The new wave of digital technologies, especially mobile, social media, and the cloud, are evolving at rapid speeds,  driven by empowered end-users at the edge of traditional corporations.  Powerful smartphones and tablets connected to broad social networks and vast amounts of data are enabling an onslaught of user-driven innovation inside and outside of companies, mostly out of their control.  This digital wave requires a deep rethink about how new innovations are sourced, prototyped, validated, and deployed.

Developing a flexible and broad innovation ecosystem, with active involvement from partners, customers, and employees, is a critical element for success in the digital era.  It includes rapid prototyping and user feedback networks or “crowds” to support a “fail fast, cheap, and often” approach to digital innovation.  AT&T is a good example of a company that has managed to create innovation hubs, called the Foundry, at the edge of the company around their next generation wireless networks.   These hubs, located in Plano, Texas, Ra’anana, Israel, and Palo Alto California, are helping AT&T create ecosystems with entrepreneurs, developers, and customers in applying digital innovation in healthcare, transportation, agriculture and hospitality.

There is no single silver bullet here nor one size that fits all--catching the digital wave requires a systematic effort, on multiple fronts.  The key is to align your company along three critical dimensions: 1) capabilities, 2) culture and leadership, and 3) organizational structure and processes.

The best practices we have observed in each of these areas are:


  • Raise the digital IQ of the workforce by equipping employees with the latest devices and apps
  • Use non-traditional training approaches such as reverse mentoring and user councils made up of digital natives
  • Establish a strong user-centered design capability to engage both internal and external users in designing great experiences
  • Create flexible and extensible IT systems that can support rapid prototyping and deployment

Culture and leadership:

  • Embed digital into everything you do from R&D to operations, to marketing and HR
  • Encourage the use of social media to drive collaboration, sharing, and crowd-sourced feedback
  • Support leaders who are early adopters of innovative digital solutions and help them seed this throughout your organization

Organizational design and processes:

  • Create flexible operational layouts that promote experimentation between the digital and physical worlds
  • Implement a systematic monitoring process to spot emerging digital technologies and user behaviors that could impact your business
  • Establish an innovation process that engages customers, employees and partners in co-innovation, including an idea management platform to capture/scale opportunities.  This should include:
    • Engaging former and current employees in the company’s innovation ecosystem
    • Building a Network  of large and small partners to learn from and co-innovate with on new digital offerings

Clearly, all of above elements will not happen spontaneously.

They require vision and leadership from the top since all this entails a broad and deep transformation.  It requires a shift of control from your company to your end-users, who help co-create your services, experience and knowledge base.  It is not just about the technologies and devices, but about changes in mindset, skills, incentives and above all a re-orientation of the business model.   

This article was co-authored with Scott Snyder, President of Mobiquity and author of The New World of Wireless.


Published on: Sep 26, 2012