Access and Feeds

Innovation: Can or Should Social Media Drive Product Innovation?

By Dick Weisinger

How are new technologies influencing innovation in businesses?  Which groups within companies are the engines of new innovation?  Those are a few of the questions that a study from the Economist and sponsored by Oracle, “Cultivating Business-Led Innovation”, tries to address.

While the Economist report is well researched and has some interesting findings, it’s a bit questionable if ‘innovation’ is really what the report is addressing.  Innovation comes in many shapes in forms, and it typically implies the creation or invention of something previously unknown.  Instead, what this report focuses in on as  ‘innovation’ is more about customer attentiveness, or how businesses can be re-architected to work better at responding to what customers want.   Customer attentiveness differs dramatically from what Steve Jobs’ considered as product innovation when he famously said that  “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

The report concludes that businesses can provide better customer service by mining data from customer feedback and experiences.  Businesses can use the results from that analysis to become more flexible in addressing the needs of customers and to ultimately change their products based on customer requests, and it is in this last step perhaps where innovation begins creeping in.  The report notes that the new technologies that enable businesses to tap into customer feedback data are primarily social media backed with the data mining capabilities of big data.  The story here is that businesses are widely adopting and tweaking the techniques of social media data collection and analysis, techniques that have already been pioneered by a number of other companies.

To the likely chagrin of IT departments, the report finds low regard for IT.  ‘IT’ and ‘Innovation’ are typically not associated with one another.  The report found that while new technologies like the cloud, big data and social media are currently front and center for attention at companies, the groups that are pushing the application of new technologies forward are generally not IT.  Which seems like a surprising conclusion, of course, since the ‘T’ of IT is all about technology.  The report found that half of companies think of IT more as the provider and supplier of technologies, and only 11 percent said that IT had much say in deciding how, where and which technologies should be applied within the business to make innovation happen.  Reggie Bradford, Oracle’s vice president of business development, said that “One of the things this study highlights is the lack of collaboration.  Where innovation happens successfully, it happens across the organization. Yet the CIO is still seen as the implementer of technology rather than a thought leader in how it can be used to move the business.”
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