The Implementation Challenge
Clearly, many companies have had considerable success with the full range of digital enablers. Implementing and using them, however, can be challenging. Who should lead the process? According to our survey, a quarter of companies turn to their business units to lead the effort, followed by product development teams at 22 percent, and CIOs at 20 percent. Just 16 percent of companies turn to their CTOs to lead the process of choosing and implementing digital tools. But almost half of respondents who let the CTO lead said their companies outperform their competitors, suggesting that uniting one’s innovation efforts under a single executive can be very effective.
Of course, working with the R&D and engineering teams is also important at this stage, not least because of the need to thoroughly train everyone who will be using the tools. When respondents were asked to name the key element for success in using digital tools, 39 percent said training programs. “It’s all about the engagement,” says Catalent’s Cohen. “For example, over the past couple of years we have implemented tools for portfolio management, [for] project management, and to manage our stage-gate process for enhancing collaboration. We chose these tools for several reasons—because they were economical, because the output was simple to understand and apply, and because the training process went smoothly.… It’s great to have the tools, but you must get everyone to apply them in the right way and to the right projects. Everyone must understand how to extract what they need to know to manage projects along the critical path to completion.”
Perhaps even more important is to ensure that everyone involved in using the tools and interpreting their results is on the same page—which doesn’t always happen when tools are adopted rapidly across various teams. James Fairweather, vice president of product architecture and technology development at Pitney Bowes, notes that at times, “the tool itself seems to be mature enough, but it may be that not everybody in the organization understands the output. Different stakeholders will have different expectations about what they’re going to see based on past experiences with larger programs that were run in more of a traditional format.” It is thus critical, he says, to make sure to set the context for expectations.
Esmeijer of Philips Lighting cautions that people must focus on the insights they desire from the tools, not simply the process of using them. “We have all kinds of tools at Philips that you can use to calculate or play with things. People very quickly jump on them, sometimes before they get the problem they’re trying to solve right. We want to make sure people think about the bigger picture—what we want to learn, or what we’re trying to manage—and then use the tool,” he explains. “In the end, lighting is a human experience.”
Finally, ensuring proper implementation of digital tools, in the experience of Matthias Kaiserswerth, the director of IBM’s Zurich Research Lab, requires a significant cultural effort. “There is definitely a generational component to the willingness to make use of many of these tools,” he says. “The learning curve can be rather steep, especially for older employees, so culture matters. Ensuring the involvement of top management is critical.”
The Importance of Being Bold
It’s essential to be prepared when adopting any digital improvement in your innovation process. And for productivity tools that require heavy investment, companies need to have good training in place, as well as internal consistency regarding what the tools can and can’t do, information formats, and usage conventions. When it comes to market and customer insight tools, however, our advice is to prioritize experimentation. Of course, the implementation issues noted by our interviewees must be taken into account, but the key is to leave yourself some room for flexibility. These tools, many of which are still unproven on any large scale, demand a bolder approach.