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Making innovation a way of life

Product innovation is relatively easier because it concerns only a few employees in the company. Simply put, it refers to a change in an existing product, in terms of physical appearance or performance. So, it could be an additional camera on a ph...

, ET Bureau|
Nov 21, 2019, 08.36 AM IST
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BCCL
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An anti-ageing-cum-rejuvenation package costing about Rs 3 lakh is one of the most sought-after remedies offered by Advancells, a Noida-based stem cells therapy centre which is among companies that are increasingly focused on product-level innovation to expand their business.

Under this treatment, which is said to make people feel at least 10 years younger, the centre draws healthy cells, cultures them with nutrients and then reinfuses the “reinvigorated cells” back into the bloodstream of its clients.

“It works... well, that’s the hope at least,” said Vipul Jain, CEO of Advancells, which treats more than 1,200 patients every year, with foreigners accounting for about 70% of its clientele.

The package is among the centre’s newest offerings, along with therapies for diabetes and arthritis. “For us, innovation is always a work in progress,” said Jain. “When we started six years ago, we were doing only 10% of what we do now. You have to keep innovating. If you don’t, you’ll be left behind.”

Product-level innovation differs from business process innovation, or creating systems and methods for improving organisational performance, which many traditional businesses prefer.

“Broadly, innovation has become more proactive (than reactive) these days… Progressive companies try to inculcate innovation as a habit among their employees,” said Rajiv Narang, CEO, Erehwon Innovation Consulting.

WAYS TO INNOVATE

Product innovation is relatively easier because it concerns only a few employees in the company. Simply put, it refers to a change in an existing product, in terms of physical appearance or performance. So, it could be an additional camera on a phone or a revamped dashboard in an automobile.

Business process innovation, on the other hand, encompasses improvement in the process of production and may include changes across production and distribution verticals.

“People often confuse innovation with incremental improvements or jugaad… Real innovation may require managers to take up challenges beyond their expertise or knowledge levels,” said Narang.

According to consultants, about 15% of fresh growth in well-performing companies can be attributed to innovation, although there are no quantifiable measures. A case in point could be RPG Group’s business verticals – KEC, RPG Ventures, Ceat Tyres and Zensar Technologies.

KEC has diversified beyond its traditional power transmission and distribution business, and has doubled revenue from newer segments such as railways. RPG Ventures has done well on account of its investments in new-age businesses such as ‘Seniority’, a senior citizen-care product startup. Ceat Tyres’ ‘Milaze’ brand of tyres is presumably India’s first “one-lakh-kilometre tyre” while Zensar derives nearly half its revenue from digital business.

“Innovation is vital because at its heart is efficiency, better customer satisfaction and more advanced products and services,” said RPG Group chairman Harsh Goenka. “As a differentiator, innovation has high impact and applies to both traditional and new-age business models. Innovation flourishes when there is a culture of creativity, transparency and belief in people.”

INNOVATION AN ONGOING PROCESS

Stakeholders have to be bold enough to experiment with product lines, invest in consumer insights, take risks and face uncertainty before they can reap rewards. Moreover, innovation is an ongoing process.

Breakthrough companies that stop innovating fall behind or even cease to exist. Mobile phone maker Nokia, for example, relied too much on incremental improvement while rivals seized the opportunity in the smartphone segment. Apple, according to corporate strategists, was an innovative company about a decade ago, when it launched iTunes (to power up iPod) and iPhones, but it too has fallen prey to swapping innovation with incremental improvement and excessive focus on its smartphone business.

“Real innovation can, at best, give you a two to three years edge – post which the idea fizzles out. So continuous follow-through of innovation is critical,” said Narang of Erehwon Innovation Consulting.

Newer products or ways of doing business can disrupt even innovating companies. Uber did that to automakers and taxi providers. Airbnb started out by offering airbeds to travellers in people’s homes, but when it sharpened its business idea and began to address the needs of high-value customers, its popularity grew every more. This was when it started affecting businesses of big hotel chains.

“Before we fear the pain of disruption, we must understand that it is better to disrupt than be forced to face the effects of someone else’s disruptive business ideas,” said Goenka. “Innovation is no more an option; it must reside within us.”

(Companies can log onto www.etinnovationawards.com to participate in this year's edition of the ET Innovation Awards)

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