Written for FutureEnterprise by David Osimo (Open Evidence)
We are used to consider innovation to be the introduction of a new technology. Across history, when we think of an innovation, the plow, the steam engine, electricity, as well as the internet come to mind.
And in fact, traditionally, ICT innovation in business refers to the adoption of new tools, such as ERP or e-commerce by companies . I’d like to argue that recent technology trends should change our consideration of ICT based innovation in companies.
ICT is no longer simply one of the “cases” of innovation: today, ICT changes the innovative process itself. And it does so because technology today is able to “augment” human capacity for innovation. Through technology, we are able to leverage unused creative resources and develop innovative business models for deploying them.
There are three main trends that underline this new “ICT for innovation” paradigm.
First, the sharing economy can be considered as the ultimate stage of “Web 2.0”, a kind of “Web 2.0 of Things”, built on the notion that users can become providers. It started with the provision of technology: processing power (Seti@home), storage (P2P) and access (WiFi sharing). It then moved to content: audiovisual (YouTube), contacts (LinkedIn), feedback (TripAdvisor). It finally pervaded everything: from rooms (AirBNB) to transport (Uber), from funding (Kickstarter) to consumer goods (Wallapop). Innovation lies in the exploitation of network economies even in very traditional sectors, and transform them in services that “get better the more people use them”.
The second important trend is big data. Big data is not just a way to uncover spending patterns of consumers: it can help uncovering unexpected correlation and predict future events. It can help identifying problems and opportunities before they become apparent to all. Companies using big data are more productive and more likely to launch new products and services. Today, there are dedicated platforms such as Kaggle that allow companies to organise competitions for data analysis to identify algorithms that can predict, for instance, hotel bookings.
Last but not least, new, flatter forms organisation built around the social web helps uncover microexpertise necessary for problem solving through open innovation. Being able to reach out to the communities of experts is already a fundamental factor of competitiveness for companies. Online platforms such as Innocentive help identifying the right experts in the open community that can help solving wicked problems.
These three trends are positively interrelated and self reinforcing. Large companies are trying to leverage them to reinvent themselves and self-disrupt by incubating startups and launching intrapreneurship initiatives. ICT can help leverage unused resources (sharing economy), collective intelligence (open innovation), and new competitive factors (big data).
In conclusion, what matters today is the capacity to design these new innovation processes; the skills to implement platforms and services where innovation takes place; and finally the capacity to assess and evaluate the return on investment of these processes to ensure continuous learning and continuously re-design and improve.