Posts Tagged ‘process’

ROI for Innovation – The low hanging fruit!

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

ROI for Innovation – The low hanging fruit!
© Roger La Salle 2010
Business Units need to provide a return

In my previous article I challenged innovation practitioners to examine the return on their innovation investment. If your innovation initiative is not providing returns greater than its cost, then the very existence of the program needs to be questioned.

Having said that, one may well ask what is an appropriate time scale to obtain this return? Months, years or maybe even a decade as we wait in vain hope for the breakthrough initiative that seldom ever comes!

So let’s examine the possibilities and find the low hanging fruit.

If you can have an early win with innovation then you can be sure more budget will be forthcoming and still greater achievements can be obtained.

Where to start?

Essentially there are just four ways in which innovation may be tackled:
• Product innovation
• Service Innovation
• The broad landscape of systematic opportunity capture
• Process Innovation

The first three above mentioned approaches herald the introduction of innovated products, services and perhaps the implementation of a new captured opportunity. Without doubt it is with these that we can build the top revenue line of a business. Put simply, this is really the only way to build a business. Businesses grow on increased revenues and by no other means.

Having said that, the implementation of any of these involves some degree of risk, technical in the development phase, but much more significantly, risk in the market place. Will the market be as large as you forecast? Interestingly if you embrace proper innovation practices market risk can also be largely mitigated, but of course never completely removed.

With the above in mind, perhaps the early innovation initiative should be focused on the one with the least risk, Process Innovation.

What is Process Innovation?

Process Innovation is about finding better ways to do whatever we are doing. Process innovation, unless it means tinkering with the sales process or sales model really carries little if any risk and in my experience I have found that there is almost always room for process improvements.

Further, any improvement in a process translates dollar for dollar to the bottom line, thus measuring the gain compared with the cost or perhaps the ROI is relatively easy.

Governments both state and federal push process improvement, Lean, Continuous Improvement, 5S and Six Sigma as their way of encouraging innovation in businesses. They do this I believe because these are somewhat tried and tested methods but also because improvements can almost always be made and cost benefits determined with little downside risk. Furthermore the benefits of process improvement are easier to understand and articulate.

However, even so, these extremely simple methods are still somewhat shrouded in a mystique that makes them unnecessarily complex, much more so than they need to be.

For many large multinationals with subsidiaries in Australia, unfortunately there is neither the opportunity nor appetite for innovation except in processes. Consequently this is where the bulk of attention is paid.

In the case of utilities such as water, gas and electricity where this is little scope to actually “innovate” the product there is still scope for service innovation and opportunity capture. In such organisations that are largely process driven and with many people doing the same thing, the gains possible from process innovation are almost unlimited.

Keep it Simple

I like to keep things really simple and in process innovation there are really only two things that need to be addressed:

• Costs – how much does each and any activity cost in cold hard cash, from telephone bills to rents, interest, labours and raw materials, including the cost of work in progress?

• Cycle Time – how long does each activity take? This includes the process of getting an incoming order into the system right though to collecting the money from the customer.

If the above two are addressed in a systematic manner, consistent with the maintenance of quality, the process innovation business is pretty straight forward. It simply commences with an activity that maps and measures where you are now with each process and then works to make improvements in the two above mentioned places.

This is not rocket science and is very low risk.

So what’s the time scale?

With process innovation leading your innovation initiative it should be possible to make real cost benefit gains within six months at the most and, of course as stated, any savings go straight to the bottom line.

But I emphasise again, removing costs or improving processes does not build the revenue line, however the extra funds provided by such improvements can now be applied to where the real business building action can take place, product and service innovation and of course “opportunity capture”.

That’s where the real game is.

**** END ****

Roger La Salle, is the creator of the “Matrix Thinking”™ technique and is widely sought after as an international speaker on Innovation, Opportunity and business development. He is the author of three books, Director and former CEO of the Innovation Centre of Victoria (INNOVIC) as well as a number of companies both in Australian and overseas. He has been responsible for a number of successful technology start-ups and in 2004 was a regular panellist on the ABC New Inventors TV program. In 2005 he was appointed to the “Chair of Innovation” at “The Queens University” in Belfast. Matrix Thinking is now used in more than 26 countries.

