Innovation Shouldn’t Be a Rocky Ride

Eli Itin explains how and why operators need to foster a culture of innovation within their organisations in order to combat threats from competitors, such as OTT players.

Guest author

October 17, 2013

6 Min Read
Innovation Shouldn’t Be a Rocky Ride
Eli Itin, Amdocs Innovation Evangelist

Apparently there are people who enjoy going for leisurely bike rides. They say they like the feel of the wind and taking in the scenery. That’s not how I ride a bike. I’m a results-oriented kind of guy who rides a bike because I enjoy improving my physical fitness level and trying to beat my previous best time.

Innovating in the telecommunications sphere without a clear purpose and proper management is likely to end up much like a leisurely bike ride – going nowhere fast. If your company isn’t regularly transforming original ideas into net value, then “innovation” is more buzzword than actual differentiator.

And Amdocs puts its money where its mouth is: the result of our innovation programmes and infrastructure is approximately 5,600 ideas submitted by over 6,400 employees. This has led to over 370 active patent filings and over 280 ideas implemented in the last few years alone.

Surely your organisation has also been active – today’s service providers understand the importance of innovation. Innovation management is crucial if telecoms are to avoid becoming mere “dumb pipes” exploited by agile and responsive over-the-top (OTT) players, or other competitors, such as motor vehicle manufacturers in the connected car realm.

In an industry where service providers face the constant challenge brought about by the commoditisation of their offerings, innovation, as a managed cultural value, is key for differentiation and monetisation.

Down This Road Before

But some service providers are bound to feel like they’ve been down this bike path before. They know that reaping the benefits of innovation isn’t as simple as sticking a genius in a room alone and waiting for a brilliant idea to emerge.

In today’s complicated and fast-changing global marketplace, true innovation requires a combined top-down and bottom-up approach. This includes a well implemented innovation infrastructure; dedicated innovation managers; collaboration with partners and the academic community; and programmes that promote, reward and recognise innovation across the organisation.

As Amdocs’ Innovation Evangelist, I understand and share the challenges of service providers who want to make innovation part of their business DNA. Doing so correctly is often the difference between winning the race and wiping out…

Two Quick Tips for Buy-In(novation)

The challenge for service providers is to create and maintain a culture of purpose-driven innovation within the organisation, embedding innovation into the very DNA of the company through a systematic and managed approach. Telecoms can’t expect to succeed merely by passively investing in R&D or incubation labs.

First, upper-management needs to really buy-in to innovation as a holistic and intensive process. A clear and well-communicated commitment to innovation by the C-level executives is an essential starting point. Likewise, their commitment to a bottom-up approach must be enabled through a company-wide innovation infrastructure that is supported by programmes that encourage, recognise and reward innovation.

What is the best way to get that type of c-level buy-in? Again, it goes back to demonstrating net value and differentiation with hard figures. The critical requirement for us at Amdocs is that ideas must result in direct or indirect value for our customers – service providers. Clear, concrete thinking about why innovation is important is essential to winning the buy-in of the most senior decision-makers, including the CEO and CFO.

Another important tip: innovation doesn’t have to be about coming up with the next iPad. Innovation comes in all shapes and sizes and doesn’t have to solely revolve around products. It can also centre on processes, marketing and services. Anything is applicable as long as the idea delivers net value. For example, a script standardisation tool created for internal use by a member of the Amdocs Infra team cut the time required to create environment generation and maintenance scripts by over 35 percent, leading to real cost savings for the company.

Avoiding Sticks in the Mud

Mountain bikers know to carefully avoid sticks in their spokes, which will literally upend all of their previous progress. Likewise, proponents of innovation will face many obstacles and barriers. Making innovation everyone’s job and way of life isn’t easy. There are barriers to be removed, as well as continual work to be done on educating and encouraging people to get involved. This can only be sustained if you actively manage innovation.

Our experience is that it pays to employ innovation managers focused on removing barriers to innovation, implementing and promoting a company-wide innovation culture and collaborating with partners and academic institutions on innovation ventures. The team cannot be everywhere at once, so we rely on a network of internal innovation agents. These are motivated employees with a keen interest in innovation who volunteer to take on additional responsibility and extend the team’s reach. They act as local innovation multipliers by evangelising and promoting innovation programmes within their sphere of influence.

It’s All Fun and Games

Don’t mistake my results-oriented attitude for a dislike of fun. Like everyone else, I enjoy having fun. I believe a key to creating a truly innovative culture is motivating people through competitive fun and recognition.

Using a number of fun and innovative techniques, our internal innovation programmes run ideation sessions that harness the collective creativity of all of the sessions’ participants in order to generate a large number of ideas within a relatively short time. They produce creative solutions that are transformed into implementable business recommendations.

Amdocs holds an annual “X Factor”-style competition known as “Innovation Spotlight” that allows innovators to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges and a live, worldwide audience of employees who text in their votes for the most promising concepts. The winners receive seed-funding and some welcome time away from their daily responsibilities, to turn their winning ideas into internal start-up ventures that will create the next cost-saving or revenue-generating tool, product or service to bring value to the company.

There’s also a linked requirement to how innovation should be marketed: through hands-on, fun demonstrations that present unique customer experiences and interactions. It’s not enough to simply show a great PowerPoint presentation. You need to make the bigger innovations “come to life.”

Do You Know Me?

Internal recognition is powerful for tapping into employees’ innovation-generating capabilities. Our “Amdocs Innovation Star” campaign has a series of colourful, Hollywood promotion-style posters, celebrating the achievements of the Innovation Spotlight winners. These posters are on permanent display at numerous Amdocs’ offices around the world.  Such recognition not only motivates employees to innovate, but also creates awareness of the importance that the company places on innovation.

Earning recognition from management and colleagues for one’s contribution to innovation is a crucial motivating aspect common to internal innovation programmes. Studies have shown that recognition is by far a greater employee motivator than a monetary reward.

In & Out

The quest for innovation has to be exhaustive and know no boundaries. This is why internal programmes need to be married to collaboration with external organisations.

The value of this approach for large telecoms companies is that partnerships with academics or start-ups can jumpstart their own research and innovation, because these organisations aren’t particularly hamstrung by corporate bureaucracy. The important factor is carefully managing dedicated programmes to generate net value for all the stakeholders – start-ups, academic institutions and customers.

The topic of creating an ongoing internal and collaborative innovation culture within service providers may not seem as glamorous as the unveiling of the latest iPhone or app. But in a commoditising marketplace where differentiation and value creation is the key to survival, it is absolutely imperative for telecoms providers to understand precisely HOW to innovate. Otherwise, it’s all just a race to nowhere…

Eli Itin, Amdocs Innovation Evangelist

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