Jump-Starting the Innovation Engine

February 2, 2011

As US companies emerge from what is now acknowledged as the longest economic downturn of the post-World War II era, they are beginning to prioritize innovation as a primary engine for long-term growth.

Managing the innovation process from concept to implementation is a challenge for any large company. Understanding the core challenges and implementing appropriate measures are central to ensuring a streamlined innovation process that delivers a consistent competitive advantage in a global economy.

Below are some of the key ingredients to successful innovation in a large corporate environment:

  • Clear direction and vision by senior management – Management must clearly articulate strategic priorities and areas of innovation focus – at the corporate level, at the business unit level, and at the department level. This clarity can help channel innovation in the right direction.
  • An environment conducive to innovation – Freedom and flexibility for experimentation along with incentives for carrying products from ideation to commercialization provide a strong foundation for an innovative culture.
  • Clear definition of solution and value proposition – Innovation can take place on several fronts – product, process, or business model. Inventors must clearly articulate the problem statement, the target solution, and the potential value of the proposed solution. A systematic framework leveraging value realization methodology (e.g. Infosys’s VRM) in conjunction with business case analysis and lean principles can help articulate the value of the solution and the resulting benefits to the company.
  • Prioritization of target initiatives – The proposed ideas and initiatives should generally address the direction and strategic priorities set forth by senior management. Organizations are usually resource constrained. A ‘funnel’ process can help prioritize initiatives so they are well-funded and well-supported for success. However, we must not resort to excessive formal structures as micromanagement will only stifle innovation.
  • Buy-in/sponsorship from senior management – Disruptive ideas can be weighed down by resistance from individuals and middle managers who are impatient for tangible benefits and who would prefer the trodden path. Sponsorship from senior management is essential to preserve the freedom and flexibility of the innovating team to explore the full potential of the innovation.
  • A matrixed, multi-disciplinary team – Disruptive innovation usually begins at the fringes of disciplines. A multi-disciplinary team can bring together ideas from disparate disciplines to ‘break the mold’ and work around a new paradigm. An ability to put together small, highly-qualified cross-functional teams quickly in a matrixed environment that transcends organizational boundaries is vital to bringing innovative and disruptive ideas to rapid prototyping and field test. Further, team dynamics and involvement are critical to harmonious creativity.
  • Early customer integration – Involving a lead customer in early prototyping can help refine product features and quality and accelerate its evolution to mass production.
  • Ecosystem leverage Collaborating closely with key strategic ecosystem partners to leverage their assets during new product development can greatly reduce overall development costs, accelerate time-to-market, mitigate risks, provide access to new markets, and simplify the out-of-the-box customer experience. Continuous re-investment by ecosystem partners can help ensure new product longevity via a common platform strategy and a shared investment-risk-success model.
  • Clear assessment metrics – Performance metrics and milestones must be put in place that clearly define success criteria at a project level and hold the team accountable. Periodic check-point reviews ensure continuous progress and improvement by various milestones.
  • Rewards – Timely and visible recognition of inventors is integral in fueling the innovation engine. Rewards must be commensurate with impact/value to the organization. Managers are generally mired in execution challenges and pressured to deliver results over the short-term, and thus do not feel incentivized to sponsor innovation that has a long-term roadmap to fruition. It is therefore equally important to recognize the managers who ‘stick their neck out’ to sponsor innovative initiatives.

Innovation is an ongoing process that needs continuous refinement based on shifting market dynamics, technology progression, and ecosystem/value-chain evolution. Lean processes and a sound infrastructure that nurture the innovation process are fundamental to maintaining the growth engine in a competitive global economy.

Note: This article was originally published by the author at the Infosys Global Engineering Blog where you can find exciting new ideas on how you can improve your business via product innovation and engineering.

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The Importance of Customer Experience in Product Strategy

December 4, 2010


Customer Experience is a vital element of product development strategy that is often over-looked or under-appreciated. Traditionally, product strategy begins with capturing customer requirements usually in terms of product features or attributes. This is then translated into functional requirements or capabilities that the product must deliver. Customer experience is only captured as an after-thought, and when a product is put through the customer journey, it reveals many deficiencies that call for a product re-design and, consequently, a delay in time-to-market.

A product development strategy must be designed to deliver a compelling set of customer/user experiences rather than a collection of product features and attributes. Customer experience must therefore be factored in at the very outset of product design.

