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Why CEOs Need A Broader, More Transformative Culture Of Innovation Imagine a future in which industry transformational shifts aren't seen as ruinous, but opportunities for employee engagement

By Gero Decker

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The ongoing debate over the consumer data right legislation, combined with the inevitable spread of open banking to industries like energy utilities, have put Australia at the forefront of a global discussion over the role of information sharing.

This discussion is on the whole a positive one. But it has also helped in creating a false sense of security among business: the idea that merely having access to information will lead us to better choices and operational excellence. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Real innovation requires a detailed process embedded within every level of an organization — it's the only way Australian businesses will survive what will inevitably be massive, transformational shifts within every industry.

It is only when data is utilized as part of a broader, more transformative culture of innovation that it becomes a powerful tool against the disruptions of the future. We need only look at the number of retail jobs disappearing to witness this reality coming true.

A recent survey shows just how ill-equipped Australian businesses are to prepare for this type of shift. Ricoh StollzNow research shows only 25 percent of Australian business leaders see innovation as a core value. They acknowledge its strategic importance, but are too bogged down in day-to-day work that they cannot move innovation from a theoretical need to a practical, daily process.

It shouldn't be underestimated just how much this process is required to adapt for the 2020s and beyond; the digital transformation of the past 10 years is merely a precursor of what's to come. A decade ago, the music industry had adopted to a new reality — digital sales — only to be disrupted by yet another streaming. Millions of Australian jobs will be impacted by industries or opportunities that have yet to be invented.

Given this reality, we'd assume business change and transformation would simply be a consistent value within business. Sadly, the Ricoh StollzNow research reflects a binary mode of thinking: that innovation is a distinct, separate piece of "work" that exists "now" or "later", at the expense of current operations.

This is easy to understand, given 43 percent of businesses in the same survey say they use a fragmented system of tools. One can't feel as though they are in a place to innovate when the tools required to bring that strategic change are insufficient.

The mistake, though, lies in thinking that tools alone will solve the problem. The undulating tide of regulation, disruption and transformation is a constant, so businesses create a sense of urgency to make quick fixes. They adopt faster data flows, or better visualization tactics.

These are necessary tools (my company is in the business of helping others, like SAP, set up this type of transformational technology). Yet without a fundamental shift in thinking they simply help businesses make the wrong decisions faster.

Businesses hoping to succeed within a perpetually changing and transforming environment need to use those tools within a more comprehensive process.

Firstly, businesses need to realize that transformation happens at the top. Senior executives must begin with a goal for an "end state". What does success look like, and where are the key opportunities, risks and challenges?

Secondly, the entire organization needs to be involved at every level in providing feedback on that vision. The people closest to the work know how best to change it, and so there should be a free, democratic exchange of ideas and insights.

This brings the vision into reality: you'll begin to see the pathway between a theoretical future, and what it actually take to get there. This gap analysis paints a picture of how your business should spend its time and effort.

This is where data plays a key role, but it's also a supporting one — the information is informing the process, not leading it. It's also not an expensive process, given process mining technology already exists and can be implemented to help you speed up this process.

Throughout this process, feedback from employees help you understand the reality of proposals, plans and changes. Refinement, iteration and constant validation are key.

If nothing else, recent surveys show more than 87 percent of employees are actively disengaged from their jobs. Creating a perpetual cycle of transformation and innovation could make even a small difference to that number, which means more businesses may end up solving problems before they happen.

Imagine a future in which industry transformational shifts aren't seen as ruinous, but opportunities for employee engagement. That future is a bright one, indeed.

Gero Decker

Co-founder and CEO, Signavio

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