Translating innovation potential to business benefit

Spending a week with the researchers of Fujitsu Laboratories in Tokyo certainly provides food for thought.  It was not just the technological inventiveness and potential that we discussed but it was arguably the far more challenging issue of how we take that innovation and translate it into business benefit for our clients and wider society.   I am here with a party of nine colleagues from Fujitsu UK and Ireland who are the technology leads for our operating divisions and our market offering portfolio capability delivery units.  The overt intent of the trip is mutual education; we articulate the challenges and opportunities we see in our market and client accounts and our Japanese colleagues share their strategic thinking and the quality of their collective intellect.

My primary objective was related to, but subtly varying from, the declared agenda – I initiated the event to facilitate both sides of the equation recognising the urgency of our directly linking the innovative thinking and research to our clients and to jointly take the step of collaborating to align an idea with a need, i.e. open innovation. In my role as Chief Information and Technology Officer for Fujitsu UK and Ireland I see both sides of that innovation coin every day: as CIO I see the operational delivery challenges and the opportunities to obtain business benefit waiting to be solved; as CTO I see the potential as technology evolves bringing new capabilities into reality.  What I wanted to achieve from immersing my colleagues in the “art of what might be possible” was their recognising the importance of what they could provide, the business challenge that needs to be solved.

On the final day of the workshop we spent three hours collating all the interesting research detail into groupings that we could relate to the current challenges each business division either already had as a live issue or were new opportunities to create business value sparked in people’s minds.  We were helped in this mapping process by the Fujitsu Laboratories activities all being codified as supporting the two key top level research themes, human centric computing and the use of technology to create an intelligent society.  Of course the real challenge was in planning how we could take the potential and make it vibrant and compelling to our clients and sales leads whilst also retaining the sense of urgency that ensure business value would be derived sooner rather than later. Managing the time horizons of rigorous and thorough technology development alongside the intense demand for innovative solutions to deliver business benefit in the short term is ultimately the challenge CIOs and business leaders need to balance to attain benefit at acceptable risk and cost.

As you would expect there were many debates held over drinks late into the evening and one topic which related to innovation arose consistently; how could we unleash the creativity of our employees to provide insight on innovation opportunities?  Eventually I came to realise (or was clearly told, you take your pick!) that having handed out objectives to each member of the team for the trip it seemed right and proper that I accepted one of my own!  So I agreed to deploy a social media platform that would allow us to operate a “power of the crowd” event where we would set a defined set of topics on which over a defined time period we would invite both input and people to vote for the suggestions they thought most compelling and worthy of pursuit.  Of course this is a variant of open innovation that many companies are already successfully operating either internally, in closed communities or publically to great effect but it is new for us internally (we have used this technique with the public to defined/refined equipment for a number of years). We will run the event during October and I will share how it went, warts and all, at some point in November.