Customer experiences do not occur in product or functional silos. An end-to-end approach comprehending machine and human interactions is key to understanding customer experience.

Delivering a “superior experience” begins with

  • Designing the right offers and experiences for the right customers
  • Developing, measuring, and delivering a total customer experience that enhances customer satisfaction
  • Understanding the needs that drive customers to create interactions

It’s the journey, not the destination! A customer journey maps the experience through the lens of the customer. It helps us identify:

  • Customer lifecycle stages
  • Customer needs within each lifecycle stage
  • Key touch points where a company brand/product ‘touches’ and serves its customers
  • Usecases which determine how the customer will use the product
  • Challenges and hurdles for creating a satisfying customer experience
  • Opportunities to ‘engage’ with the customer, and innovate & improve the customer experience

A customer journey must be addressed as a process map that examines concatenated processes. In the early stages, a product strategy must be designed to deliver a set of target customer experiences. The product design must be iterated and validated by examining how the processes that constitute the customer journey actually work at each step. We must walk through the journey and understand what’s working and not working from a customer perspective.

Continuous improvement in customer experience can be enabled via

  • a disciplined & pragmatic approach that correlates user experience to customer needs, usecases, product functionality, and brand strategy
  • a systematic framework leveraging value realization methodology (e.g. Infosys’s VRM) in conjunction with lean six-sigma principles to improve and optimize speed & efficiency, remove root causes of customer experience ‘defects’,  and minimize variability in processes
  • designing for target customer experiences and monitoring via quantifiable metrics to manage the customer journey and continuously improve the total customer experience across multiple channels and touch-points throughout the customer lifecycle.

It is thus important to weave a clear customer experience strategy into the fabric of the organization’s product development strategy, especially in the B2C domain. This can be a significant enabler to improving a product’s competitive positioning and lifecycle, the company brand, and customer loyalty.

Note: This article was originally published by the author at the Infosys Global Engineering Blog where you can find exciting new ideas on how you can improve your business via product innovation and engineering.



Microsoft and Google put mobile computing within ARM’s reach

July 28, 2010

SUMMARY:

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has realized that a strong play on the ARM platform is necessary moving forward especially in perspective of the competitive threat of the Google+ARM platform that has manifested strongly in smartphones and tablet devices.

Microsoft and ARM announced a new architecture licensing agreement that underscores the importance of ARM’s architecture on the Windows roadmap and perhaps heralds the game-changing arrival of the era of Windows+ARM based mobile computing and gaming platforms.

ANALYSIS

The convergence between mobile devices and classic desktop/laptop computing devices is resulting in new opportunities in a host of portable consumer devices such as E-readers, Tablets, gaming, media phones, and navigation devices.

While it indulged in the ARM space for smartphones where it failed to get sufficient traction, Microsoft did not see a compelling need to pursue an alternate platform for mobile computing since the WINTEL (Windows + Intel (NASDAQ:INTC)) platform had a stronghold in this sector.

Many prominent portable consumer devices however have now embraced ARM as the platform for such emerging devices. Notable examples include:

ARM’s Cortex A8 and Cortex A9 (with multi-core processing capabilities) platforms at ≥1GHz are cost competitive and more power efficient, and offer a compelling alternative to Intel’s processors for these emerging portable consumer device platforms.

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), who has challenged Microsoft with new paradigms and business models, has sided with the ARM platform for its thrust into smartphones with its Android OS. This ARM+Android mobile platform has gained momentum among smartphone OEMs incl. Motorola (NYSE:MOT), Samsung, Sony Ericsson, HTC (TPE:2498), LGE, Dell, Acer, etc. that has translated into significant market share gain within smartphones.

Google is aggressively mounting a similar campaign to address the world of tablets, smartbooks, and netbooks leveraging the ARM hardware platform via its Android OS and the Chrome OS platforms.

Google’s royalty-free OS model combined with the cost and power advantage of high-performance ARM processors makes a potent combination that threatens the WINTEL alliance from extending its dominance into the smartbook/tablet/e-reader space. For example,  notable players from the PC camp including Dell, Acer, Lenovo, Asus, Samsung, LGE etc. have chosen to introduce Android+ARM based tablets.

