January 16, 2013
Agilent is featured as a successful innovator in the Booz & Company 2011 and 2012 reports on “The Global Innovation 1000.” The articles in strategy+business, Booz & Company’s management magazine, quote Darlene Solomon, Agilent senior vice president and chief technology officer.
Each year Booz & Company identifies 1,000 companies that spend the most on research and development, examines their innovation practices, and reports on the results and implications of these approaches. The 2011 report highlights “Why Culture is Key," and the 2012 report, “Making Ideas Work,” explores early stages of innovation.
As the business environment continues to become more competitive, Booz & Company’s reports provide valuable insight and guidance for companies seeking to improve their innovation efforts. Below are highlights from both reports.
Build a culture that supports innovation
According to the 2011 report, companies create a significant competitive advantage when they clarify their strategic goals and build a culture that supports these goals. Successful companies aim for superior product performance and quality. They are passionate about enhancing the customer experience with their products and services.
Because companies approach innovation differently, Booz & Company groups respondents according to three main innovation strategies and includes Agilent among Need Seekers:
The research found that more than 41 percent of Need Seekers said their culture strongly supports the company’s innovation strategy, compared with just 7 percent of Market Readers and 14 percent of Tech Drivers. In addition, Need Seekers were 30 percent more likely to consider their financial performance superior to their peers compared to the other two models.
“Agilent definitely has the technology focus in our roots, and we want to continue to be a technology leader, not a follower,” says Darlene Solomon. “But to succeed, you need to be balanced in terms of focusing on the customer and understanding the market. There is a lot of great technology we can work on, and no shortage of technical challenges. But we need to choose the areas where, if we make a contribution, the customer and business value that can result is clear. It’s really about making sure that we’re at the leading edge of where our customers are going in the near term.
“There’s a very strong innovation culture throughout the company, and a culture of teamwork. Agilent really encourages that. Innovation is not just R&D in Agilent. We’ve really tried to make clear that it’s about everybody questioning the status quo and looking to do something better than what’s been done before.”
Bring clarity to early stages of innovation
According to the 2012 report, successful companies clarify processes to navigate early stages of innovation, even though these initial explorations are quite challenging. Only 25 percent of respondents consider their organizations very effective with two critical up-front innovation processes: generating new ideas and converting these to product development. Companies need to have the right people in place to manage the process, using experience and judgment to rigorously make the needed decisions.
The research found that among Need Seekers, 50 percent consider their companies effective at both the ideation and conversation of stages of innovation, compared with just 12 percent of Market Readers and 20 percent of Technology Drivers. And while all companies use similar processes in the conversation stage, the key is having decision-makers with the right experience and judgment.
“Our pipeline is about how much we think a technology can move the needle in creating value for our customers,” said Darlene, “and usually, that’s not a numbers question when you are assessing a disruptive technology. It’s easy to make anything look good. [What matters is] the judgment of people who are very experienced in leading research, and we are fortunate to have really smart people who have a good combination of technology and business sense.”
“In managing the research portfolio that is in the labs’ funnel,” says Solomon, “we constantly ask ourselves, ‘What have we learned about the technology that makes it more or less attractive than [it was] six months ago? What have we learned about the market, the competitive technologies – and what’s going on in the world that might help us decide whether the technology is now even more valuable or perhaps becoming a “me-too” technology? What has changed within Agilent in terms of our business priorities?’ All of these perspectives evolve over the course of our longer-range research, and influence our decision whether or not to continue to invest in a particular project.”
Booz & Company’s research over the past eight years has shown “there is no long-term correlation between the amount of money a company spends on its innovation efforts and its overall financial performance; instead, what matters is how companies use that money and other resources, as well as the quality of their talent, processes, and decision making. Those are the things that determine their ability to execute their innovation agendas.”