Innovation is one these words that in a certain period of time all people have in mind. In the previous decade there was not a company without the word innovation in its values. Every company wanted to provide new products as a way to increase the sales. A company without an innovation department was a company considered a failure. This decade, however, has been defined by a different word: global crisis. Crises imply a need to reduce risks and innovation is an activity inherently risky. This fact has produced a change of paradigm. Many authors have alerted about the complexity increase produced by innovation, and the typical rationalization of resources required in a crisis has produced a reduction of the innovation budgets in many companies.
Thinking in the complexity changes driven by innovation is a good practice; however, thinking in some kind of evilness around it is a great error. Innovation can be a strategic tool as good as in the 90’s to change a company, and crises usually demand changes in any organization.
What is required now is not a new vision about innovation but modern methods to manage it. In this decade we have seen that innovation does not produce a better positioning of the company automatically. We can only assure that it will provide a change, it is positive or negative it must be considered from many viewpoints.
We usually think that the change produced by any innovation will be positive because we are thinking in technological terms. If innovation produces a technological advance, it will be a competitive advantage. Although this is true, many other things must be taken into account.
If we have an electronic device fed by a battery with a certain voltage and current supply and we change the battery with another one with same voltage and more current supply capability, we will have an advantage but the device will be working like in the former case. It will continue providing the same current at a higher cost, because the current depends on the voltage of the battery and the electric load at the device.
In the same way, innovation only will be used if the market is prepared to take advantage of it. Innovation management is a managing function that tries to adjust the offer to the demand for both the offer and the demand side. Innovation management is searching for new technology offers and trying to create new demand for any new technology. Our decade should have been the decade of innovation management because crises must not be faced through the elimination of activities but through better management. In some cases, better management will imply the elimination of activities and in other ones will not.
The new paradigm of innovation will require new ways to analyze the effect of innovation on the robustness of the business, and more control about how innovations fit markets. The recent crisis has shown that the role of the innovation managers must be nearer the strategic directorate and the CEO than before.
Innovation management never has been a matter of technological development only but a matter of thinking about what we must develop, how we must develop it, where and for whom.
Additionally we must think now that there is another aspect that should be considered: how innovation is affecting the structure of our business changing the relationships among suppliers and clients, because a change in the value chain of the business is changing the global risk of the company.
If we look at the current innovation trends we can see that most of them proceed from technologies that arose in the previous decades but could not be used in the markets due to a lack of demand and development capability. These are two examples:
- Internet of the things: Internet protocols TCP/IP were developed at the 70’s, however, it was necessary to have larger communications networks and smart devices in order to think about a real development of it.
- Virtual Reality: Computer Vision was born in the 60’s, however, it has been necessary to improve the microprocessors to get real time.
- Deep learning, big data and Artificial Intelligence: AI exists in computer science from the 50’s. Neural networks are from that decade, however, for its development large computers and a large source of accessible data has been required.
The offer side limits have been overcome, but, now it is the turn of working on the demand side. Is the world really prepared for IoT and VR? Probably, it is, but this development will need a great effort to become true. The case of Big Data and AI probably has a larger demand yet.
Those innovations can change not only a few businesses but even the entire world, in the same way as internet did it. Those kinds of changes will impulse changes in all businesses that will have to be properly analyzed and managed.