Swing for the fences — using emerging technologies at an enterprise level

Sara Eaton
Oct 18 · 4 min read

In 2000, I focused my studies on natural language processing and completed my senior thesis on voice vs. mouse selection for menu choices. Poised for a dramatic change in how we interacted with our technology, I anticipated a surge in using voice input. But the reality has been a bit slower curve of innovation since companies are just now learning how to bring voice input to their applications.

Watching movies that have portrayed a future vision shows what some see as the art of the possible. But how can companies prepare for this journey? What is the path to integration with new technology without continually having to invest in new technologies before consumers are ready for adoption?

Most emerging technologies fall into one of two categories — new physical devices or new solutions that can apply to traditional problems. Some of the top emerging technologies right now are — autonomous driving, 3D sensing camera, graph analytics, 5G, biochips. With some of these emerging technologies, you have to assume that the consumer of the technology would have purchased some new device to interact with the technology — like sensors, virtual reality glasses, smart home/business devices. While other emerging technology like AI and blockchain require instead changing how the actual technology systems are built for consumption.

The companies best suited for trying out these emerging technologies are the ones who have created an overall approach and moved to see innovation at the core of their business systems. They have a plan and are executing against it. They are deliberate and are measuring their investment in these emerging technologies.

  1. Create Desire

These companies start by acknowledging the status quo is always changing, and the best business is one that is willing to test out new solutions for their customers. By creating the desire and excitement for trying out new ideas, people will be ready to think creatively and apply nascent technologies to their business. Companies can make this desire from simple things like sharing success stories broadly, hosting hackathons, delivering innovation days, and can even span to some personal recognition for those who think outside the box. Step one is always encouraging ideas to occur.

2. Create the space

The next step is a little more difficult. For example, many companies can gather ideas on things to do differently — sensors to track depleting supplies augmented reality to assist in problem-solving, voice input to allow for hands-free interaction- but they need a way to test out these solutions. Companies that have found ways to create innovation labs that are available to all teams to come and test and try new ideas have started this path.

They all need to show how to access these labs and how to iterate quickly to be able to see the solution’s viability. Historically, companies separated off a whole section of their business to focus on “research and development”. This meant they could investigate items they might not take to market for a few years. Separating off the research team also was effective for companies creating new products to launch in the marketplace — building a drone, offering a new cereal or cookie, launching a new tablet — but is less effective when you want to integrate and use emerging technology. With the speed of change in today’s technology landscape, these R&D practices should be brought within the established product teams. The teams should constantly be evaluating how to bring innovation from these emerging technologies.

3. Celebrate success and failure

Lastly, with the focus on creativity and innovation dispersed across the enterprise, there must be a better way to share the creation and lessons learned. If a team tests a new technology and realizes it is too early to adopt for a group of their consumers, they should share that widely across teams and explain what they chose to do instead. They should share successes with new technologies to see if other teams could benefit and think of different applications for the technology as well. This cuts down on the cost of entry if there are already people who have learned how to use and apply the technology within the company. It also helps its teams have had a bakeoff of different types of products and can share the lessons learned. Only sharing success will cause teams to repeat mistakes and will end up costing more in overall investment. Teams who have genuinely embraced the innovation cycle will know that there are both successes and failures in the path to changing a company.

So Why Do It?

The advantage of testing out new emerging technology early in the hype cycle is you can stay at the forefront of innovation, which is appreciated by the consumers. But, it is expensive to continually invest in technology for small tests, which is why innovation centers and labs that are centrally managed but widely available can be a great way to centralize and streamline those costs. Also, this makes it easier to promote both the success and failures of the ideas.

It has been 20 years, and we are still trying to realize the vision of the voice lab testing I did. There is even more data today about using two-syllable input and the value of shortened menu choices. But the more companies encourage their employees to apply a “isn’t that cool” technology to the problems they might think they have already solved, we will see a shortened adoption curve and an explosion in the applicability for innovation.

Sara Eaton — Managing Director / Technology Leader at Slalom

Photo by William Daigneault on Unsplash

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