Over the four years since we began our analysis of the three models of innovation, the Technology Drivers strategy has been the most frequently employed around the globe and across industries. And this year it continues to be the most common model among the world’s 10 largest spenders on innovation.
Successful Tech Drivers can no longer depend solely on the ability of their researchers to develop ingenious products that consumers are dying to have. Now, in order to succeed, Tech Drivers must strike the proper balance between the pure R&D efforts that in the past led to high-tech breakthrough innovations, and the more market-oriented activities of their less tech-centered brethren. That’s why the most successful Tech Drivers, like Google, have developed both the capabilities shared by all outperforming innovators, such as the ability to translate consumer and customer needs into product development and engagement with customers, and the capabilities specific to their own strategy: a deep understanding of emerging technologies and trends, and the capacity to manage the life cycle of their products and projects.
Few companies exemplify both the long history of technology innovation and the new, more customer-centric demands better than Hewlett-Packard Company. Famed for its critical role in the founding of Silicon Valley and its long history as a pioneer in a variety of technologies, HP has made a conscious effort to integrate its innovation efforts more tightly with the business, and to ensure that both its strategic goals and the innovation culture that supports those goals are aligned with that overall strategy. And although the company’s overall strategy may change as a result of the recent arrival of Meg Whitman as chief executive officer, the tight link with the innovation culture is likely to continue.
The close alignment of innovation with the business can be seen clearly at HP Labs, the company’s central research organization. Prith Banerjee is HP’s senior vice president of research and director of HP Labs, which has seven locations around the world. In this capacity, he both oversees the company’s researchers and works with its five major business units — each of which has its own R&D unit — to ensure the transfer of ideas and innovations into products and services. “[The] mission of HP Labs,” says Banerjee, “is fourfold. One is to create absolutely breakthrough technologies. The second one is around creating new business opportunities for HP. The third one is to advance the state of the art in whatever we do. And the fourth one is to engage with customers and partners.”
To that end, says Banerjee, “We take a portfolio approach within HP Labs: A third of our research agenda is very basic research looking 10 years into the future. Another third is tied to current products, so it looks maybe six to 18 months into the future. And the remaining third is in the middle — what we call applied research — which looks two to five years into the future and is tied to some applications, but not products.”
That is entirely in keeping with the strategic goals of Tech Drivers: to ensure superior product performance and quality, at the lowest cost possible. And it goes without saying that the entire effort must be imbued with a stronger spirit of respect for technical talent and knowledge, as well as openness to ideas from external sources, including academic researchers from universities around the world. HP Labs makes a concerted effort to involve the company’s customers: It invites more than 500 customers a year in to see what its researchers are working on, and works directly with some customers on “customer co-innovation” projects at the farthest reaches of its research vision.