AT SPHERA WE’VE DEVELOPED A FRAMEWORK FOR MANAGING TECHNOLOGY-DRIVEN INNOVATION WITH A FOCUS ON Integrated Risk Management 4.0 (IRM 4.0). We’ve identified, vetted, selected and implemented innovations that are effective within the context of the shift to the IRM 4.0 business model, our management practices and our company culture. We wanted to share what’s working for us in case you’re considering starting an innovation program of your own.
Gathering Ideas From Everywhere
Most of us encountered petri dishes in our high school biology labs. Petri dishes are shallow containers filled with the nutrients required to cultivate specific organisms. For our innovation program to be effective, we’ve found that we must source ideas from multiple “petri dishes” across our organization. These ideas are debated, storyboarded and piloted in an iterative way. Eventually they start to build out a backlog of solid ideas that are a budding relationship between a business opportunity and promising technology. At Sphera we get our ideas from:
Items that spill over from our product roadmap: Projects that can accelerate product roadmap items easily flow into our innovation program. Today we’re focused on an integrated cloud platform with modular applications, an intuitive user experience and mobility support.
Projects or ideas that come from the leadership team: These projects are based on emerging market and business opportunities. These projects are brought into our innovation program with the goal of introducing next-generation solutions.
Business or technology ideas that emerge from our colleagues: These are a bottom-up way to find more elegant solutions to solving problems (a better mousetrap) or to solve difficult cross-platform problems in new ways.
Ground What you Do
With each of the sources of innovation, we ground development in design principles. These principles provide guidelines for colleagues engaged in our innovation program. We apply them when we select, create and organize projects for our pipeline. Taken together the following five design principles provide the backbone of our IRM 4.0-focused innovation program:
Interconnection: Systems need to connect people, machines, sensors, devices and software through the Internet of Things (IoT) and allow them to communicate with one another.
Information Transparency: Data collected through interconnection needs to be made available for operators for decision-making.
Technical Assistance: The ability to shift low-value tasks from people to cyber-physical systems, and for systems to provide people with analysis and information to make timely and effective decisions.
Decentralized Decisions: Systems need to be able to make their own decisions and take autonomous action. For example, a notification may be automatically broadcast based on the detection of a temperature change.
User-centric: Systems need to deliver the right information, to the right people, at the right time and place and in the right form.
Having a dedicated place to do the work is an important part of executing an innovation program. We created an Innovation Lab to provide the physical space and tools necessary to work on prioritized ideas and to showcase completed projects to stakeholders. Successful execution also depends on managing the risk that comes with a program that aims for 10x gains. You must accept that most ideas will prove to be unfeasible, and we’ve established risk management guidelines to avoid going too deep on something that will ultimately not work out.
Avoid Perfection: We subscribe to the well-known maxim in Agile software development that holds that “perfect is the enemy of done.” Rather than hold out for perfect, we aim to build something that is good enough in our innovation program.
Fail Fast: We talk a lot these days about the importance of being agile in the digital environment. The idea of agility applies to success just as well as it does to failure. We embrace the agile “fail fast, fail often, fail forward” thinking by working in a time box.
Have Fun: The projects worked on through the IRM 4.0 innovation program provide an opportunity for our engineers to think freely and creatively. It provides an opportunity to work on radically new initiatives where there is always something new to learn.
We’ve found that it is essential to think about the common purpose and goals of our innovation program and the different mechanisms needed to sustain it and keep it on track. We’ve had to push past the fear of failure and embrace mindset shifts that empower our colleagues to take risks. Inevitably, innovation is about knowing that you won’t always score that perfect 10 with every idea but understanding that you’ll never make a splash if you don’t dive headfirst into the waters.
As Sphera’s chief technology officer, Perry Marchant leads product development, technology operations, engineering and security. Perry is responsible for the technical vision, strategy and architecture of Sphera’s next generation of software development. He has over 25 years of experience, including 10 years of managing engineering teams and building consumer and enterprise products.