In a world where customers want everything faster, better, cheaper and tailored for their exact needs, innovation makes the difference between companies that can compete, and those that get left behind. But what inspires innovation? How can companies meet this ever-growing list of requirements?

Collaboration Leads to Innovation in the Logistics and Food Industry

Innovation springs from the need to solve existing challenges. One of the oldest challenges in the business world is how to get goods from their source to the customer at the lowest possible cost and with the greatest degree of customer satisfaction. ArrowStream is a supply chain consulting firm that formed in the early 2000s to help customers meet this challenge. "For years, full supply chain visibility was the goal across many industries," said Bill Michalski, Chief Solutions Officer, ArrowStream. "But we've shown that visibility was only the starting point of a dramatic evolution of supply chain performance. By embedding deep industry knowledge and leading-edge analytics in a platform that spans the entire supply chain, we have shown that we can change the way people operate. They begin working in alignment, and start seeing long-assumed boundaries of efficiency and cost shattered."

ArrowStream formed at a time when technology and customer expectations were both evolving; the need to drive more competitive advantage from their supply chains was becoming more critical in many industries. To support its unique collaborative logistics model, ArrowStream developed technology that collects and merges transportation and other data with operational and financial targets to improve decision making.

This technology evolved into OnDemand, a SaaS application that allows restaurants to control their food spending, manage inventory levels and control distribution. ArrowStream delivered further innovation to the foodservice industry with Crossbow, another Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) application. These two software pieces help to prevent stock outages, lower costs and improve customer satisfaction with more successful limited time offers. Today, Arrowstream technologies are providing visibility and supply chain insights to some of America's leading restaurant chains including Popeye's, Jamba Juice, Hardees and many others.

Mobile Solutions Driving Change in the Building Industry

Until recently, the construction and craft industries have been known to change slowly. From earth-moving to painting, the way things are done today doesn't look that different from the way it was done generations ago. But even in construction, technology is inspiring innovation.

One of the biggest challenges in the construction industry is the need to manage workers, materials, schedules and safety on multiple job sites to ensure construction projects are delivered on-time and within-budget. San Francisco-based Rhumbix is innovating this process with its mobile workforce telematics platform, combining GPS technology, real-time mobile data capture from field crews on construction sites and other human input to provide better access to data in the home office and in the field.

"Most construction software available today has been built for project managers, project engineers, and other knowledge workers at the home office or in the field trailer," says Zachary Scheel, Co-founder and CEO of Rhumbix. "Rhumbix is a smartphone-based system designed specifically for the craft workforce, with foremen and their crews as our primary users. We believe the most-valuable data on project sites comes from the hands of the men and women actually doing the work. Our Workforce Telematics platform makes it easy to capture field data in real-time to drive actionable insights for making project sites safer and more productive."

Rhumbix even allows craft workers to create professional profiles, similar to a resume, that include work experience, safety and other certifications, supporting workplace safety as well as each worker's career progression.

Expertise Makes the Difference in Global Manufacturing

Sometimes it's technology in conjunction with depth and breadth of expertise within an industry that allows companies to innovate and solve problems. At Eastek International, a contract managed services provider in the global manufacturing industry helps customers take products from initial design through the manufacturing process to delivery and product launch.

"With Design for Manufacturability, supplier relationships and rapid fabrication, Eastek answers your need for a product development partner," says Joe Rocco, CEO of Eastek International. "Our structure gives you immediate support to launch your product with both U.S. and China manufacturing in-house. The power is always on at Eastek. We operate in one time zone -- yours."

Global manufacturing is a very crowded and complex field, full of companies that specialize in particular processes or types of products. From language barriers to intellectual property concerns and import/export regulations to logistics and manufacturing-friendly design, foreign manufacturing involves challenges that can increase cost and risk. Eastek's experience solving these challenges allows its customers to innovate more successfully across a variety of products like medical devices, printed circuit board assemblies, and injection molded plastics. "Our mission is simple: Enable our customers to be their most successful," says Troy Sandidge, Marketing Communication Specialist at Eastek International. "We do this by utilizing our U.S. and China manufacturing expertise and global resources to provide a customized and cost effective solution meeting your quality and market timing goals."

Technology and Experience Together Inspire Innovation

Innovation isn't like other aspects of business success. It requires taking a creative approach to solving problems. But creativity alone often isn't enough: technology and human expertise are also needed to transform creative ideas into the kinds of innovation that can solve our most pressing business challenges.