Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How Video Drives Innovation

This post kicks off my current cycle for the CIO Collaboration Network, where the focus is on video. I've been writing about video a fair bit lately, and for this series, it will be in the context of business value and collaboration. To start off, this post ties these ideas to innovation, a magical characteristic that defines all successful companies.

Innovation is a subjective, loaded term – just like collaboration. For both, we know it when we see it, but each is difficult to clearly define. Both are also positive forces and highly valued by business on their own merits. However, the two are highly intertwined and can be enabled by a common technology – video.

There are certainly several aspects of collaboration that can be easily measured, especially around streamlining operations and business processes. These are the attributes that define ROI and support the business case that IT needs to sell upwards to management. Conversely, by the way, there could be a top-down mandate where management deems that collaboration is the new imperative. In this scenario, management may also define the collaboration metrics, and then it becomes IT’s job to meet them – or risk losing budget and staff.

Collaboration, of course, means many things, and things get interesting when you want this to drive innovation. Most businesses would hold that innovation is the product of teamwork and from that, collaboration is the process by which new ideas get put into action and commercialized to help grow the business.

So, where does video fit in? Let’s work backwards from the desired result first. The end product is innovation, which can be both inward and outward-facing. Internal innovation is about finding new or better ways for the organization to perform, reduce costs or increase revenues. There are predictable efficiencies that come from applications such as UC which can drive these results, but that’s not true innovation. Working smarter is great, but innovation is about breakthroughs and thinking outside conventional rules. In that regard, innovation usually comes from unexpected sources, and that’s what makes collaboration so powerful.

The same holds for outward-facing innovation, which takes the form of new products/services, or better ways of dealing with customers, suppliers and partners. I could go on at length about how this can happen, but not in this post. My main idea here is that both inward and outward-facing innovation depends on collaboration, and now it’s time to bring video into the picture.

Measuring the costs and the benefits of innovation is difficult, and if organizations become too dogmatic about this, they’re more likely to stifle innovation rather than nurture it. The musician in me understands the creative process, and the best results always come from an environment that supports the free flow of ideas. For companies that want great innovation, they need to support it with a fine balance of fiscal accountability and openness. Technology plays a key role, but ultimately you need the right culture.

Innovation isn’t in a box that sits on a shelf in the lab; it’s in all of us, and can be drawn out when properly supported. In short, the more we can collaborate – and the more easily we can collaborate – the more likely those conditions will exist to generate innovative ideas. Video has a central role to play given the decentralized nature of work today. Sitting at your cubicle all day is no longer the norm, and with the globalization of business, teamwork almost always has a virtual element. This trend is only going to continue, and it is becoming the exception rather than the rule for teams to work on projects face-to-face from start to finish.

By now it shouldn’t be too hard to connect the dots to see the value of video to support collaboration in an atomized workplace. Whether working from home, auto, airport, hotel, client or branch office, video – especially as part of UC – is the great enabler for collaboration. This actually holds true on two levels. First is technology – today’s video experience is powerful, intuitive, economical and nearly ubiquitous. Video is the most engaging communications mode, making it ideal for collaboration. For collaboration to drive innovation, the process must involve the senses. Great ideas don’t come from talking on the phone or swapping emails. You need richer communication – talking, seeing, watching, showing, listening, reading, sharing, etc. – and today’s video delivers that.

Second is generational. For many businesses, innovation is about using technology to make their products/services better or finding better ways of bringing them to market. Increasingly, this is becoming the domain of Millennials – workers who have grown up their whole lives with the Internet. Not only do they have a highly attuned understanding of technology, but they’re also very comfortable with video as a means of communicating. This is no small consideration, given that a key holdback for video adoption has been the low comfort level many people have for using it.

As such, the business value of video becomes quite strong when the people who are most comfortable using it are also the most at home with the technology upon which innovation will largely be based. This demographic is also accustomed to the virtual organization and the need to collaborate with disparate team members.

Coming back to the idea that innovation lies within all of us, it stands to reason that the easier it is to collaborate, the better able to business will be to draw ideas and inspiration from as broad a pool as possible. Innovation is just as likely to come from a happy accident as from a structured process, and if that’s the end result, why limit yourself? Putting a price tag on this seems futile, and given the affordable options with video today, there really is no excuse for businesses to let that get in the way of collaboration to drive innovation that creates competitive differentiation.

This post sponsored by the CIO Collaboration Network and Avaya.


Peter Fretty said...

Great post Jon. As the Millenniums continue to enter the workforce and the push continues for an anywhere, anytime, any device enabled atmosphere video collaboration will undoubtedly serve as THE conduit for innovation.

CIO collaboration network said...

NICE great post As the Millenniums continue to enter the workforce and the push continues for an anywhere, anytime, any device enabled atmosphere video collaboration will undoubtedly serve as THE conduit for innovation.