Zebra CTO: Rethinking innovation in the age of IoT
Zebra CTO Rethinking innovation in the age of IoT
(Credit: Zebra Technologies)

Zebra CTO: Rethinking innovation in the age of IoT

It’s time for business leaders to rethink false assumptions about innovation, says Zebra Technologies CTO Tom Bianculli, in an exclusive article for Internet of Business. 

How can business leaders drive innovation in today’s digital age? After all, the word innovation itself is one of the most overused words in business circles today.

Tom Bianculli, CTO of Zebra Technologies

Simply put, innovation in the twenty-first century is about having the ability to see and deliver value to your stakeholders – and to do so ever closer to the point of demand. That “ability to see” is key, because today, we have the technology capabilities to sense data from any device, analyze it to provide actionable insights and act on it in real-time.

We have the ability to identify the gap between what we think is happening and what is truly happening and then take necessary action. And, as venture capitalist JB Pritzer puts it, “If you are not [acting like a technology company], you’re dying or you’re dead.” IoT will transform the world around us in a way that will impact all our daily lives. That shift is already happening.

Will you get innovation right all the time? Probably not. But there is a lot we can learn from our collective failures – probably more than what we can learn from our successes. And what is your greatest asset? People. The majority of executives agree that the workforce, not technology, is crucial in effectively managing digital disruption. The new reality is that access to real-time data – from people, processes and devices through sensors connected to the internet – will revolutionize the way we interact with each other and our world.

Tackling false assumptions

It is often assumed that technology is the key factor in managing digital transformation. False. It is the people. Technology is integral in facilitating the process, but the success or failure lies with the workforce.

Yes, I am a CTO. I do believe technology is instrumental in transforming the workforce in the digital era. By augmenting the workforce with data driven intelligence companies can release human capital and redirect resources to value-added jobs, while reducing errors, improving productivity and increasing job satisfaction. Not to mention that technology itself can be used to retain the workforce in engaging new ways. When all is said and done, people make it happen, they embrace the change and adapt new ways of working and collaborating.

There is a myth that customer expectations differ based on the product or service. Again, false. Using Uber sets your expectations as a shopper, as a patient, as a citizen. So the high expectations set by best-of-breed providers in one industry set the norm across all industries. To meet these expectations, brands will double down on creating lasting, immersive experiences for their customers.  

In line with this trend, a recent study released by Zebra Technologies, revealed that nearly 80 percent of retailers will be able to customize the store visit for customers by 2021, as a majority of them will know when a specific customer is in the store. This will set the foundation for the retailers as well as financial services, healthcare and other industries.

Some people think creative breakthroughs result from in-depth, industry-specific analysis. That’s partially true, but executives can find commonalities and inspiration across industry sectors. Before recreating the wheel, executives should review best-in-class examples and benchmarks regardless of sector. “Agriculture is like baseball. It is rich in data. The challenge is how to turn it into insight,” said Hugh Grant, CEO of Monsanto. And that’s just one common challenge across different sectors.

For example, as the Official On-Field Player Tracking Provider of the NFL, Zebra enables leagues and teams to gain real-time insight into the action happening on the field. Imagine what possibilities the industrial operations director of a warehouse can uncover if he or she starts thinking how to apply this real-time operational visibility in the warehouse.

Even one percent improvement in the supply chain can create huge cost savings and generate green opportunities. For example, today, thirty percent of trailer cargo is air. Yes, air – or in other words, empty space. Eliminating inefficiencies in trailer loading density and synchronizing the digital supply chain can significantly impact the bottom line and the environment. Using data collected right at the dock door together with mobile devices and trailer load analytics software, warehouses and dock managers are now receiving a real-time view of each trailer to ensure their cargo loads reach their full potential.

No company is an island

Your organization is are not in this alone: not as a company going through a digital transformation, nor as a vendor consulting with companies on their transformation journeys, nor as an executive making investment decisions. It certainly shouldn’t feel this way. Methods, processes and strategic engagements that embrace open innovation and B2B collaboration are the new competitive advantage. As one of the panelists at the recent Economist Innovation Summit 2017 put it, “The twenty-first century is a really bad time to be a control freak.” It’s not about controlling information and secrets; it is about sharing data and leveraging the combined intelligence of partners and customers.

Consumers are poised and ready for IoT – eagerly buying smart and connected products like washing machines and thermostats. However, what many don’t realize is that IoT is already impacting and reshaping the enterprise landscape, forming more intelligent enterprises across industries and markets regardless of their size.

The prevalence of the IoT and adoption of the everything-as-a-service mentality has given rise to new data-driven possibilities. Today, we have the capabilities to understand the well-being of a city by tracking its residents’ biological and chemical waste.

At the same time, digital disruption is challenging the status quo. Silicon Valley is becoming the center of the auto industry. Who would have thought that just 10 years ago? The winners in this digital era will be those who can see how to move their value ever closer to the point of demand and consumption, put their strategies in that context to address the expectations of their workforce and customers, and take data-driven actions.