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Innovation

R&D: Compulsory Homework For Your Business

Why Research & Development are critical to your company’s future.

Greg Morris

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research-and-development

It’s one thing to develop a technology that everybody wants. It’s a completely different thing launching it, if the legislation or environment aren’t encouraging. Often, the result is companies who have grand ideas and little influence, and this is why it’s essential that you carry out in-depth Research and Development (R&D).

Defining market research

Market research is the gathering and analysis of information, so that organisations can better understand the market, environment, and demand for a new product.

The purpose of this data is to:

  1. Understand and advise on existing and upcoming business plans
  2. Develop new products and innovations
  3. Forecast new developments that could disrupt the industry.

This kind of insight helps business leaders to be educated on factors that can impact their businesses, ensuring robust, up-to-date bases for their decision-making.

Related: Alan Knott-Craig’s Answers On Selling Internationally And Researching Your Idea

The reason you need R&D

The success of a new product depends heavily on its impact on people’s needs. If it doesn’t add sufficient value, it’s not worth the investment. Because of this, your innovations must be in line with the legislative, economic, political, technological, environmental, and social requirements of the people you hope to sell them to.

How R&D has evolved

R&D ensures that your organisation stays viable and sustainable. You can approach it through organic growth, innovation, or a mix of the two.

However, in this new era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Internet of Things, we’re seeing some significant changes to R&D spending. Because these days, people aren’t alone in their connection to the Internet – machines are there too.

In the future, the success of a product is likely to be determined by its ability to connect to the Internet; without that, it will become obsolete. Smart devices will also create new challenges for organisations, as they’ll require entirely new skills and approaches to business, if they are to grow and evolve.

Innovating through R&D

Innovation is not just supported by R&D; it’s also enhanced by it. It’s also affected by:

  1. Understanding consumer needs
  2. Your ability to innovate sustainably
  3. R&D partnerships that allow you to collaborate with others, so you can share the risks and costs of innovation, and speed up the various processes.

An open approach to R&D

One approach to R&D collaboration is through open innovation, where an organisation partners with another party. An initiative like this works well for technological advances, globalisation, and changes to comms technology.

A closed approach to R&D

The more traditional closed approach to R&D is where one company funds and contains the R&D initiatives. And it can be successful too, as long as the initiating company has well-defined and measurable input, throughput, and output.

Related: 3 Ways You Can Innovate And Improve As A Franchisee

R&D in an investment company

Sometimes the subsidiaries in a holding company experience poor communication, resulting in divided direction and unhealthy competition. Because R&D can be expensive and resource-heavy, an organisation-wide strategy must be implemented.

Then, when all stakeholders understand the potential ROI and the operational process involved in R&D, healthy competition and an educated understanding of customer needs can be maintained. This is, of course, the ‘win-win’.

R&D is essential to making relevant, strategic, and educated business decisions. And in our global economy, it’s a competitive advantage you can’t afford not to have.

Greg Morris is the Chief Executive Officer of MICROmega Holdings Limited. Greg joined the group in 2000 and was appointed CEO in January 2011. Responsible for the day-to-day operations, management and corporate finance transactions of the Group, Greg holds a Bachelor of Accounting Honours Degree and is a qualified Chartered Accountant.

Innovation

A Short Cut For Corporates To Digital Innovation: Start-ups

Charlie Stewart, co-founder and CEO of Rogerwilco shares his advice for turning to start-ups for solutions.

Charlie Stewart

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digital-innovation

If there is one anathema in corporate culture, it is failure. With profit to be made and share prices to increase, failure is simply not an option. And yet, when listening to stories about success in the digital space, failure is there to put one on the right path to success. The phrase ‘Fail fast, Fail often’ is often bandied about, and innovation can be seen as a constant process of iteration, test and failure, repeating this until a well refined service or product is on the table.

Many corporates are waking up to the uncomfortable fact that at a structural level, the type of innovation required to grow in today’s digital landscape, is out of their reach, at least when trying to come up with it internally. So what to do? Charlie Stewart, co-founder and CEO of Rogerwilco shares his advice for turning to start-ups for solutions.

