Innovation is not Technology and Technology is not Innovation
One of the most common misconceptions out there is the belief that technology equates innovation. Innovation is the creation of new value through a better solution for a problem that either does a better job in solving the problem or does so in a manner that the solution is accessible in a larger set of circumstances by a larger number of people. On the other hand, technology is simply the tooling that holds the promise of new solutions but by itself, is meaningless.
Enterprises can become enamored by the promise and hype about technology and go down long, complex journeys, invest millions in upgrading technology and still come out empty on the other side because they built technology for technology’s sake. Even in well intention boards and C-suite, industry peer pressure and hype around technologies can force action that ultimately leads to massive investments in people, software, technology, and vendors but does not yield the ROI promised by the technology.
The problem can be accentuated when not enough due diligence is done on the applicability of the technology to the enterprise given the current state i.e. the point in time when the technology is being introduced, the customer’s propensity to accept the technology-driven solution i.e. are the users ready to embrace, adopt, learn and utilize new solutions and burning problems that necessitate the adoption of new technology to better solve the problem. When the timing of new technology introduction is gotten wrong, it almost always fails to deliver on its promised ROI.
Leaders need to rise above the hype and peer pressure and ensure that they understand, first and foremost, the burning problems that plague their customers or make the bedrock of their future strategy. Next, leaders need to ensure and validate that the technology in mind can actually be used to solve the problem through rapid prototyping and minimal investment. Once customer feedback on the prototype has been validated, then only further investment in acquiring, building or integrating with the technology should be considered.
Vendor Driven Messaging
Technology vendors are driven by messaging the benefits of the technology product that they sell. The messaging describes the promise of ROI from their technology which when correctly implemented and utilized, is often true and accurate. However, there is quite a large distance between the procurement of a technology and the delivery of value. Underestimating or ignoring this cost and effort not only delays the delivery of value but also leads to unmet expectations and disappointed employees, teams, stakeholders, and customers.
Open Source Software
Open source software (OSS) offers a great hedge to technology risk. The popularity of specific open source technologies is a great indication of the value promised by the software (as evidenced by the numerous implementation of the software in multiple enterprises and projects) and the community size around the OSS is an indication of the available expert talent in that field. Utilizing open source to understand and investigate technology is often a smart strategy and can eventually lead to the purchase of similar proprietary, vendor technology or the involvement of ISVs and SIs to build and deliver the solution based on the technology.
Technology and Innovation Are Not Synonymous
Ultimately, enterprises need to ensure that they do not equate technology and innovation. Technology can be (but is not the only) precursor to innovation and similarly Innovation does not necessarily require the latest and greatest technology. Innovating requires a careful analysis of the problems, the expected solutions, validation of the expected solution by real users and then the identification of the appropriate technology that is “ready” for broad and dedicated usage. It can be quite risky to utilize a technology before it has fully matured and is enterprise ready and at the same time, it can be quite costly because of the resources required to correctly leverage it and make it a core competency of the enterprise.
Careful consideration is required to understand if the value of early adoption of a not so mature technology, its long-term implications on organization and investment and should be weighed against the potential upside of an early go to market. However, most importantly, the simple introduction of a technology should not be the end goal and should not be equated with better solutions, happier customers (even if the customers ask for the technology) and rather the customer problems should guide the selection process.