Most of these emerging consumer computing devices are ‘communication devices’ that have built in modems. As these devices become mass market plays, cost and power reduction will increasingly drive integrated (applications + modem) processors where ARM-based players Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), ST-Ericsson, Marvell, Renesas, etc. are well-positioned relative to X86 players (Intel, AMD (NYSE:AMD), VIA).

Microsoft has thus realized that a strong play on the ARM platform is necessary moving forward.

This announcement underscores the importance of ARM’s architecture on the Windows roadmap and perhaps heralds the game-changing arrival of the era of Windows+ARM based mobile computing and gaming devices. The proactive engagement will enable Microsoft to stay in sync with ARM’s roadmap and optimize their leading-edge Windows smartphone and Windows embedded OS platforms with corresponding leading-edge ARM-based products.

One thing is clear. ARM is the winner as Google, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung, Qualcomm etc. are doing the heavy lifting, and even Apple (with its ARM based A4 chip that is the foundation of its new iPad and iPhone 4) is doing its share.

Note: There’s more valuable insight on smartphones and new wireless frontiers at http://emblazeworld.com/ in the Resources section


Renesas promises a renaissance in the mobile space

July 25, 2010

 
With its $200M purchase of Nokia’s wireless modem business, Renesas has made a chess move that is clearly challenging market leader Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) in the 3G space, as the 3G handset market rapidly grows from ~30% in 2009 (out of 1.15Bu)  to a projected 55% (out of 1.5Bu) in 2010. The more immediate threat is perhaps to current Nokia suppliers ST-Ericsson, Broadcom (NASDAQ:BRCM), TI, and Infineon.

The deal, expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2010, is for Nokia’s wireless modem technologies for LTE, HSPA+ and GSM standards. As part of the deal, Nokia will transfer around 1,100 R&D employees to Renesas.

This daring move, especially in the face of recent exits by high profile chipset players from the wireless modem business, affirms Renesas’s commitment to being a full wireless systems platform provider.

Renesas Electronics, founded only recently (April-2010) from the merger of Renesas Technology and NEC Electronics (TYO:6723), is expected to become the world’s third largest semiconductor supplier based on combined revenue. Its scale and breadth of embedded products provide the foundation to be a formidable global wireless platform provider.

Here are some implications of the announced deal.


FOR NOKIA
  • Unshackles Nokia and removes internal barriers to sign up with any standard chipset offering
  • Reduces R&D costs and allows Nokia to refocus R&D on core value-added Apps/Services and User Interface/User Experience related activities
  • Strategic alliance that gives access to advanced modem technologies for HSPA+/LTE
  • Increases supplier base for wireless modems

FOR RENESAS
  • Gives immediate access to robust, proven technology for a relatively modest price, that would otherwise have been prohibitively expensive and long-drawn to build from ground up.
  • Provides access to critical IP from Nokia, strengthening its competitive positioning
  • Positions Renesas as one of few strong players to offer a complete mobile broadband platform – Application Processors, Basebands, Integrated SoCs, Power Management, RF Transceivers, and Power Amplifiers.
  • Access to a key customer, and potentially rapid ramp up in volumes globally beyond their traditional Japanese market.
  • Positions Renesas as a key alternate source for Nokia’s high-tier smartphone platform awarded to ST-Ericcson (U8500).
  • Positions Renesas for a significant play in a broad array of wireless embedded device markets in smartphones and beyond (ereaders, gaming, personal navigation, smartbooks, tablets, netbooks, etc.)

FOR OTHER WIRELESS CHIPSET SUPPLIERS
  • It lowers entry barriers to QCOM, BRCM, IFX within Nokia
  • It brings in a strong 3G modem chipset supplier, threatening the dominance and growth of currrent leaders, Qualcomm and ST-Ericsson
  • With its SH-Mobile S-series applications processor, Reneasas increases competitive pressure in the smartphone processor domain, and especially in the integrated applications+baseband SoC space (where it has considerable experience with the SH Mobile G-series) that includes Qualcomm, ST-Ericsson, Marvell, and Broadcom.
  • It ups the ante for standalone Applications processor players to build/acquire modem technology and/or look aggressively at new embedded device markets beyond smartphones.

In summary, Renesas Electronics promises a “renaissance” in the mobile platform space, that is sure to have ripple effects in the wireless semiconductor space.

