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Technological innovation has greatly impacted our daily lives in recent years. iPads allow us to keep emailing while on the go, we tell Alexa to play music in the house, our grandparents now FaceTime regularly from Florida, and driverless vehicles take us where we want to go [1]. Innovation has even enabled those who were unable until now – ReWalk robotics allows paraplegics to walk [2], TV listening devices allow those with hearing loss to watch their favorite programs, and, most recently, scientists developed a device that helps a paralyzed man communicate through brain waves [3].

Many businesses were also forced to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic to meet the needs of their secluded and distributed customer base. Restaurants shifted to delivery-only utilizing the recently developed food delivery apps like DoorDash and GrubHub [4], small businesses started leveraging customer relationship tools to engage and build their customer base, and many businesses pivoted production to support the demand for ventilators and hand sanitizer [5].

Technological innovation is now often the single most important competitive driver in many industries. Many firms receive more than one-third of their sales and profits from products developed within the past five years. Virtual banking is one industry that is harnessing innovation to reach its customers in new ways – not to provide new services, but as an enhancement of what it does best. It now allows us to deposit checks, transfer funds, and pay bills electronically. The integration of artificial intelligence allows people to check their balance by asking Alexa or being notified of possible identity fraud [7].

Innovation creates value and relevancy for people. As society and customer expectations evolve, so must businesses. As Andrea Coville, president of Brodeur Partners, and Paul B. Brown, a long-time contributor to The New York Times, say, “People are awash in choices about where to spend their money and place their loyalty. If you aren’t relevant, they will go somewhere else.” [6] Companies must remain relevant, and innovating is one way to do so.  Here are three steps for small businesses to strategically manage technological innovation.

  1. Source ideas.

Ideas can arise from many sources – individuals, teams, and entities. Companies can even harness their user and citizen ideas to enhance their businesses and expand their products [9]. In other cases, companies are forced to innovate to respond to a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic by pivoting their businesses to make face shields, hand sanitizer, or new vaccines [10], which can lead to just-in-time innovation and business expansion.

  1. Strategically managing technological innovation.

Strategic management is the ongoing planning, tracking, analysis, and assessment of all the necessities an organization needs to meet its goals. Leaders break down company goals into department goals and then department managers set the objectives for their teams, assign work to individual members, track progress, and make course corrections when needed.  Just as managers set goals for their employees, they also must set goals for their technology. How can technology be deployed to assist their department and organization achieve its goals? Leaders need to create a culture for innovation and the space for their staff to utilize new tools and develop new ways of working. Besides encouraging new product development, employees should be encouraged to expand their existing portfolio of products.

  1. Budget for innovation.

More than just ideas, companies and leaders need to back innovation financially. Budgets sometimes require new funding models for innovative initiatives [12]. While costs should be considered from an annual operations budgeting perspective, funding can also be obtained from grants, funders, and donors. Sustainable funding will help create a steady stream of technology innovation for years to come.

These three steps are places to start if you’re aiming to get a better handle on managing and encouraging technological innovation in your organization. Stop worrying about the order and perfection; just start.

References

  1. Top Technological Advances of the 2010s: https://blog.flock.com/top-technological-advances-of-the-2010s
  2. Technology in our Life Today and How it has Changed: https://aginginplace.org/technology-in-our-life-today-and-how-it-has-changed/
  3. Device taps brain waves to help paralyzed man communicate: https://apnews.com/article/technology-science-health-2034d0fff5e63a83b7add3e991df79b1
  4. The pandemic has more than doubled food-delivery apps’ business. Now what?: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-pandemic-has-more-than-doubled-americans-use-of-food-delivery-apps-but-that-doesnt-mean-the-companies-are-making-money-11606340169
  5. 4 small-business innovations that will outlast the pandemic: https://apnews.com/article/health-coronavirus-pandemic-technology-lifestyle-business-f6e0047d058b115e48f7a3b63ec94544
  6. 3 Ways to Make your Company Relevant https://www.fastcompany.com/3028544/3-ways-to-make-your-company-relevant
  7. How does innovation impact society? https://financialservicesblog.accenture.com/how-does-innovation-impact-society
  8. Schilling, M. (2020). Strategic Management of Technological Innovation. McGraw Hill Education. New York, NY.  [p. 10]
  9. Amabile, T. M. (2017). In pursuit of everyday creativity. The Journal of Creative Behavior, 51(4), 335-337. [p. 4]
  10. Cohen, A. K., & Cromwell, J. R. (2021). How to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic with more creativity and innovation. Population Health Management, 24(2), 153-155.
  11. Bright, D. S., Cortes, A. H., Hartmann, E., Parboteeah, K. P., Pierce, J. L., Reece, M., … & O’Rourke, J. S. (2019). Principles of management. OpenStax.
  12. Managing Technology Innovation https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/us/pdf/2019/09/managing-technology-innovation.pdf