1. The start-up solution

Corporates comfortable in the digital space – Apple, Alphabet, Facebook and Amazon – have been buying startups for years, and now companies are realising that when it comes to Blockchain, artificial intelligence and machine learning, they need to turn elsewhere. And they are. Matt Garratt, Vice President of Salesforce Ventures noted that of the roughly 1500 tech acquisitions Stateside in 2016, half of them were bought by non-tech companies, showing that buying a start-up is a quick way to acquire new technologies, skills or patents.

Related: Why Optimism Isn’t Enough – You Need To Also Accept The Brutal Facts

But purchasing a company with a fully developed product can be an expensive and often risky play. Instead we are beginning to see a trend where corporates are framing agile startups as solution providers, offering them seed funding to come up with answers to digital headaches.

In the US, defence contractor Lockheed Martin has turned its investment strategy around, focusing on young startups instead of more mature companies. In the region of $20 million was ploughed into startups in 2017, helping Lockheed Martin to get a slice of the pie in fast moving spaces such as cybersecurity, autonomous vehicles and nanotechnology.

2. Outsourcing the problem

For corporates turning to start-ups, there are two benefits. Firstly, by doing so companies are casting their net a bit wider, with not only more eyeballs on the problems but, importantly, without the restraints of the corporate boardroom. There is more out-of-the-box thinking involved, no internal politics to worry about and far less of a threat of somebody’s career being jeopardised.

Secondly, if a start-up comes up with a solution, investing in the fledgling company can be cheaper than purchasing one with an established solution. If a buy-out is on the cards, it is less risky too since the due diligence process has been worked through and cultural challenges have been ironed out.

But not all start-ups actually want a buy-out. Some rather prefer access to market and skills transfer, especially around the commercial side of business. Yes, they do need investment, so companies can provide them with a proof of concept to take their idea forward, or potentially a more structured form of investment in their business. 

3. Cape Town: the start-up hub of Africa

Locally, Cape Town can be seen as the tech start-up hub of Africa, and is certainly a good place for corporates to start sniffing around for that digital innovation golden ticket. Events such as last year’s AfricArena conference proved that Cape Town can be a fruitful hunting ground. 80 start-ups from across Africa attended the inaugural event, and were tasked to find solutions to problems provided by corporates beforehand. Air France, for example, was looking for innovative mobile solutions, the City of Cape Town wanted to see how technology can be used to improve the tourism industry, while RCS asked for a loyalty programme to match a new credit programme.

Related: 7 Ingredients Of Small Business Success Online

By all accounts the event was a major success, connecting start-ups with corporates and investors, both attending the event and dialing in. The winner of Air France’s challenge, mobile payment solution provider WeCashUp, received multiple offers of investment and the project has moved on to the proof-of-concept phase.

4. The start-up lifeboat

Many companies need to face up to the fact that the current corporate structure they are working within does not allow for the type of innovation required to adapt to, never mind thrive, in a digital world. South African companies were perhaps sheltered from the digital tsunami that has eviscerated the analogue business world, but the wave has hit our shores. If it is innovation that is needed, it is time to turn to agile startups, far better adapted to a sink-or-swim digital environment, to come up with the solutions.

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Innovation

How Amazon Is Keeping It Lean

Amazon spends a lot of money, but it’s also surprisingly lean. Here’s why even successful companies that are scaling quickly should be doing their best to save money where they can.

GG van Rooyen

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jeff-bezos

Amazon makes an astonishing amount of money. For instance, its third quarter earnings for 2017 was $43,7 billion. But the margin for an e-commerce site like Amazon is notoriously small. Not only do customers demand low prices, but the costs associated with fulfilling these orders are very high. Because of this, the company’s profit during the same period was only $347 million.

On top of this, Amazon also spends a tremendous amount of money on growth and expansion. Its third quarter revenue of $43,7 billion represented growth of 34%, but its profit dipped 40% from $575 million to $347 million. Yet, despite this drop in profitability, Amazon’s share price increased by 7%. Why is this? Investors know how and why Amazon spends money.

Since its inception, the company has focused on three things:

  1. Low prices
  2. Customer service
  3. Long-term success.

And it hasn’t been afraid of spending money in pursuit of this. It took Amazon six years to turn its first profit, and even after that it was rarely profitable. Only since 2015 has the company become consistently profitable.

