By: Harun Asad
Leaders need to develop a ‘habit of knowledgeability,’ according to Haydn Shaughnessy, who has written extensively on change and innovation for Forbes, WSJ, InnovationManagement and HBR, among other noteworthy publications. In this article, Harun Asad expands on this notion and suggests how to build and implement a strategic intelligence platform that facilitates advancing innovation.
In his recent article on The Six Surprising Habits of Today’s Highly Effective Leaders, Haydn talks about the importance of today’s leaders knowing how to create and manage a strategic options portfolio. He writes, “The strategic options portfolio is a constant search for new options, new alternatives, and new markets, which plays out through M&A, big data, real time know-how, which in turn means leaders have to be very good at the new knowledge environment.”
Innovation experts agree that understanding unmet needs and wants of customers is an essential ingredient for ongoing innovation. And, companies spend millions of dollars annually on research aimed at learning about their customers. Such insights can and are used effectively for new products and services development and introductions.
Many organizations fail to also examine what is happening in the market more broadly and over a longer period of time…
However, much of this innovation work tends to focus on the near term, or perhaps two to three years out at most. Many organizations fail to also examine what is happening in the market more broadly and over a longer period of time, say five to ten years. And, this should include not only their existing markets but also adjacent markets, as well as relevant macroeconomic, social and technology trends that might impact the business. Sometimes called trend spotting, watching blind spots, or similar names, I refer to this as a strategic intelligence platform.
Dr. Bettina Büchel, Professor of Strategy and Organization at IMD, advises, “Organizations which want to maintain business growth over longer periods of time need to extend their thinking to include services, solutions or families of products. To get this right, they must start using “strategic intelligence” – a coordinated combination of research, analysis and distribution of information necessary to make strategic decisions that will allow growth opportunities to flourish.” Bettina further suggest themes for information may include customers, benchmarking, category extensions, existing firm capabilities, and technology.
Strategic Intelligence Platforms Advance Innovation
In my experience working with a leading medical devices company, among other companies, I have found strategic intelligence platforms to be a powerful capability in advancing innovation. Strategic intelligence platforms can not only help to validate existing innovation road maps, they can also be valuable for identifying blind spots and surfacing white spaces for advancing the innovation agenda. For example, in our work, strategic intelligence platforms have contributed significantly to course correcting product road maps, steering multimillion dollar strategic alliances and partnerships, gaining strategic alignment at the executive level, and development of entirely new lines of business, just to name a few examples.
Key Components of a Strategic Intelligence Platform
In addition to the themes Dr. Büchel posits, I suggest, among other approaches, leveraging social media analysis, creating expert councils or communities, setting up alerts or some kind of early warning system, and doing a regular scan of relevant industry literature. As well, especially in highly regulated sectors like healthcare and financial services, it’s increasingly important to actively monitor regulatory, privacy and security trends that may be shaping your business environment. Participation in relevant trade events may also be a useful pillar in creating a strong strategic intelligence platform. For example, on behalf of the medical device company mentioned earlier, we tend to participate in and monitor events such as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), TedMed, HIMSS, mHealth and related.Each industry, organization and business unit may have unique considerations, issues and nuances to be mindful of when building a strategic intelligence platform.
However, it’s important to understand there is no one-size-fits-all model or template for doing strategic intelligence the right way. Each industry, organization and business unit may have unique considerations, issues and nuances to be mindful of when building a strategic intelligence platform. As such, whether you are building a strategic intelligence program internally or outsourcing it, I suggest doing an initial pilot program to ensure stakeholder buy in, kick the tires, and get the kinks out. In this way, you can ensure that you are maximizing the return on your investment.
Given the complexity and variety of inputs to the intelligence platform, it’s a lot harder than it may seem to gather, synthesize and translate all the information in meaningful ways.
Another important consideration is information distribution. This has two critical components. On one hand, given the complexity and variety of inputs to the intelligence platform, it’s a lot harder than it may seem to gather, synthesize and translate all the information in meaningful ways. So there is a need for appropriate talent. On the other hand, you want to ensure the appropriate flow of information. In my experience, including both in-person discussions and some sort of digital repository or knowledge management system is the most effective approach.
To sum up, a strategic intelligence capability can and should be an essential element of your innovation program. To establish this capability, you will want to consider four key things:
- How will you architect or build the intelligence platform, i.e., what are the specific content components, who are the key stakeholders and what are their needs, and how will you get out of the gate (I recommend starting with a pilot program).
- Getting the right people involved to manage the platform over time (the project management approach and plan).
- A well thought out approach to managing the flow of information, including people, process and technologies.
- How you will measure success, which may be a combination of qualitative and quantitative metrics.
By Harun Asad
About The Author
Harun Asad is currently employed with ConEdison Solutions, a leading energy services company based in New York. Previously, he was an Adjunct Professor at NYU-Poly, Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer for Lodestar, a b2b consulting firm, and held a number of other corporate positions in strategy, marketing, and innovation. He holds an MBA, a BS in Marketing and is completing an MS in Information Management. He can be reached via Email at [email protected] or on Linkedin and Twitter.