The innovation imperative

Innovation is trumpeted as a major virtue in any area of the economy, and the IT industry has been one of its great sources over the few past decades.

It has provided disruptive technologies that have changed the way that we work and play, from early word processing and spreadsheet programmes, to internet applications, mobile devices with increasing capabilities, and apps for smartphones and tablet computers.

It has opened up new business opportunities and been a great driver of economic growth.

This comes with a risk. There are a hundred things that can go wrong in developing an idea, and when a company launches a radically new product or service there is no guarantee that it will find a market.

In big companies a failure can affect the share price, reduce the scope for other ventures and lead to job losses. For start-ups, it can make the difference between long term growth and an early termination.

But there is also a risk in playing it safe; companies that do not look to innovate are in danger of being left behind when a disruptive technology changes their markets.

Innovation is a business imperative. This makes it important to find ways to promote innovation and manage the inherent risk, and there can be different approaches for different types of companies.

Strategies for the corporate sector
Larger companies usually have resources devoted to product development, but are often constrained by an attitude in which innovation is confined to specific teams and given less priority than exploiting existing markets.

A Forrester Research report emphasises the potential of breaking these constraints through open innovation, which involves throwing the process open for all employees and partners to make a contribution.

Companies can adopt a playbook to support this approach and they can formalise their strategies for innovation by building them into processes for product development.

Smaller companies and start-ups face a different challenge. They are less formal, often driven by new ideas, and innovation is ingrained in the way they work.

But the people who start them are usually taking their own risks, leaving secure employment for an uncertain future in their own business and sometimes taking out heavy loans against their personal assets. They often need support to make an idea a viable commercial proposition.

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