Innovation, Innovation, Innovation

To borrow a line from cultural commentator Ken Hughes, Innovation is like sex when you’re a teenager – everyone else claims they’re doing it.

Innovation comes in all shapes and sizes. From all directions. Why is Innovation (and its pushy cousin, Disruption) so important to retailers today? Bluntly: because consumers now expect it, and because if you stand still too long someone else will come along and eat your lunch.

Innovation shouldn’t really be the goal in itself – but rather should be the medium through which to achieve other goals. In other words, retailers don’t really go around saying “I need some innovation”, they say “I need to see improved market share this year” or “I need to enhance our social media presence so as to keep up with what company X are doing.” But increasingly the focus is on the fact of innovation for its own sake, and innovation makes headlines.

So I wasn’t at all surprised last year when HPE (as was at the time – now DXC) developed something they’ve called the Innovation Model. This lets retailers survey the innovation ‘landscape’ and gauge the relative maturity and uptake of the various innovative technologies at play in retail today.

Why should they do this?  How will it benefit them?  I’ll come to that in a moment – first let me explain it. And if you’re not familiar with it you may like to take a look – it’s a lovely piece of design and interactive user experience.

The Retail Innovation Model looks at the current technology landscape across five stages – Research & Development, Leading Edge, Early Adopter, Mainstream and Late Adopter. This moves all the way from R&D prototypes and Proofs of Concept, through the bleeding-edge 5%, and onwards through to the laggardly late adopters. It allows the user to understand where a particular technology sits.  And as there’s a lot of innovation out there, in order to make it digestible and meaningful it allows the user to look at it through various filters (or what they call ‘lenses’) – for example the lens of customer experience or of workforce mobility.

  

 

So you might for example want to look at Facial Recognition as a technology and know whether it is still in R&D or has moved into Leading Edge. You may want to know what Customer Experience – related technologies are now sitting in mainstream. You might just want some clarifications and definitions around some of these technologies. Once you start referring to the Innovation model, it can be quite addictively compelling.

To come back to the question of why retailers should use the model in the first place, there are a number of reasons. These range from simply wanting to know what technologies are out there, to wanting ‘benchmark’ current capabilities compared to competitors, to wanting to know whether a given technology has reached a “tipping point” of adoption or is in fact stuck fast in R&D hell, to wanting help in deciding where to invest the all-important technology budget.

It’s not that being at any particular stage of the model is – of itself – a good or bad thing.  There will be some retailers who don’t think life in the Leading Edge really fits their profile, whereas there may be another who decides to take the plunge to make a splash with one specific Leading Edge area.  But with innovation and disruption on everyone’s lips, it’s a timely tool.

 

 

This isn’t just an abstract toy or a digital distraction. This is genuinely useful and meaningful to retails and was proven to me at a recent retail event where it was introduced to a room of about fifty senior retail decision makers – you could see the notes franticly being taken in the room, and there were more than a few questions afterwards.

Putting Innovative technologies centre stage in precisely this way on a smorgasbord almost feels illicit, like a technology company sharing secrets. But this all seems to me in tune with the very pragmatic approach to delivering relevant solutions and just getting things done that DXC are bringing to market.

Have a look (and an interactive play with) the DXC Retail Innovation Model (which you can find here) as I’m sure you’ll find it fascinating.  And who knows, it might just plant the seed of an idea that becomes your competitive differentiator…