Digitization is one of the technological mega-trends in business. Humanity has not only moved into the innovation age, but more and more modern innovations include digital elements that allow for a better more meaningful user experience. Digitization is said to bring massive changes to business, and to discuss this fully would go beyond the scope of this article. However, what we can do here is to discuss how digitization may change the ways we innovate.
What is digitization?
To get started, let’s establish a common understanding of what digitization means. In a technical sense, digitization is the process of converting information into a digital (i.e. computer-readable) format, resulting in the creation of a digital representation of an object, image, sound, document or signal. In business terms, however, the concept goes far beyond this technical frame. It includes integrating digital elements into existing products and services to ensure a more seamless and better user experience. It also encompasses the digitization of reimagined business processes (both internal and external). This allows companies to cut the number of process steps, reduce the scope of documentation, include automated decision making, and offer frictionless payment solutions while at the same time addressing regulatory and fraud issues. Done well, digitization can lead to much improved user experiences, lower costs and therefore reduced prices, faster decision-making and turnaround times, reduced documentation coupled with increased security and safety.
How may digitization affect innovation?
While predicting the future is like looking into a crystal ball, here are 10 predictions about the impact of digitization on innovation that I envision.
- Innovative products and services will increasingly have digital components and elements. For example, you may control a product remotely via a smart phone app, or track the delivery status of grocery items that you shopped by scanning code from a retail market billboard while waiting in the subway. Digital components are likely to also extend to solutions (e.g., getting online health consultations from an AI-powered avatar doctor) and even customer experiences (think AR- and VR-powered excursions à la Westworld, hopefully without a bald gunslinger dressed in black).
- More and more companies will create digital platforms to globally distribute their digitally-empowered value offerings via the Internet. Such digital platforms add value to customers by reducing frictions in the delivery and payment process; and they add value to the company by giving them increased control over their intellectual property (e.g. through digital rights management solutions) and by allowing them to mine big data for surprising new customer insights.
- On the process side of innovation, imagine doing an innovation project with a core group of innovators in a real workshop, who are joined through virtual reality technology by fellow-participants from different offices around the world to work in an innovation team together. A top innovation facilitator from the other side of the world may also guide the teams through the innovation case using a sophisticated innovation process method and tools animated by VR technologies, apps and remotely shared presentation screens. At the front end of the innovation process (e.g. Stage X-Xploration in Thinkergy’s X-IDEA method), companies can use big data mining to arrive at deeper market-, technology- and customer-specific insights that allow them to better frame the real innovation challenge and the teams to develop idea concepts that cater to important insights.
- On the systems side of innovation, digitization is likely to further amplify the value of innovation management systems. These are used to virtually pose an innovation challenge, collect ideas from internal and external collaborators, evaluate the submitted ideas (e.g. by creating a virtual idea stock exchange), and to manage the innovation pipeline of top ideas that are going through a real-world implementation process. Some of these systemic solutions exist already today, however, I expect future innovation management systems to become more integrated, immersive and entertaining. Moreover, I predict them to get linked to social networks to invite engage external participants to join internal innovation projects. Provided that these systems share incentives to take part in an innovation challenge in mutually beneficial ways., these external customers, suppliers, distributors and top influencers may not only help companies to create more meaningful innovations, but also to diffuse them faster.
- On the people side of innovation, I predict the emergence of cognitive profiling tools based on MRI-scans of the brain (think getting assigned a TIPS profile not by answering a set of questions, but getting your brain scanned at the same time).
- On the cultural side of innovation, I anticipate the emergence of online ratings and rankings of company cultures by former current and former employees that will determine whether a firm will be able to hire and retain top creative talents. Changes in these rankings may over time become one factor impacting a company’s stock price and market valuation.
- On the individual creativity side, I can see more apps providing creative tools and instant inspirations (e.g. simply shake your phone to receive a fresh, creativity-inducing stimulus). VR may even create digital avatars of famous creative leaders who act as mentors for executives eager to evolve into authentic creative leaders for the innovation economy.
- Digitization seems to promise us a brave new world, doesn’t it? However, I also presuppose three problems related to it. As more and more innovative digital products get developed that digitally communicate with their users and —thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT)— with each other, we will see the emergence a giant digital ecosystem with over 75 billion connected devices by 2025. From systems theory, it is well known that the more variables a complex system has, the more likely errors will occur. So, predicting, preventing, controlling and fixing such system bugs will offer opportunities for new innovative digital solutions.
- All new innovative digital solutions (websites, apps, etc.) need to be programmed to work across a range of different devices and software technologies. These programs also need to be maintained and regularly updated to keep up with the latest technological advances. As more and more companies are “going digital”, I predict that there will be a scarcity of excellent programmers. The top of the crop will either work for big bucks at “blue chip” old economy companies, or work as a partner in one of the many new creative ventures that will mushroom in line with the shift from a managerial to an entrepreneurial society. This means that the majority of corporations and SMEs will be left with average to mediocre developers. These tend to program average to mediocre digital programs that suffer from bugs and compatibility issues and impair a seamless user experience. Do you still recall my last point made above, the unexpected behaviors of a complex adaptive system? They may be caused by a poorly programmed app that interacts with other devices in totally unexpected ways.
- Looking ahead, ever more computers increasingly amplified by artificial intelligence will allow for better intelligence and insights on markets, trends customer wants, needs and behaviors (thanks to big data and weak signals analysis). I foresee that at least for the next 2-3 decades, however, humans and not machines will still rule in breakthrough creativity. I predict that while artificial intelligence will be able to produce ideas using basic creative thinking strategies (such as combination, division, addition, elimination, adoption, adaption, alteration, etc.), machines may still need more time to master advanced creative thinking strategies that often trigger revolutionary innovations or scientific breakthroughs. Let’s pray that my prediction proves to be right here. Otherwise, the singularity challenge may threaten the existence of humanity: Before the majority of people realize, creative super computers and hyper-intelligent machines may start making creations on their own that are good for the machines, but not necessarily for humanity. And according to evolution theory, once a species rises to the top of the evolutionary pyramid, it begins to rule over less evolved species.
How soon are these predicted changes going to occur (if at all)?
Let me answer this question with the words of the famous US futurist John Naisbitt: “Things that we expect to happen always happen more slowly” — but eventually, most of them do happen. What are your views on how digitization may affect innovation? Do my predictions make sense to you or sound non-sensical? Comment to share your views.
Nota bene: This article is one of 64 sections of an upcoming book that I am presently writing, The Executive Guide to Innovation (targeted for publication in 2Q.2018 by Motivational Press). Contact us if you want to be informed when the book will come out later this year.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2018.
Posted on Sat, March 3, 2018
by Dr. Detlef Reis (Dr. D) filed under