Faculty & Leadership Blog / Research and Practice

Innovating With Emerging Technologies

A unique challenge faced by companies today is in dealing with emerging technologies. Not a week goes by without an analyst or a technology vendor proclaiming a new technology to be the next big thing. Some of these new technologies do turn out to be important, like cloud computing, but many fizzle out like RFID. Should companies be lead adopters or wait for the early majority to adopt? What process should they put in place to ensure competitors don’t beat them to the punch?

Companies should begin by scanning the environment for technology trends. Every knowledge worker should keep an eye out for emerging technologies that are being introduced by competitors, and read reports from industry experts like Gartner and IDC. One way to knowledge workers to do that would be to develop their own social network of high value contacts. LinkedIn and Twitter are excellent sources to build such networks. The key quality of a good network work is the diversity of information sources that can be accessed through them. The ability to reach many people and from different domains is a good indicator of you network’s value.

Many companies have innovation labs or listening groups that track relevant technology trends. This group should meet periodically to determine which one of the technology trends are worth exploring further. An interesting way to help with the selection process would be to envision new digital experiences that can be created using the emerging technology. IBM, in particular, has run hundreds of hackathons to get its Watson APIs adopted for creating artificial intelligence driven applications.

Once a couple of technology trends have been identified, the team must design and execute a few agile experiments using the technology. The purpose of these experiments is to uncover viable use cases for the company using the identified technologies. These experiments should have explicit hypotheses that would be tested. In the case of Ford, they designed 25 such mobility experiments. One of them was around solving parking problems within cities. This resulted in the creation of an app called FordPass that made it easier for Ford customers to park and created a better experience around owning a Ford.

Another strategy for both getting innovative ideas and building a community is to sponsor hackathons for solving specific problems. IBM and Amazon sponsor hackathons to show off their new devices VR headsets and voice activated APIs. A precursor to products taking off is their adoption by developers.

With technology-related experiments, companies need to evaluate feasibility, both technological and economic. A starting point is the analysis of technical feasibility that helps resolve uncertainty around the technology itself. When studying an emerging technology, it is important to identify the full stack of requirements needed to make the solution work. This would involve studying the entire ecosystem of companies that are required for the successful deployment of the technology. Such a study of the ecosystem would help companies identify the most influential organizations in the ecosystem and decide if they want to partner with those organizations. The analysis of the ecosystem is a good way to minimize implementation risk and identify threats and opportunities.

The study of its technological feasibility must be followed by a test for economic feasibility. Details about the ecosystem of will shed light into indirect costs needed to make the technology operational. In many cases, the solution may be too expensive in its current form or its implementation cost too high to warrant further investments.

The next step is the creation of a strategic plan for the roll out of the projects related to the emerging technology. This may require participation from external vendors, consultants, and business partners. While the strategic plan can take many possible forms, your company should remain open to discovery and account for emergent strategy.

Technology deployment. Any methodology your company decides to use should incorporate agile principles to continuously market-test the technological solution. Such approach allows for the ongoing reframing of the strategic plan. As one of Google’s engineers put it, all their products are in permanent beta phase. This means that the product team is always testing various features and functionality and letting the users determine the road map. In fact, to support the emergence, they open up the APIs and let a community manage the process.

The final step is change management. With any new technology initiative, workflows are changed and this impacts how people get their jobs done. In some cases, it may even change the jobs that people perform. Any such change requires companies to use change management techniques to complete a successful digital transformation.

Welcome to an era where technology change is the only constant.

Written by Bala Iyer (@BalaIyer) and Ruben Mancha (@RubenMMancha); Originally published on LinkedIn