Australia is at an inflection point. The role of innovation and technology in our lives, shaping business, and growing the economy is profound.
The pervasiveness is inarguable, be it from a generation of toddlers expectantly swiping books as though they’re tablets, to the increasing urgency of STEM being taught in schools, through the disruption of the world’s largest companies.
As the pace of innovation in digital change has increased, it has surpassed businesses and organisations of all sizes – whether they are multi-billion dollar industries or the smallest of start-ups. Large companies are threatened with disruption, with 85% of CEOs globally and in Australia citing digital and innovation as the top opportunities and priorities for their business.
At the other end of the spectrum, growing Australia’s start-up economy is a subject of vigorous debate as we look to grow Australia’s economy and role in a global and digital world.
Which is why continual innovation is so important.
We don’t read so much about SMEs in the focus on innovation. On the start-up side, businesses are so fast-moving and focused on creating a sustainable business they’re able to pivot into a new area relatively quickly.
For large organisations, there is a greater ability to fund innovation through an increasing focus on design thinking, R&D, venture funds or acquisition.
For SMEs, however, innovation is just as important for the growth of Australia’s economy and the inflection we are at. Though there are challenges for many SMEs in terms of reduced capital to invest, utilisation and risk adversity, the profile of an SME to be the flagship of growth within Australia and offshore is incredibly positive (despite a lack of venture based investment capital).
They’re faster to respond to opportunities, generally have reduced bureaucracy, less shareholder pressure and the length of the chain from which to observe customer behaviour and communicate or find levers in assets is considerably shorter.
We need SMEs to be more innovative. PwC research suggests that transforming Australia’s SME laggards to leaders in their use of technology specifically could increase GDP by nearly $6 billion (0.4%) in 2012-2013, increase real wages by 0.5% and raise revenue in the economy by $11 billion.
Australia is one of the highest and fastest adopters of technology in the world, a great test market for new services, and there is no impediment geographically for where a service originates.
How might SMEs think about continual innovation beyond the brainstorm?
What’s your relevance?
List and revisit your relevance to changes in society and the market when making strategic decisions. Is there a way your audience or competence is able to pivot on subjects like health, aged care, tourism, or Asia? Is there relevance in technology trends such as payment, 3D printing, analytics, crowdsourcing or wearables, such as printing parts, sourcing globally or remote monitoring of equipment?
Key an eye on the ecosystem
Draw out extended relationships around you and see how to move from a b2b or b2c focus, to an extension of relevance or marketplace. How can you provide for your customer and their family? Are there relations to be formed or extended with developers, app stores, governments, retail presence or competitors?
Reviewing startups stimulates opportunities to leverage innovative new capabilities early at low risk to SMEs, and high value to putting faith in our startups if there’s a way to team. Reading outside your normal lens generates new ideas. Some food for thought includes ThereIsIt, Gigya, Idomoo or sites like SmartCompany, Nocamels, Business Insider, and Forbes.
Finally, go lo-fidelity in testing ideas before running major projects; set some innovation metrics to make sure you’re not settling into the comfort zone; seek feedback and customer insights as they may represent an unmet need on a greater scale; know the R&D tax benefits; and finally, ask your team for two options for any major decisions.
For example, have one usual or incremental direction and one radical option. Even if you planned to go to Bacchus Marsh, spend an hour packing for Brazil, at best you’ll confirm your decision, or reset on somewhere in between.
It’s true, as the world changes, we won’t have much of a choice. It’s also true there will never be at better chance to jump on the springboard of opportunity.
Kate Eriksson is the head of innovation at PwC Australia’s Digital Change services. A stalwart of the digital industry, Kate’s experience and network spans across some of the most iconic digital businesses in the world such as Google, Facebook, Skype and Twitter.