team tick, helps them do their jobs better, or aids their productivity.
An inclusive and holistic innovation vision, with alignment between technology and culture, will allow businesses to break free from the herd mentality that drives so many doomed digital transformation projects. It’s only with a proactive approach to innovation that businesses will realise the productivity boost and cost savings that ultimately make the investment in new technologies worthwhile.
By Rudi de Sousa