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IoT innovation culture powers business success

What do organizations need to drive innovation in their IoT teams? Tech leaders can start by creating a culture of innovation to encourage creativity and growth in IoT deployments.

Innovations that use emerging technology, such as IoT, can inspire many positive changes within organizations, but they introduce challenges, too. To create a cultural bedrock of innovation, IoT leaders must start with people. They should engage employees with opportunities to think freely about how to improve process, product and customer value, and share accountability and recognition of achievements.

As organizations grapple with highly dynamic economic and competitive forces and uncertainty in a post-pandemic world, innovation is more crucial than ever. From contactless interfaces to remote workforce options, IoT leaders are vying to compete with innovative uses of technology. Although tech experts might view innovation through the lens of advanced technologies, it is not a technological endeavor. Innovation is a human endeavor, born of necessity, context and collaboration requiring a cultural change in how organizations empower employees and shift toward resilience.

An IoT innovation culture encourages ideation and experimentation. It also rewards learning from failures, rather than chastising those who try new solutions that fail. To succeed, IoT innovation requires executive buy-in to be successful. Without leadership, even the best ideas can result in stagnation because innovation must be understood as an evolution, not a destination.

Correctly organizing for innovation provides the necessary foundation for programs to thrive and achieve results.

Foster fresh thinking with multidisciplinary perspectives

Extending the core value of an organization wider -- into new markets, sectors and supply chains -- often conflicts with or transcends existing ways of doing business. Introducing innovation to data, emerging sensors, networking, security and analytics technologies only makes this objective more complex.

IoT innovation culture is fundamentally about looking across the broader value chain.

The antidote to thinking beyond today's business and current technologies is to incorporate broader perspectives into the mix. This is particularly important to innovation programs' success because a single team or role typically lacks broader context of other business functions, product lines, new markets, customer segments and compliance. Collecting data from new nodes -- such as people, devices or infrastructure -- unlocks new visibility into behavior, performance and needs that many organizations have never had, never mind activated.

  • Novel ethics, compliance and accountability questions can emerge depending on access and inclusivity, structural disparities and legal recourse.
  • More inputs and broader alignment results in higher likelihood of deployment success once projects are underway.
  • Employee satisfaction and talent pipelines driven by opportunities to gain new skills, collaborate and grow, for which innovation programs can be an outlet.

Organizations in a variety of disciplines implement innovation programs, both horizontally across skills and vertically across the organization. Horizontally, critical skill sets include design, sociology, ethics, technology and relevant subject matter experts, such as doctors, chefs or screenwriters. Vertically, innovation teams should have perspectives reflected from frontline workers, sales, security, policy, product, executives, HR, analytics and IT.

Develop internal funnels to align the organization around innovation

Developing internal funnels of innovation from within the organization is critical, not only to foster a culture that encourages creativity and growth, but to avoid developing islands of innovation disconnected from broader business and functional goals. Internal funnels include various types of programs and processes to enable employees to submit and prioritize ideas; obtain funding; and build new features, products and initiatives that solve customer needs. Organizations should support this; otherwise, entrepreneurial employees will withhold ideas or take them to competitors. Tapping the ideas, talents and deep proximity to customers that internal employees bring also accelerates ideas into action. Internal funnels can take many different formats:

  • innovation centers of excellence;
  • dedicated innovation teams by products, geographies or segments;
  • "intra"-preneur programs, such as Adobe's Kickbox;
  • internal education programs for all levels of employees; and
  • inspiration from outside innovators.

Part of developing internal funnels includes creating incentives and metrics to support and equip contributors to understand the context for innovation, balance with an existing agenda and goals, and stretch their creativity. For example, innovation initiatives are most successful when tied to broader business and departmental metrics and employees' innovation performance is tied to formalized recognition, including financial reward.

Extend innovation through external funnels

Companies leading in innovation also look beyond the walls of the organization, toward external funnels of innovation. Often, as internal programs excel and expenditures are justified, new open processes should be defined to collect and prioritize customer and partner requests or other innovation initiatives from outside the organization and employees. External open innovation funnels include:

  • customer co-creation;
  • external accelerator partnerships;
  • startup investments;
  • university and education partnerships;
  • ecosystem hackathons or open innovation challenges; and
  • open source tools, frameworks and methodologies.

For example, a global semiconductor supplier has incorporated five customers into a strategic partnership program to drive co-innovation in 5G and IoT. As all partners learn together, an entirely new ecosystem and mutually beneficial business model platform is created. This coalition for co-innovation includes initiatives that test ecosystem-level infrastructure, share use case lessons learned, optimize developer resources across teams, analyze supply chain optimization opportunities, identify new product and service opportunities, pilot monetization methods and develop multiparty intellectual property.

An IoT innovation culture is fundamentally about looking across the broader value chain. Think and organize in stages: near-term, mid-term and long-term initiatives based on market, feasibility and competencies. What information, services and partnerships would improve how this market works? How does each demographic experience a product and how can other innovators use an organization's infrastructure and vice versa?

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