By Rikus Jansen, Head of EOH Voice and Unified Communications
Innovation is a word that’s thrown around a lot. Every business wants to be perceived as innovative. So much so that many of them haven’t stopped to consider what this actually means.
What is innovation?
At its most basic, innovation can be described as changing something in order to improve it. Innovation represents a different way of doing things, often flowing from a different way of looking at things. So when we talk about innovation, we often merely mean change.
True innovation has to go further. It has to be firmly tied to business objectives and strategies – change for its own sake or only to keep up with a competitor may work in the short term, but the long-term effects might be quite the opposite.
So what we need to bear in mind is that they driver behind innovation has to be the creation of additional value for the business. This could be in the form of additional revenue, or cost savings due to better operational efficiency.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that innovation can be quite disruptive, and can demand a lot of the personnel in an organisation, so it cannot be approached lightly.
The power of collaboration
The wellspring of innovation down the centuries has often been an inspired partnership, or a determined group of people working together. In today’s hyperconnected world, collaboration has become easier than it has ever been. The Internet and all the technologies that it can carry, like document sharing, voice and video communication, project management, has enabled a higher level of collaboration capability than we have ever had before.
To be fair, we do have to answer the question of whether such vast connectivity that allows many people to collaborate on a project isn’t a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. Perhaps the best example of successful collaboration is the widespread, powerful and highly effective open source movement. By making the underlying code of applications open to everyone, anyone can upload their own code to improve the applications. Strict quality assurance is still applied, to prevent it become a free-for-all.
The simple point, though, is that when many people collaborate on a project using the latest digital technology, innovation is arguably much more likely.
The benefits of innovation
We’ve mentioned that the reasons for innovation have to be pinned to value creation. Of course, value can be created in many different ways within a business, so let’s have a quick look at some of the advantages of innovation:
- Innovation creates growth – innovative companies are often the ones that experience the highest levels of growth.
- Innovation prevents stagnation – while this may seem obvious, it’s worth making the point that in today’s business world, ignoring adaptation and innovation can begin to eat into the bottom line very quickly if one’s competitors are doing things in new and better ways.
- Innovation can disrupt the market – when a company truly innovates, it can change the entire way that a market behaves. We only have to look at the way that instant messaging has supplanted voice calling as the preferred method of communication to see this behavioural change. And when a market is disrupted like that, the company whose innovation caused it has first-mover advantage all over again.
So while innovation shouldn’t be seen as an end in itself, the astute business should always keep an eye out for opportunities to do things differently by collaborating in new ways.
Rikus Jansen is a Unified Communications specialist. He entered the South African technology space in the late 1980s, pioneering 3D animation and video effects in the broadcasting industry. This led to a career in corporate ICT outsourcing. He co-founded Ensync Voice Solutions, a unified communications company. After merging the Ensync companies with the JSE-listed ICT provider, EOH, he now heads up the EOH Voice and Unified Communications business, which is one of the leading communication providers in South Africa.