★★★ There’s more valuable insight on smartphones and new wireless frontiers at http://emblazeworld.com/ in the Resources section



The Power of Nokia Money

January 19, 2010

With the rapid growth of data centric smartphones and embedded broadband consumer devices (netbooks, smartbooks, e-readers, mediaphones, etc.), it is clear that the future of wireless is in intelligent web-centric connected devices, applications, and managed services.

Battered by decreasing margins in its handset business, aggressive competitors (e.g. Samsung) nipping at its market share, and intensified competition by disruptive new entrants (Apple, RIM, Google, HTC) in the growing and profitable smartphone segment, Nokia is fighting to regain its innovative edge and find a niche in applications, services, and markets where they will have a sustained competitive advantage and profitable revenue growth.

The one mobile frontier that has shown a lot of promise but has hardly gained momentum is mobile commerce or m-banking. Rather than technical gaps, the most challenging hurdles remain around business issues.

NOKIA MONEY, a new mobile financial service that offers consumers access to basic financial services via mobile devices, is poised to be that silver bullet which transforms Nokia into a revenue generating juggernaut over the long run.

It promises to give a boost to mobile-commerce via NFC (near-field communications), that has long been touted as the technology that will bring about a profound impact on the payment transaction world.


NFC PRIMER

Near Field Communication (NFC) is a standards based wireless communication technology (ISO/IEC 18092 and ECMA-340) allowing two devices to communicate over a short distance of less than 10 cm. The technology is an extension of the ISO 14443 contactless card standard, RFID, that combines the interface of an ISO 7816 smartcard and an RFID reader into a single device. The ubiquitous nature of mobile phones makes these the ideal device to place NFC chip technology.

NFC-enabled mobile handsets can communicate with the present ISO 14443 contactless cards and readers. The mobile handset becomes the subscriber’s key for authorizing payments, accessing services and getting information from their immediate environment. This makes the NFC-enabled handset compatible with existing contactless infrastructure as used in public transport and payment applications.

NFC has major advantages over other wireless technologies:

  1. Its short range provides a degree of security: the user can establish a connection between two devices by simply bringing them together, versus a more complex pairing process (e.g. Bluetooth).
  2. An NFC enabled mobile handset adds the advantage of user interaction (via a display and keypad) and an internet connection. This enables applications like payments, ticket services, access control and loyalty programs

NFC has three main operational use cases:

  1. Contactless reader/writer (e.g. read NFC tags)
  2. Contactless card emulation (e.g. electronic wallets, ticketing services, payments)
  3. P2P or Peer-to-peer mode (e.g. data/payment exchange between two devices)


CHALLENGES WITH NFC DEPLOYMENT

Rather than technical gaps, the most challenging hurdles remain around business issues.

Some of the key business challenges are:

  1. Too many players in the value chain seeking dominance
    — For example, non-cooperation between telcos and banks has been an impediment to mobile banking
  2. Banks/credit card institutions want control
    — For example, credit card companies desire to certify devices, readers, and financial applications
  3. Regulatory/anti-trust hurdles
    — For example, telcos cannot function as financial institutions in certain markets

NFC Ecosystem and the relationships between the key players. (Source: GSM Association) CLICK TO ENLARGE


WHY IS NOKIA MONEY PROMISING?

With NOKIA MONEY, Nokia calls the shots….and promises to provide the momentum to mobile commerce in mass markets that has largely been elusive.

Here’s why…

►Nokia has a large footprint in emerging markets (e.g. over 70% in India).

► Nokia can thus build an m-commerce ecosystem with little competition (from Apple, RIM, SAMSUNG,  etc.) in emerging markets

► Nokia could make a significant headway in introducing m-commerce before other e-payment methods reach mass markets. Credit card penetration in emerging markets is still very small. Also, cell phone penetration is far greater (and increasing even more rapidly) in comparison with desktop computers and laptops.

►Nokia can provide ‘certified’ reader technology embedded within the handset – thus promoting per-to-peer transactions between handsets. This removes the obstacle of credit card institutions certifying readers as is the case for POS credit card transactions.

►Nokia Money gives Nokia influence over the value chain (see diagram above)
– HANDSET: Nokia is the OEM
– TSM:  OBOPAY (in which Nokia has an investment stake)
– APPLICATION OWNER:  For peer-to-peer transactions, Nokia can be the application provider on both the handset and the reader, thus removing dependencies on many 3rd parties

►Emerging markets are mostly ‘retail markets’ (consumer driven) as opposed to ‘operator driven markets’ characteristic of the western world (NA, EU, Japan, etc.). Nokia is thus not at the mercy of TELCOs, and has greater control over the definition and design of handset features.

