Innovation and R&D Processes: Out with the Old, and In(novating) with the New

Whether you’re a bank, an insurer, a consumer goods manufacturer or a retailer, by 2020 the shelf space of the Internet will (still) remain unlimited – but your organization still has to make things or offer services that people want to buy. One of the surest routes to continued relevance runs through the R&D and innovation function. What will it take to sustain and accelerate digital-driven process success in the long term?

Following the Great Recession, many companies had no choice but to cut, trim and otherwise go as lean as possible in their staffing to do more with less. In the process, many companies trimmed so much fat, they cut to the bone and sacrificed innovation. But what happens when “cutting to the bone” won’t cut it anymore? This disease – i.e., a fixation on cost reduction – leads to the unintended consequence of sacrificing innovation and blinding companies to the need to invest in the future.

Our research from the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work entitled “The Work Ahead: Soaring Out of the Process Silo” highlights data-based insights and tactical advice on applying new digital technologies to front-, middle- and back-office work processes to realize new levels of business performance.

We interviewed senior executives responsible for the R&D and innovation function. While data security tops the list of hurdles for 29% of R&D, innovation and product development leaders, 21% of these respondents perceive a problem of “poor alignment between investment and business objectives,” as well as worries about short-sighted thinking and using digital for incremental improvements (to avoid big disruption). In the case of those driving change and innovation, they want to strike big wins for the business, and not simply conduct “skunkworks” science projects.

New digital options can help R&D, innovation and new product development processes become a force multiplier for the business. For example, crowd-sourcing options such as Kaggle and inno360 are changing the game by making process dynamics easier by pulling in a much broader base of smart people. Inno360 uses a cloud-based innovation management platform, which taps the combined brainpower of internal R&D while fostering worldwide networks of innovators, researchers and trusted suppliers. In a similar vein, the Kaggle platform leverages crowd-sourcing to achieve results through competitive innovation contests.

Making Work Processes Exciting and New

Innovation is defined simply as a “new idea, device or method.” However, it’s also about meeting new requirements and unarticulated needs. How can your organization take its many isolated processes, and recharge those efforts to create exciting and new offerings that benefit your company’s brand? Digitally changing those solutions – and driving new products and services around them – may not sound easy, but in a digital process world, it’s critical work ahead.

Here’s how to begin:

TODAY: Think globally – act digitally.

Imagine if your R&D function could tap the best collaborators from all kinds of sectors around the globe. How would you approach things differently if you had the right tools to rally the best-and-brightest, regardless of location or payroll status, and deploy them onto your toughest innovation challenges?

TOMORROW: Harness the collective brainpower that’s out there.

Inventory your “collective genius” of R&D skills and brainpower. Are these aligned with your current products and services? Make sure to identify both overlaps and gaps. Carefully scan what’s on the horizon from competitors and nimble upstarts – and use digital innovation platforms. Linking platforms to “talent clusters” drives innovation. Some companies are building proprietary platforms and joining with third parties in co-innovation initiatives around R&D and customer engagement.

ONE TO TWO YEARS: Start playing – with other people, as well as technology!

Observing how humans react to new, innovative technology is the surest way to bring the power of digital to the business process. Create a lab as a “play-space” for innovative digital processes, collaboration and ongoing experimentation for new approaches and services that can be brought to new markets. Doing so can facilitate breakthrough thinking, and elevate decisions beyond the parochial silos of front-, middle- and back-office thinking.