May 11, 2016
by Chris Curran
The key to effectively experimenting with emerging technology is to link innovations to specific business goals.
New and emerging technologies are proliferating at a frenetic pace. Executives want to know: in which technologies should I invest? How do I reduce my risk of failure and costly mistakes? And, how do I get started with the exploration of emerging technologies and remain relevant as I progress?
All emerging technology experimentation processes are not created equal. I often see three different types of approaches with varying degrees of success: 1) vendor-driven 2) technology-driven and 3) business-driven.
Companies that take a vendor-driven approach to experimenting with emerging technologies are stymied by the array of new and emerging technology choices. Or, they are too focused on fighting fires and keeping the lights on to make experimentation a priority. Rather than experiment on their own, they wait for their core vendors to feed them new ideas. Companies that let someone else tell them what is relevant to their business wind up rolling out off-the-shelf, homogenized solutions later in the game. Vendor-driven companies miss the opportunity to reap the benefits of delivering a unique offering more quickly into the marketplace.
On the flipside, technology-driven experimenters rush into testing new ideas fueled by gut feelings and without a systematic approach to analyze the business potential of the ideas. Without a compelling business problem to solve or opportunity to explore, the experimenters throw the latest technologies against the wall to see what sticks. The good news is that these companies are experimenting. The bad news is that an unfocused approach results in chasing technologies that sometimes fail to support strategic business goals. Time and money that could have been applied to the right technologies are lost. Technology-driven companies often lose funding because their experiments don’t tell a compelling, high priority business story.
The ideal approach lies somewhere in the middle of vendor-driven and technology-driven. Business-driven companies are willing to experiment on their own, but take a thoughtful approach. They systematically evaluate new and emerging technology in a business context and discard, promote and refine ideas based on business objectives, or pain points or another framework that articulates what they are trying to accomplish. Companies that evaluate technology through a business lens significantly boost their chances of surfacing a relevant solution in a timely manner, avoiding misfires. Patience to put business priorities first affords businesses the opportunity to introduce and evolve prototypes. These companies can take a product or solution to targeted stakeholders with confidence.
For example, we recently worked with an oil & gas company to explore the possibilities of improving the business processes of their field service work. Our focused approach enabled us to devise solutions such as empowering field service workers with wearable devices, sensors and 3D printers to give them the interactions, information and equipment they need on the spot to reduce time spent traveling back to their base of operations.
The secret to effective experimentation
Most executives fall into the category of vendor-driven because they see experimentation as daunting and the reason is that they harbor outdated perceptions of emerging technology experimentation. But in our most recent Digital IQ® Survey, top performers were firmly in the technology-driven category.
William Gibson said, “the future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” This is one of my favorite quotes because it reminds us that the bulk of the challenge in enterprise technology innovation lies in learning rather than creating something from nothing. The real trick to emerging technology experimentation is embracing outside-in learning. It’s taking the initiative to explore what is already “out there” – in startups, open source, universities, etc. – and to investigate how it can be applied to your business. Executives know their businesses better than anyone. When they view emerging technology through the lens of their business, the ideas will flow more effectively and efficiently than any other approach.