Related: Why You Should Scrap Writing That Business Plan And Become a Lean Start-Up

This is not because the business model doesn’t work — Amazon would make a fortune if it squirrelled away every cent it earned — but because it is sacrificing immediate profits for long-term success. The only reason its profitability took such as dip in the third quarter of 2017 was because the amount of money the company was investing in growth had quadrupled year on year.

Yes, Amazon spends a lot of money, but here’s the interesting thing

The company is also exceptionally frugal. The important thing to focus on is the nature of Amazon’s spending. It will spend millions (even billions) to improve a fulfilment centre, and it will even slash its profit margin to offer customers better prices, but it won’t waste money on things that don’t improve the company in the eyes of the customer.

Frugality is even one of Amazon’s core ‘Leadership Principles’. “Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense,” the company document states.

When it comes to day-to-day operations, few large organisations run as lean as Amazon. While Google builds funky offices and gives away free food, Amazon does the opposite.

“Bezos enforced strict frugality in Amazon’s daily operations; he made employees pay for parking and required all executives to fly coach,” wrote author Brad Stone in a book on Amazon called The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.

As the years have passed and Amazon has become more financially secure, things haven’t changed much when it comes to frugality

“Evidence of the company’s constitutional frugality is everywhere,” Stone writes about the current state of the company. “Conference room tables are a collection of blonde-wood door-desks shoved together side by side. The vending machines take credit cards, and food in the company cafeterias is not subsidised. When a new hire joins the company, he gets a backpack with a power adapter, a laptop dock, and some orientation materials. When someone resigns, he is asked to hand in all that equipment — including the backpack. The company is constantly searching for ways to reduce costs and pass on those savings to customers in the form of lower prices.”

Related: How You Can Keep Your Start-Up Expenses Lean (For Better Business Survival)

It’s impossible to scale without spending money, but it’s important to pay close attention to exactly what money is being spent on. Scaling means more people, bigger offices and better equipment, but everything you spend money on should result in a better customer experience. Don’t be afraid to spend money on things that will improve the company, but don’t waste money on things customers will never know or care about. Even if you’re scaling quickly and making money, you should be treating expenses like a lean start-up. Don’t accept an expense without questioning its usefulness. That’s just good basic business practice.

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Innovation

3 Strategies To Implement A Culture Of Innovation In Your Business (Without Blowing Billions)

Learn to think differently, encourage your team to do the same, and innovative disruption could become a part of your company’s DNA.

Douglas Kruger

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You’re seeing it everywhere. Disruptive innovation is becoming the new norm, and you’re concerned that your business is merely going through the motions, missing opportunities.

How can you join the Elon Musks of the world, without the corresponding bulging budget?

It turns out that many of the techniques of today’s top innovators don’t require vast outlay. They’re simply about different ways of thinking.

Here are three strategies for enhancing the culture of innovation in your organisation without blowing billions.

1Use ‘Ignorance as strategy’

You’ve encountered the aphorism, ‘To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’ Similarly, to a banker, the only imaginable approach to banking is ‘the way banking has always been done’. When bankers try to think of innovative new ways of banking, they invariably think of greater complexity.

Along came PayPal

In the April 2016 edition of Harvard Business Review, Reid Hoffman, one of the founders of PayPal, said, ‘All the banking people knew the rules. That prevented them from trying anything that looked remotely like PayPal.’

PayPal was not invented by a bank, just as Uber was not invented by a taxi driver.

Related: Demanding Customers Are The Ones Who Motivate Innovation

To make use of ‘ignorance as strategy,’ try this. Gather a group of strategic thinkers and set the rule: ‘The old way of doing it has been outlawed. How else might we serve the same need?’

Or: ‘We are now our competitors. We have half the budget, but our hearts and souls are invested in one purpose: To topple the original company. We can’t do it the way they do it. So how could we go about it?’

Or: ‘The company has burnt to the ground. We’ve lost everything. We need to keep serving our customers but we need a new, cheap, fast way to do it right now that doesn’t rely on any equipment or systems we used before. What have you got?’

2Use commander’s intent

military-commander

Imagine: You’re a military commander. You need to move a convoy of trucks through a dangerous canyon. Your intelligence tells you that there is a sniper on one of the escarpments.

There are two ways you could issue an instruction to a soldier:

The first way: ‘Go take out that sniper.’

