Innovation vs. Automation: Digital Business Model

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It’s not enough to make a difference on product quality or delivery readiness or production scale. It’s important to innovate in areas where our competition does not act. ~ CEO, IBM Global CEO Report

Innovation in Business Models

Innovation in business model drives the creation of new markets and/or increases existing ones. Companies like Apple, Gillette and Priceline have expanded their markets by changing their business models to include new markets, selling products in pieces or creating new opportunity through closer relationships with their suppliers.

The truth of the matter is that there is no one single formula that can be used to innovate a digital business model.

In fact, there is no single definition or framework in existence today that can guarantee executives a path to success when it comes to business models. Even the definition of business model itself is disputed by academics and managers.

Regardless of this ambiguity, managers know that innovating business model delivers gains that are unprecedented. And they also know that technology has made it possible to deliver results faster and with far less investment than was previously possible.

Apple Xpansion

Source: Creating Value Business Model Innovation, MIT

Stop Thinking Automation

Many businesses are spending significant amount of dollars to transform physical components of their businesses to digital ones. As they digitize, they are simply taking products or services they already have and automating them for digital channels like mobile, web and phone. Unfortunately, status quo product and service automation will not be enough to drive a meaningful change in their business for the long term. And here is why:

  • Automation is easily replicated by competitors and works to decrease switching costs for customers.
  • Automation creates another layer of complexity on top of existing systems rather than attempts to build a new core digital business that creates new markets.
  • More technological complexity in the infrastructure means higher security risk over time. As technology advances so do the threats and vulnerabilities for the old technology that still remain the foundation of an automated digital business.

Start Thinking Digital Innovation

Digital innovation is not about executing a roadmap made up of series of projects that lay out a layer of new technologies on top of old. It is about creating new markets and expanding the existing business by investment in new technological solutions. This means that managers have to push the boundaries of ‘business as usual’ and work to radicalize their way of thinking.

Here is one suggested path you can take to innovate your digital business model.

Begin with Core Principles

Digital business model innovation should begin with a thorough understanding of the core economic principles upon which the business is built. And where can these principles be found? They are stated in the mission and vision statements for your business.

A mission or vision statement is the first step in understanding what your company believes is at the very core of the business. These core statements are generally created with great care and intensity by senior managers of the company. To start here would be to understand the heart of what is most important.

Of course, what is at the heart of a business can vary from company to company. Some companies are concentrating on products, others are passionate about customer relationships and still others emphasize process. Regardless of what the core principles of your business is, digital business model innovation can take the core to the next level of expansion.

From this centre, the work on digital innovation can move to other domains, markets, technologies, etc. as you explore both external and internal possibilities of expanding your business.

Here you are limited by only two things: i) your imagination and ii) what you can build.

I. Play with Imagination

Design

Developing many possibilities or scenarios based on imagination is the necessary first step. This is the design phase of your innovative digital business model. This is an opportunity for you to thoroughly explore the possibilities without restrictions. Don’t let practicalities hold you back at this stage of game. Doing so may be exercising the circular reasoning of self-defeat.

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” ~ Albert Einstein

It is important to create a safe environment for this exercise. The naysayers are a necessary part of the process and they help check the realities of ideas but not during the design stage. Fact is that the imagination can easily be quashed by reality and yet it is imagination that can open up new opportunities for the business that would never have been considered before.

Design phase is the one place where everyone can make mistakes and get away with it. The leader for this effort should ensure that the rules of exercising innovation sessions are well-understood.

Here are some high level examples of how financial services can imagine their digital business models:

Models that centre on Situations

situational

Models that centre on Segments

segment

Disclaimer: Above are only preliminary ideas and require further regulatory and technological due diligence to be functional.

II. Plan to Win

Planning is an important part of defining how the innovative business models should work to increase the pie. The process of planning is systematic and will help think through how customers will be served, how revenue will be generated, what will the costs be. Business Model Canvas is a great place to start thinking through a detailed plan for your new business models. Below is a brief video that explains the Business Model Canvas and here is a downloadable doc that gives even more details on the process.

In addition to Business Model Canvas, there is a great compilation of different types of digital business models currently operating documented by Professor Michael Rappa from University of North Carolina. This resource can also help in the Designing phase to kick-start discussions of innovative business ideas. The categories of different digital business models described on the site can provide a foundation for what type of business innovation makes sense for your business. Or even generate a new economy or disruptor.

Create Innovation Mindset

To create innovation mindset in the technology communities of your enterprise, there has to be a deliberate and purposeful effort to drive opportunities for innovation thinking. You might consider the use of a facilitator/consultant who can help accomplish this safe environment for imaginative discussions.

I have facilitated many sessions, from process mapping workshops to developing game plans for digital channels. In every case, the participants are more than willing and able to discuss a new future for their companies. I find that individuals who work in technology selected this career path because they believe in a better future filled with new innovative technologies that solve problems.

Additional Resources

Digital Disruptors: Models of Digital Operations, Part 2/3 Digital Business Transformation
This is a good summary of various aspects of digital business model.

How Kodak Failed
A great article in Forbes that provides a view into decision making process that led to the demise of Kodak, the inventors of digital photography. A ‘what not to do’ guide.

What can a CIO do to drive Digital Transformation?
HBR Digital Innovation and Transformation blog site where there are many searchable blogs about different aspects of Digital Business Models and Digital Transformation.

Defining the Business Model in the New World of Digital Business
An academic index on all the different ways a business model can be defined. It is a great summary and an attempt to define the concept of Business Model.

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Update: October 14, 2014

A great presentation by Didier Bonnet from Capgemini on the need for Digital Business Model Innovation at Oracle OpenWorld keynote:

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OPEN WRX Consulting Inc. is committed to helping companies improve competitiveness through effective decision making by sharing information and generating ideas.

While my passion is business strategy and technology, my work spans a number of corporate disciplines including product development, process design, marketing and financial analysis. I was a Consultant at CIBC and Sr. Consultant at Innovapost where I had the pleasure of working with clients at Canada Post and Purolator. I also worked as a Digital Strategist for NBA, Kraft, Samsung and Travelex. My experience spans from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies.

openwrxconsulting.com

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Published by

Kiran Sohi

Kiran Sohi has over ten years of experience in business and technology consulting: eCommerce, product management, marketing and sales strategy – in both public and private sectors. Her experience spans the spectrum from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. Kiran has worked extensively around the globe, including Tokyo, NYC, Virginia and Toronto. By working closely with you on your initiatives, Kiran can help stimulate your business strategy, enable processes, technology and identify financial value. Her goal is to optimize your company’s management and competitive standing in the market.

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