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Do You Connect the Dots?

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Do you Connect the Dots?
© Roger La Salle 2009

How do you operate?

Have you ever worked in a company where the boss or your manager hordes information? Unfortunately this is not all that uncommon. The old saying goes that “Knowledge is Power”, and those of us that are insecure in our abilities or feel threatened by those around us try to remain in control by hording information.

In fact I know of one company where the Managing Director actually leaves notes lying around with incorrect or inaccurate information. The aim of this of course is to retain power by keeping the troops in the “dark” or better still, confused. Can you believe that?

The question is: what’s your modus operandi?

Many businesses have embraced innovation and opportunity capture as an essential business tool to survive and win in these days of ever increasing information flow, market intelligence, and speed to market. There are many innovation/opportunity models including that of so called “Open Innovation”, and what is best described as internal or “Closed Innovation”.

Closed Innovation

In this case the company has all its innovation endeavours conducted and held tightly within, there is little sharing of knowledge and little interest in eliciting the assistance of outsiders to enhance their innovation initiative. Indeed the managers of these tightly controlled programs use their skills to drive the innovation program. Unfortunately, they may be missing a lot.

Open Innovation

In this case, though the business remains in control of its destiny and direction it enhances its innovation initiative by making connections to a seemingly disparate groups of outsiders and companies all looking to expand their horizons by building on combined know how.

These days, there are so many diverse technologies and specialties that it is simply impossible to have a grasp on what is happening on all fronts, thus the connected model has great merit.

Connecting the Dots

One of the great skills of clever entrepreneurs and innovators is to see the linkages between seemingly unrelated issues. This is where in the open innovation model, broadly skilled technologists and open minded thinkers come to the fore.

For example, suppose I run a lumber business. That is the business of cutting up trees to provide timber for the building industry. What possible connection does that have with mathematics? Perhaps none you may think, or certainly the old fashioned timber manager may have thought. But in fact linear programming, quite an old science these days, when employed in that industry can optimise the way timber is cut to provide massive additional profits. But in the closed model, such knowledge may never be acquired, or if it is, only by word of mouth with other operators who may have long since acquired the technique.
Similarly, the technologies developed in putting man on the moon. How could that possibly connect to the business of pots and pans? Teflon coating is the answer.

• Clocks and cell phones or radio paging, is there a connection? Indeed there is. Imagine having a clock equipped with a radio receiver to receive time signals and thus keep perfect time, and even update for Summer Time changes. Such clocks are now available in Australia.

• The packaging business and home insulation? Of course, use bubble wrap as the ideal insulator, it’s light weight, cheap and easy to install and fire retardant grades are available.

• Optics and home insulation? Of course, use a reflective coating on one side of the bubble wrap to reflect radiated heat.

• Physiotherapy and the reduction of carbon emissions?

• The tooth brush and ceramic crystals?

• Extruded plastic “core flute” sheeting and aluminium extrusions?

The reader can ponder the latter three, but the connection in each of these cases has spawned real businesses.

There is an endless list of these seemingly unrelated disciplines that can be connected with an open innovation approach that encourages a wide search horizon.

Indeed this is why the new paradigm of “Opportunity Capture” is now emerging as the preferred approach to the more narrow discipline of traditional innovation.

What’s the Message

Managers in the open innovation space do not need to be great technologists, as perhaps with the closed model. Instead they need to be great net-workers, able to build bridges between people and companies. This is quite a different skills set to that of the managers operating in the closed model.

Thus, stay open minded, expand your horizons and embrace the art of formal opportunity search, where the reach is unlimited.

