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How can you support process innovation with technological advancements?

Contributor: Janne Ohtonen
Posted: 02/27/2013
How can you support process innovation with technological advancements?
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The pace of technological advancement is creating enormous potential to create and deliver better customer experiences through technology-enabled process innovation. But in order to reap the rewards, organizations need to move beyond the limits of their current business models, says contributor Janne Ohtonen. Instead, they must look to what they should be doing rather than just improving on what they already do.

We are quite used to running our businesses based on what existing technology enables us to make happen. For instance, today, technological innovations like internet-enabled mobile devices have allowed businesses to innovate news ways of doing things that were previously unthinkable.

But in many cases, we do not innovate enough – we need to start thinking about what kind of technology we actually should have in order to get the outcome we are seeking.

Technology has opened up new ways of working - but are we innovating enough?

Many process and innovation methods contain a phase where you are supposed to evaluate how you can utilize existing technology to do your business in a more clever way. The challenge with this kind of approach is that we are already limiting our thought patterns to what is possible.

For example, let’s imagine that you need to improve the way that people deliver their files into your copy shop to be printed. How would you do it? Just imagine that for a second before reading further…

Maybe you were thinking about setting up some kind of web based system such as a form or email to send the files over to be printed. But is there something more innovative that could be done to do that? We will get back to this a bit later in this article.

The best practices offered by these types of technological solutions are only useful for a short period of time, because it is easy for competitors to start using the same technology and to copy the business model.

For that very reason, technology is not a good driver for business and you should look into next practices that bring more value. Actually, it should be that the business and - even more importantly - the customer experience is what will dictate what the technology must be able to achieve. We would not have landed on the moon fifty years ago, if were to use the airplanes that existed at the time, would we?

Technology can improve traditional businesses, if used as a proper enabler. For instance, several years ago photocopy shops in the United States were confronted with a major problem: people were just not coming to copy shops anymore. The rise of powerful personal computing devices meant that people were able to print, scan, and copy from the comfort of their own homes.

To solve that problem FedEx joined forces with Kinko and came up with another kind of solution. The FedEx Office Printer is a simple application that operates much like the other printer drivers on your computer. Once installed, you will be able to send your files to print with FedEx Office Print Online in just a couple of clicks. Using this streamlined printing option, you can have your documents prepared at the FedEx Office location of your choice and ready for pickup, shipment via FedEx or local delivery. It is like having your own in-house print centre.

But how did they use technological advancements to promote their process innovation?

The classical technological advancement for a copy shop is to get faster, cheaper and better copy machines. Therefore, the business development is about finding better locations for the shop and improving the marketing to make it easy for people to find that specific shop. Process innovation focuses on eliminating waste in producing the prints and improving the in-store customer service.

What FedEx Office has done is looked beyond that classical paradigm. They may have asked: "How can we improve our customer experience through technological advancement?" and as an answer they come up with this idea of creating a printer driver that is easy to install and use directly from your computer. So, instead of finding technological solutions to improve their processes from a traditional perspective, they redesigned the whole way of running a copy shop business. That opened a whole new world of process innovation to them and that is why today they also offer cloud printing.

From a customer perspective, the copy shop has moved from the High Street to their personal computer. It’s more convenient for customers – they now have the flexibility to order copies whenever and wherever they want them; copies can be sent to the printers at any time and FedEx will deliver the prints to wherever they are needed.

From a business perspective FedEx has been able to create a new business model, which is harder for competitors to copy. The technology innovation was to create a new kind of printer driver. It’s a paradigm shift away from looking at what we can do with the technology to what we should be doing.

Of course some ideas are not technologically possible at the moment, but that does not mean that we should not consider them. For that reason a famous elevator company is one of the main investors into a teleportation technology. Even though at the moment we can only move state of atoms from one place to another with laser beams, it does not mean that we could not do more in near future. And if you are part of that development, you will have very strong lead on your competitors.

Customer strategy should be the most important driver of your business strategy, which should drive the process strategy, which, in turn, should be supported by the technology. What you can do is to think, how technology should be used in your organization to enable better customer experiences.

I am sure that in most organizations there are lots of benefits to be gained just by using the existing technology in more intelligent way. Moreover, if your organization has technology in use that is not useful, get rid of it. That will free up resources for using technological advancements to support process innovation.

Here are some reflective questions for you to ask regarding technology strategy:

  • Is customer strategy driving your technology strategy or other way around?
  • How should you use technology to do better business?
  • Does the business plan of the organization also take the information systems into consideration?
  • Does the organization extensively use information systems?
  • How could you make more efficient communication channels for transferring information?
  • Should existing information systems be reengineered to support customer experience better?
  • How can information systems be aligned better with the organization's strategy?

But what do you think? Let us know by leaving a comment!


Thank you, for your interest in How can you support process innovation with technological advancements?.
Janne Ohtonen
Contributor: Janne Ohtonen