► There are no regulatory hurdles in emerging markets – Nokia can bypass banks and financial institutions to create its own financial services brand.

►Pre-paid is king in emerging markets. A pre-paid SIM card in a handset can thus act as “cash in an m-wallet”. Merchants can accept m-commerce transactions on their handset readers instantly as credits/top-off to their SIM cards.

►Micro-transactions are the norm in emerging markets. The financial risk posed by security breaches are thus mitigated relative to situations involving large-dollar value transactions.

►Nokia possesses significant security expertise within the handset and significant brand recognition in emerging markets. This plays well into its long term strategy of strengthening its “trusted and reliable handset company” image.

►With a stake in OBOPAY, their chosen TSM (Trusted Service Manager) partner, Nokia gets the cake and eats it too (little transactional costs passed on to banks)

 

►In some emerging markets such as India, banks and telcos are set to push mobile banking and m-commerce, and have agreed on a revenue sharing model to roll out mobile banking. This will only enhance the momentum for NOKIA MONEY, as Nokia will be a central player in enabling m-commerce in this market. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is working on an aggressive plan to issue unique IDs to mobilize m-banking. While individual banks and mobile companies would initially work to create closed networks of m-banking systems, UIDAI and the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) aim to mobilize interbanking capabilities by 2011.

In summary, NOKIA MONEY could indeed be that profitable revenue machine which transforms Nokia into a formidable services provider it has long yearned for. The question then is — how well will Nokia execute?

★★★ There’s more valuable insight on smartphones and new wireless frontiers at http://emblazeworld.com/ in the Resources section (see whitepapers)


What’s your smart (phone) call?

August 21, 2009

Smartphones are poised to be the fastest growing handset segment in the coming years, rising from 14% of global handset shipments in 2008 (Ref 1) to a projected 32% in 2010 (Ref 2).

Further, smartphones command higher ASPs (average selling price) on the order of US$350 (2008)  signaling higher revenue and profitability potential for handset OEMs. This has heightened the intensity of competition among handset makers.

Historically, handsets have evolved more as ‘fat modems’ where application processing and modem communication were all handled on the same chip. On the other hand, application centric devices such as PCs, gaming devices etc. evolved as standalone devices based on discrete applications processors. Connectivity was added on via discrete connectivity modules.

While data speed does impact user experience, application and related services offer many dimensions to differentiate personalization and user experience, thus leading to higher ARPU over voice centric services.

The two worlds are set to collide to create converged devices with vast possibilities (Refs 3 and 4). It also means non-traditional wireless players whose core competency is more on the applications side will enter the fray. For example, Intel is pushing its application processor, Atom, from Netbooks down into Smartphones (Ref. 3). On the other hand, Qualcomm has just announced it is targeting its integrated application and baseband processor, Snapdragon, at Smartbooks (Ref 4).

CRITICAL QUESTION  – DISCRETE vs. INTEGRATED PROCESSORS?

The handset designer is now confronted with a daunting choice – the use of a discrete applications processor in conjunction with a discrete baseband processor versus an integrated SoC that combines an applications processor with a baseband processor in a single chip.

Product management and handset designers need to evaluate the trade-offs in reaching an appropriate decision. Here are some key trade-offs that influence the decision process:

Discrete vs. Integrated Smartphone Components

Discrete vs. Integrated Smartphone Components

Neither is a silver bullet.

Both have a rightful place and will jostle with each other to dominate this growing segment.

The choice however can have significant implications on product and business competitiveness via such dimensions as system cost, time-to-market, power consumption, flexibility to spin out devices for different communication standards, performance maximization, harmonization of user experience, device form factor (via PCB size & component count) and component supply chain management.

REFERENCES

Ref. 1:  ABI Research – Smartphone and OS markets (Q1-2008)
Ref. 2:  Qualcomm- Evolving Wireless Services (Jan, 2009)
Ref. 3: Sharp unwraps ‘world first’ Intel Atom phone
Ref. 4: Qualcomm Enters Intel Territory

★★★ There’s more valuable insight on smartphones and new wireless frontiers at http://emblazeworld.com/ in the Resources section (see whitepapers)