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.

Advertisements

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