Technology and Innovation
When we closely observe high performing businesses, we see innovative technology driving innovation in several ways.
- Innovative technology improves business’ physical and administrative processes by automating functions.
- Machine learning generates information you can use to identify new and more efficient methods of operation.
- Technology-enhanced communications platforms promote collaboration, a key component driving innovation
This article describes each of these aspects of technology driving innovation. However, we can also frame synergy between technology and innovation from a different perspective.
- Innovative technology allows the integration of different applications.
Each section below provides descriptions for the benefits of using technology for driving innovation.
Process automation can enhance your business in several ways. Below we provide highlights from the article.
Automating equipment functions provides multiple benefits.
- Improved production efficiency: With automated equipment, functions work the same way every time. Production occurs at a consistent rate, helping to reduce system shutdowns due to human limitations. Additionally, automation improves precision, which leads to reduced waste.
- Improved quality: When you automate equipment, you can produce material to a narrow range of tolerance.
- Increased profit: When production efficiency improves and waste streams decline profit increases. Improved quality also increases profit by helping you sell the product at a higher price.
- Improved safety: When you automate equipment, you reduce the exposure of people to hazardous operations. This leads to fewer injuries.
Automating administrative procedures and logistics management provides several benefits.
- Administrative cost reduction: When you digitize administrative functions and automatically populate forms, administrative labor consumption declines. With a manufacturing and distribution operation, for example, you can automate most of the administrative functions.
- Data transfer accuracy: With manual data entry, errors occur, resulting in a significant increase in administrative cost. The time required to rectify errors not only increases administrative labor but also shifts focus away from ongoing production. Additionally, errors with purchase orders can result in the product produced to a specification the customer does not want. These aspects of manual data entry can erode customer relations and negatively impact the company’s bottom line.
- Cycle time reduction: When you automate administrative functions you will significantly reduce the time from initial customer contact to cash received. Processing forms digitally through the internet allows you to eliminate hard copies. In turn, you will eliminate the lag time for sending hard copies by mail or courier.
The CIS Blog post ‘Strategies for Technology Success in Complex Production Environments’ provides a more detailed explanation and examples related to all of these benefits.
You can also learn how automation can positively affect ROI in the CIS Blog post Finding ROI in an IT Investment.
Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence
Machine Learning (ML) can expedite the discovery of innovative solutions by rapidly correlating data sets and analyzing trends. For example, Amazon uses ML to analyze shopper purchasing patterns. This allows them to more accurately forecast sales and to refine inventory plans to reduce waste and increase profit.
ML can also identify patterns associated with cybercrime. Cybersecurity professionals use this information to predict upcoming attacks and to develop preventative solutions. Today, most automated cybersecurity software is limited to ML. In the future, AI may forecast future activity and build a defense, all without human intervention.
Another example of the current use of ML involves monitoring equipment operating characteristics and predicting repair or maintenance requirements. This allows optimization of repair and maintenance schedules, and delivers benefits of lower downtime frequency. This practice also extends equipment life and reduces repair and maintenance costs.
There are numerous examples of AI in use today. Self-driven cars provide a good example. The car’s sensors and other data collection systems collect and analyze environmental data. The software combines this information with a programmed response to make decisions and operate the controls of the vehicle.
As you can see from these examples, machine learning and artificial intelligence are driving innovation. Expect the use of ML and AI to continue to increase for the foreseeable future.
Efficient digital data transfer and collaboration are essential if you want your business to remain competitive in the modern business world. If you want to compete at the top level, you should ensure your communications systems utilize innovative technology. This will help you leverage the true value of collaboration.
Primary considerations for a good communication system strategy include reliability, flexibility, security, collaboration, and more. For the sake of brevity, this article will focus discussion of communications platforms solely on the subject of collaboration. Stay tuned for a more comprehensive future CIS Blog post dedicated to technology for communications systems.
The primary reason for collaboration is to engage in differing perspectives to help us frame an issue. Managed effectively, this practice typically yields better solutions that arise from a single entity conjuring ideas alone. In the case of providing business solutions, you should consider input from:
- SMEs (Subject Matter Experts)
- Other disciplines or departments that can contribute to or affected by the solution
- The customer the solution will serve
Most highly performing organizations understand the benefits of collaboration and they support employees’ efforts to collaborate. Unfortunately, there are often limits to the level of support that management can afford to extend. Holding face to face meetings with all relevant stakeholders can prove cost prohibitive. Fortunately, a variety of technical solutions exists to allow effective group communications remotely. The best (and most economical) type of communications platform depends on the type of information exchanged, and the number and locations of people participating. Technological developments now provide economical solutions for communications platforms that were once very expensive to provide. Below we list a few examples of communications platforms that help with driving innovation.
- Large Scale Video Conferencing: Some video conferencing systems require large capital investments and may also require large maintenance budgets as well. The more advanced video conferencing systems can provide value for large global organizations that have complex information so share. These solutions are typically too expensive for an SMB to justify. However, for large companies that can justify the cost, customized video conferencing systems can provide a competitive advantage.
- Web-Based Communication Applications: There are a significant number of web-based applications available. Some are free and some offer a range of services for a fee. Available functions include
- Video Conferencing
- Audio conferencing
- Screen Sharing
- File Sharing
- Communities of Practice (CoP): CoP platforms can range from simple informal networks to intra-company networks, mostly deployed in large global organizations. CoPs can be of great benefit for people working in a small or medium sized business that does not maintain in-house Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). The technology necessary to enable efficient CoP development and operation is available in the form of customizable software. You can also manage a CoP rather simply by forming a group on a social/business networking site such as LinkedIn. CoPs provide an excellent means of collaboration.
- Social/Business Networking: Employees and business owners increasingly use social and business networking websites for collaboration. One of the more efficient ways collaboration occurs on social/business networking sites is through CoPs as described in the previous paragraph. Another example of a collaboration tool in a social/business networking website is Facebook’s Work Place. This platform looks and feels similar to a personal FB page, except that FB has customized it for a group of employees to use for any range of communications objectives.
Application integration, in a general context, is the process of bringing resources from one application to another and often uses middleware. Can we view application as innovative technology? The answer depends on the integration methodology and the type of results the integration produces. If you apply no methodology, nor achieve no significant new results, then you did not apply or develop innovative technology. Conversely, there are situations where application integration drives innovation. Below, we demonstrate with examples.
- EAI (Enterprise Application Integration): In a general sense, EAI is not a new innovative technology. However, the diversity of complex enterprise level applications emerging in the market requires innovative ways to implement EAI. For example, developers sometimes build enterprise level applications that operate independently from other databases. The output data format of these applications is not always consistent with that of other applications used by the same company. In this situation, challenges arise when attempting to share data between applications. In these situations, we require the application of innovative technology in the form of middleware to translate the data between the two incompatible database format.
As you might imagine, middleware development requires resources in terms of development time and cost of implementation. When relevant middleware already exists, you should expect to pay a subscription fee. We recommend you make a strategic evaluation of your managed IT service system to learn of incompatibilities before purchasing new software or services. Using a strategic approach to defining your needs and options can produce significant operational cost savings and improvements to production efficiency.
- Cloud Application Integration: Cloud-based applications are as diverse and unique as local network-based applications. Not all cloud-based applications share the same database formats. Therefore, when new innovative cloud-based technologies appear on the market, we should expect inherent incompatibilities. This situation demands the use of innovative technology to integrate existing and new platforms.