Business Brains

Thinking inside other people's boxes: innovation in the digital economy

Posting in Cities

Time is ripe for more cross-pollination of ideas and solutions between industries

Do executives and professionals live in industry bubbles? In many cases, what has always worked is based on a foundation of knowledge specific to a particular industry. And talent is usually hired based on industry experience more than any other variable.

However, today's rough-and-tumble and fast-changing economy may demand approaches and solutions found in other places -- a cross-pollination between industry groups, if you will.

Imagine a city manager employing solutions forged within the information technology sector, such as smart grid technology being deployed for the Smart Cities project described by my colleague Heather Clancy. Or a retail executive looking at methods employed by government agencies to disperse information to constituents.

Or, consider skills, best practices, and software solutions being brought over from the manufacturing world to financial services. A couple of years back, for example, I spoke with an executive who brought analytical processes he developed at W.L. Gore & Associates, a multi-purpose materials manufacturer, to Wachovia (now part of Wells Fargo). He explained that Gore "was very innovation-driven; and physically product focused... I worked with engineers and scientists around statistics and modeling. We modeled product lifetimes, we modeled employee engagements, we modeled experiments and we modeled performance."

The manufacturing executive brought his familiarity with analysis and reporting software over to the financial services firm, to help it more rigorously measure customer loyalty and lifecycles. The executive's expertise and knowledge of software for product lifecycle analysis has helped Wachovia/Wells Fargo better understand its own customer lifecycles and preferences, and better target its marketing dollars to various segments.

This is advice also provided in Razorfish's 2009 Digital Outlook Report (posted here at the Smart Business site a few days ago). The Razorfish report predicts continued shifts in the digital economy, spurred by the turbulent economy at large, which calls for pursuing new avenues of innovation.

Much of this innovation can come from thinking "inside someone else’s box," the report states. We're always encouraged to think outside the box, perhaps it's time to get inside other people's boxes. We can learn a lot from what other industries are doing.

"Find fresh perspective on what your brand could deliver by thinking inside the box of another industry." For example, Razorfish illustrates in the report, "brands producing  significant thought leadership — like financial, professional and technology products and services — should think like publishers about mobilizing and monetizing intellectual capital. Brands having lifestyle aspects — like automotive and travel — should take cues from entertainment and premium retail about celebrating personalities and empowering these personalities to curate unique brand experiences for consumers."

The Razorfish report also provided additional strategies to help companies take advantage of their intersection of social media and Web services to advance innovation:

Optimize data services: Razorfish urges companies to leverage the data they have to build a holistic view of customers, partners, and employees. "While many companies collect more data on consumers, partners and employees than ever before, few aggregate and analyze it across organizational silos; this is to their detriment," Razorfish says. "By investing in data services that create holistic views, companies can deliver higher value experiences while reducing overall costs. A holistic view of a consumer, across all online and offline touchpoints, lets companies deliver more targeted content and offer better service, be more effective in cross-selling and up-selling, and have better-informed support services."

Support collaboration in business processes: Razorfish urges companies to get involved in social networking among customers, partners, and business partners. "Although business processes are inherently social, most consumer and partner solutions fail to acknowledge, much less support, the importance of dialogue and collaboration among groups...  By expanding focus from individual tasks and views to include collaborative systems, companies can deepen engagement and improve efficiencies while also promoting increased transparency."

Leverage existing infrastructure to create new products and services: The data companies need is there and ready to be acted on, Razorfish says. "Across most industries — automotive, financial services, health care, retail and others — consumer data could be aggregated and transformed into a benchmark service to help people understand their activities in the context of their peers and make better decisions."

Learning and adopting approaches from outside your industry comfort zone is a smart idea because a fast-evolving business environment requires new ways of looking at problems and opportunities.

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure