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Behind the buzzword: What innovation really means for modern businesses

Behind the buzzword: What innovation really means for modern businesses

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Mohamed Mikou, Chief Operating Officer and CMO – Middle East and Africa (MEA), ‎Microsoft, discusses the Power Platform and how it enables non-developers to rapidly configure an application starting from zero in a matter of hours to days using drag-and-drop or point-and-click tools, rather than code and script.

Innovation is the driving force of modern business. In a rapidly changing world, organisations need to be able to adapt and transform at speed. In fact, change management is the most important soft skill for businesses of today.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic revealed a lack of forward planning that impacted Business Continuity for many organisations – meaning that many were unable to keep up with the pace of change. This served as their moment of truth. It became clear that businesses that were able to adapt, transform and innovate quickly were able to survive and even thrive in challenging conditions.

The reality is that any organisation that wants to be relevant moving forward must start somewhere and the starting point comes from a leadership decision and the intentional motivation to transform. Increasingly, it means putting in place the fundamental formula of success: merging tech intensity with people development.

Tech intensity

Tech intensity means more than simply adopting best-in-class technology at speed to jump-start growth – businesses need to build their own technology and digital capabilities to solve business and societal challenges. Tech intensity is the rate at which organisations adopt enabling technology and build their own digital solutions, underpinned by trust that the highest standards of security and control are built into these capabilities.

Harnessing tech intensity is how the most innovative and successful businesses today gain a competitive advantage. This is because they rapidly adopt next-generation technology to build their own proprietary digital capabilities and first-party Intellectual Property (IP) to innovate and accelerate growth.

Microsoft’s State of Tech Intensity study shows, for example, that 73% of companies are currently creating their own first-party IP using next-generation technologies such as Machine Learning (39%), IoT (37%), AI (32%), Blockchain (29%) and mixed reality (21%). Three quarters of these organisations also believe that harnessing tech intensity is the most effective way to build a competitive advantage today and in the future.

This is particularly critical in the Middle East and Africa (MEA), where business leaders are already seeing the use of advanced technologies like AI add value and transform the way they do business. For example, three quarters of respondents to the AI Maturity in the Middle East and Africa study believe AI will fundamentally change the way they do business and MEA business leaders say they are already using AI to drive transformation and innovation. At least 30% say they are using AI in research and development (R&D), 20% in operations and 18% in sales and marketing.

People as the key to unlocking the power of technology

It is undoubtedly critical to invest in the right tools and technologies to build solutions that enable innovation and agility, but it is equally essential to invest in people. People are the end point that unlock the potential and power of the technology and processes – and manage the essential change management process that serves as the foundation of successful innovation.

One of the most critical ingredients for innovation to take place is culture. Businesses need to harness the right mix of people, process and technology, with highly engaged employees who are empowered and encouraged to voice their ideas as the vibrant heartbeat at the centre of this mix.

Modern organisations need to create an enabling environment and the psychological safety for their people to innovate. They need to give people the freedom, space and time to innovate, be creative and execute on their ideas.

This means creating the space to try things and to fail, but fail fast, then learn and move on to the next thing. Microsoft has, for instance, introduced wellbeing days, which is the intentional provision of space for people to explore their ideas outside of traditional work structures and confines. Businesses can also introduce initiatives like learning and innovation days in their HR policies and calendars.

This helps to redefine and evolve the ways that people work and empowers them to think, ideate and innovate. However, this also needs to be matched with a solid reward mechanism to celebrate and reward people for the work they do and crucially the impact they make. Further democratising technology and putting the right tools in people’s hands will amplify their strengths, create digital capabilities at scale, make it faster and easier to introduce new products and services, and drive a culture of innovation.

Innovation in action

When all these ingredients are in place, we start to see innovation in action – and the associated business benefits and value that it brings. As an example: the Saudi Investment Bank (SAIB), a key player in delivering innovative financial products and services in the country’s banking industry, has invested in digitalisation to deepen its understanding of customer needs through data. It is using these insights to improve the customer experience, as well as streamline and optimise both finance and operations.

The bank integrated the Power BI platform and through the segmentation of data and insights provided, it was able to better analyse customer behaviour, transactions and interactions with the bank. This has allowed SAIB to react quickly and efficiently, providing customers with the right products and services at the right time. As a result, this is enhancing the customer experience and improving the bank’s performance by enabling products and services up-selling to their customers.

Another example is how Standard Bank South Africa, one of the country’s top four banks and financial services providers, has invested in building digital and people capabilities to boost the customer experience.

This largely meant investing in connected, intelligent business applications, like Power Platform, to effectively bring together people, process and technology. It is helping organisations to democratise the process of building applications, while ensuring that the highest standards of security and control are built into the solution.

Power Platform enables non-developers to rapidly configure an application starting from zero in a matter of hours to days by using drag-and-drop or point-and-click tools, rather than code and script. The platform also empowers the true developer to build faster-better-cheaper systems by taking advantage of a ready-to-go development platform in the cloud.

The bank’s adoption of the platform has resulted in over 300 solutions being innovated since 2019 for varying business needs and functions ranging from finance to operations to HR. This has led to faster time to value, reduced expenditures, and service resilience, all of which translate into an improved customer experience.

Although just one example of many, it illustrates the power of innovation and nimble change management. This is the true differentiator in an age of rapid and unprecedented change. And for companies to be able to tap into continuous innovation, rather than approach it as something that takes place at a point in time, they need to actively find ways to empower their people to innovate, aided by tech intensity.

The organisations that get this right will be the ones that not only survive but thrive.

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