That’s very clear, and very good. But there’s something surprisingly important missing from it. The ‘why’ is not overtly stated, and for that reason, the mission could actually fail.

Let’s try it again the second way: ‘Go take out that sniper because we need to ensure safe passage through the canyon for our convoy.’

That may sound like a ridiculously obvious addition. Here is why it’s not: In a real, dynamic scenario, things change constantly.

Let’s say your soldier breaks off from the convoy and heads up into the mountains. Very quickly, three things go wrong:

  1. He can’t find the sniper
  2. Enemy forces start firing at him, making it difficult to look for the sniper
  3. His own weapon fails to fire so that he can’t shoot back.

If our soldier thinks only about the literal instruction — ‘shoot the sniper’ — he is now unable to carry it out. But if he bases his actions on the commander’s intention — ‘secure our convoy’ — other options open up to him.

Related: Reel Gardening Warns That Innovation Is Never Easy

He might draw their fire. He might set a bushfire. Or he might cause a commotion in a different canyon, disguising the movements of his convoy. He might, he might, he might… But only if he is absolutely clear on Commander’s Intent, and not working according to an explicit tasked item only.

Managers love to create detailed rules and procedures. But these can actually stifle innovation. Commander’s Intent is the life hack by which we get the upper hand again, freeing up leeway for creative potential.

3Instead of rules: Imaginative debate

Organisations accumulate rules over time. Problematically, rules can become a form of culture. And there is a better way.

When NASA faced two separate, well-known challenges, their culture at each stage was very different.

In 1970, Apollo 13 was two days into its mission when an explosion knocked out one of their oxygen tanks. The ensuing creative scramble to get the astronauts safely home is the stuff of legend. The creative trial and experimentation that went into rescuing them was formidable. New procedures were made up back on earth, then tested in the simulator, then relayed to the astronauts 200 000 miles away, almost in real-time.

Through this process of creative trial and experimentation, of collaborative inter-disciplinary debate, one by one the issues were resolved and the crew was brought home safely.

At this point in time, NASA’s culture was ruled by imaginative debate. It was an exploratory culture, an experimenting culture, a culture based on learning and evolution.

By contrast, at the time of the Columbia disaster of 2003, the culture of experimentation had given way to one of formalised rules, regimented procedures and rigid hierarchy. NASA had stopped being a learning organisation. It had become a bureaucracy instead.

As Columbia re-entered the earth’s atmosphere, a large piece of foam fell from the shuttle’s external tank and broke the wing of the spacecraft. The shuttle broke into pieces. NASA recovered 84 000 pieces from a debris field of over 2 000 square miles.

The investigation revealed some damning insights about the culture that led to the problem.

Related: Howard Blake Stays Hungry With His Innovation Strategy

During a post-launch review, a group of engineers actually saw this foam dislodge from the rocket. They tried to pass on this information. NASA’s management, which by this stage liked to manage everything ‘by the rules’, had seen dislodged foam before, and, according to their institutionalised perceptions, deemed it to be unimportant.

The engineers tried to argue that it seemed like a lot more foam than usual. It was a qualitative argument, based on human insight and intelligence. But NASA was unable to listen. Dislodging foam was a known quantity, and the voices of dissenters went unheeded.

NASA by this stage was so bound in rules and procedures that, in important ways, it had ceased to be a learning, experimenting culture. And that made it incapable of hearing an idea, to its great detriment.

Situational awareness

Imaginative debate allows situational awareness to pass up and down the chain of command. It promotes the opportunity to see innovation possibilities. It shows up problems that fall outside of the capacity of norms and guidelines.

The Israeli Defence Force uses an examination of these two cultures within NASA as a way of perpetuating a learning culture within its own organisation. In Start-Up Nation, Israeli air-force pilot Tal Keinan is quoted as saying that if NASA had stuck to their experimental culture, the way his own air force and military do, they would have identified and seriously debated the foam strikes at the daily debrief.

Debating everything isn’t tedious. It’s illuminating.

Putting rules in place of debate isn’t clarifying. It’s dulling.

Rigid rules enforced by unlearning authority are a recipe for real danger. The use of strenuous debate helps to overcome these blind spots.

Cultures of learning are far more idea-friendly than bureaucracies. And it costs nothing to become one. Merely a little willingness.

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