by Atit Danak, Principal & Head of CoNXT practice, Zinnov; Divya Jagasia, Project Lead, Zinnov; Rashmi Mutt, Consultant, Zinnov
One of the key reasons organizations set up Global Centers of Excellence (GCoEs) is to gain access to high-quality talent that can deliver value at relatively lower costs. One of the best ways to create high value is through innovation efforts. Having meaningful innovation also helps the center become strategically crucial for the business, as innovation is vital for its survival and growth.
However, driving innovation for any team, business unit or geography is a complex exercise and needs significant strategic thinking and navigation. The problem is further accentuated in the case of GCoEs, given the distance from priority markets and key decision makers, and hence, requires a more robust innovation strategy and specific on-ground actions.
Types of Innovation
Before we delve into a GCoE’s innovation strategy, it is essential to acknowledge that the types of innovation are understood differently by different people. With multiple terms being used, we will be referring to the three types of innovation as – Incremental, Transformative, and Breakthrough.
Each of these types of innovation requires a GCoE to have a different level of autonomy and support. As we draw comparisons between each type, it is important to note that all 3 are critical and play a unique role in the business’s survival and growth.
To explore how GCoEs currently think about their innovation strategy and what their innovation programs mean for the global business, the Zinnov team surveyed 50+ GCoE leaders who oversee the innovation budget and its utilization at the center.
GCoE Innovation Strategy – ‘What is’ to ‘What should be’
This survey, the first in a series, provided us four key insights on how GCoEs are approaching innovation from India.
Insight #1: GCoEs are predominantly focusing on Incremental and Transformative Innovation
92% of GCoEs focus on Incremental Innovation and 77% focus on Transformative Innovation. Each of these innovation types is critical to sustain and adapt the current products to the changing business environment. Rather than Breakthrough Innovation, which requires identifying future trends, GCoEs naturally emphasize Incremental and Transformative Innovation as they have more profound knowledge of existing products and technologies.
However, CXOs mainly consider Breakthrough Innovation critical for their organization’s future growth and that it will bring high value for the business. Hence, Breakthrough Projects can be of crucial interest to leaders who are continuously involved in outlining the business’s strategy and future growth. However, only 31% of Indian GCoEs currently include Breakthrough Innovation in their center’s Innovation Strategy. If GCoEs want to become Innovation Hubs, they must add Breakthrough Innovation to their Incremental and Transformative Innovation mix.
Insight #2: GCoEs drive Incremental Innovation in product/service areas and Transformative and Breakthrough Innovation in customer experience and business process areas
As mentioned above, almost all GCoEs drive Incremental Innovation. Also, most Incremental Innovation happens in product and service areas, and the GCoE’s ability to contribute to product/service innovation is quite natural. Hence, it is understandable that 92% of product/service innovation is incremental.
On the other extreme, while business model innovation is almost always synonymous with Breakthrough Innovation, it can be challenging to drive business model changes from the center. Business model innovation requires a significant shift in both value proposition to customers and the operating model. If GCoEs are to drive innovation in this area, they need to solve for the distance from key markets, customers, and internal decision-makers.
However, when GCoEs want to drive Transformative or Breakthrough Innovation, Customer Experience and Business Process Areas are their best bets. The ability to innovate in these areas has been possible mainly because –
- The focus on customer-centricity, evident in annual reports, has translated into requests/asks from business leaders and CXOs. These business leaders tend to be sponsors for GCoEs, and by aligning with sponsors’ mandates, GCoEs end up with innovation projects in the Customer Experience area.
- A high level of technological expertise in the center and deep insight of the service blueprint have allowed GCoEs to (a) identify and validate both opportunities and solutions, and (b) drive effective conversations with key internal stakeholders on innovation in Business Processes.
Insight #3: Internal Innovation is a priority for all GCoEs; however, emphasis on Internal Innovation programs changes depending on the type of innovation
The Incremental Innovation in Product/Service areas that most GCoEs focus on, needs deep product and operational expertise, which can best be driven by the center’s employees. Hence, most GCoEs prioritize Internal Innovation programs, focusing on exploration, experimentation, and building innovation skillsets among employees.
However, this is slightly different for the GCoEs that also work on Transformative and Breakthrough Innovation, besides Incremental Innovation. First, since these types of innovation can be driven well internally and externally, we see GCoEs running both – internal and start-up programs. Second, since Transformative and Breakthrough Innovation require more incubation time, resources, and involvement from senior leadership, the Internal Innovation programs are designed to build and launch new products and services, in addition to exploration and experimentation.
In both scenarios, IP and Patent programs fare lower on the priority spend ranking, indicating that GCoEs are not focused on asset creation as much as they are on commercialization. This is extremely encouraging as it is innovation that drives the business forward, and not invention. Invention, invariably associated with IP and Patents, is about creating a new product, solution, or process for the first time. Innovation, however, is about turning a new or existing product, solution, or process into something practical, affordable, and reliable that customers want to use.
Insight #4: GCoEs focusing on Transformative and Breakthrough Innovation have surprisingly limited involvement from BUs and the Global HQ
Participation of business sponsors, both from BU and Global HQ, is critical to driving Transformative and Breakthrough Innovation. Such sponsorship offers accountability for innovation efforts while also supporting the programs with resources such as capital and leadership expertise. It ensures that innovative projects taken up by the business and do not end up as orphans.
While centers have started working on Transformative and Breakthrough Innovation, they do not have the requisite involvement and commitment from BU and/or HQ. Unlike Incremental Innovation, GCoEs must seek BU and HQ support early in the journey, to improve the odds of success for Transformative and Breakthrough Innovation.
Ultimately, GCoEs prioritize their innovation spends primarily based on the type of innovation they seek to drive – Incremental, Transformative, or Breakthrough.
Most commonly, GCoEs drive Incremental Innovation in Product/Service areas through Internal Innovation programs. However, if GCoEs want to drive high-value innovation from the center and become true Innovation Hubs, the findings of the survey clearly point out 4 key questions that GCoE leaders need to answer while thinking about their Innovation Strategy –
- How and when can they bring Breakthrough Innovation into the mix?
- Do they have the scope to go beyond Product/Service areas, and explore innovation opportunities in Customer Experience, Business Processes, and Business Models?
- Based on the strategy, do they need to realign and reconfigure existing programs run in the center or add new capabilities?
- How can they bring in the requisite support from the Business and Global Leadership into existing/new innovation programs?
Answering these questions will help GCoEs think about adding high-value Transformative and Breakthrough Innovation to their Innovation Strategy and move beyond Incremental Innovation. It can be a starting point to assess their existing innovation capabilities and develop a roadmap for high-value innovation from their center.
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