**** END ****

Roger La Salle, is the creator of the “Matrix Thinking”™ technique and is widely sought after as an international speaker on Innovation, Opportunity and business development. He is the author of three books, Director and former CEO of the Innovation Centre of Victoria (INNOVIC) as well as a number of companies both in Australian and overseas. He has been responsible for a number of successful technology start-ups and in 2004 was a regular panellist on the ABC New Inventors TV program. In 2005 he was appointed to the “Chair of Innovation” at “The Queens University” in Belfast. Matrix Thinking is now used in more than 26 countries.

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Process Innovation – Reduce your “Cycle Time”?

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Business is tough

The tightening of credit markets has made running prosperous enterprises even more difficult, and whilst some ‘wring their hands’ and lament the good old day of plentiful credit, how many people are looking at their business cycle time as an alternative to extended credit or increased overdrafts?

What is “Cycle Time?”

Cycle time is best defined as “the total time in business it takes from receipt of an order until payment is received and banked” © RLS 2006. In many businesses the cycle time is typically 90 days. In some cases it is much longer. For complex projects payment can be staggered over many years and final payments are often withheld for a guarantee period, extending even further the total cycle time.

Negative Cycle Time

Some businesses have a negative cycle time; that is the money is received and banked even before the goods or services are delivered. Airline tickets or pre-paid phone cards are typically negative cycle time businesses, so too are on-line sellers such as Amazon. Indeed in the latter case there is not even a need to have expensive infrastructure, such as in the case of a telco or an airline. Amazon as a business needed nothing more than a PC and a web site as its investments to get started and create a highly successful negative cycle time business.

“Cycle Time” can mean the difference between Success or Failure

It is important, especially in smaller businesses, to understand the influence cycle time can have on success, or perhaps failure. Indeed there are many stories of business that have failed because they grew too fast and were unable to provide the finance to support that growth.

In simplistic terms, if a business is shipping $100K per month and is operating on a three month cycle time, a minimum of $300k is needed to finance the business. Banks, especially these days, are loath to finance businesses against orders, but rather look for bricks and mortar assets as collateral. If suddenly the business starts shipping $200k per month with the same cycle time, now $600k is needed as working capital, and if that is not available, then foreclosure may be staring you in the face.

However, if the same business can reduce its cycle time to just 1.5 months, then sales of $200k can be supported with the same initial equity base. That’s how important cycle time is, but unfortunately, this is often overlooked.

Customers are slow to pay

Doubtless the greater part of cycle time is the delay in customers paying their debts.

Whilst we can push for deposits, short term financing or even early payment incentives, we should not ignore the inbuilt delays inherent in our own internal processes. If these can be identified and rectified any reduction in cycle time will be immediately seen on the bottom line as pure profit.

So what’s the solution?

Some businesses look to “factoring” their debts. This essentially means taking a short term loan for the period of financial stress, but in many cases the interest charged is sufficient to wipe-out any potential profits. Thus, whilst factoring does have a place, look closely at the costs before seeing this as a panacea. Yet another means is to offer discounts for early payment.

Unfortunately, whilst both of the above may improve cash flow somewhat, they come at a cost.

A better solution to gaining a partial reduction in cycle time is to the take immediate deposits on a customer’s placement of an order. Deposits from customers are seldom seen as your ploy to gain some payment a little earlier, but more likely embraced by many as a means to secure their place in your delivery queue, and thus they are not viewed negatively.,

The best solution is to analyse your entire business cycle time. This is best done by dissecting the business into its serial components from receipt of an order, to shipment, and debt collection and to look for ways cycle time can be reduced.

Process Innovation is one way of investigating cycle time in a systematic manner. It is quite amazing what effect small changes to processes can have in delivering real cycle time reductions, and any gains made here go straight to the bottom line as profit, pure and simple.

What’s the message?

Process Innovation applied to the Cycle Time reduction should be seen as a means to reap hidden profits from transactions that may otherwise cost real money. Dissect and analyse your business, there is always room for improvement.

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Process Innovation – A key to unharvested wealth?

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

Process innovation can open your business to a complete world of new opportunities if approached from the right perspective!


Process innovation is traditionally viewed as more appropriate to the manufacturing sector, but in fact process innovation applies to everything we do, manufacturing, services and even management processes.. It aims at improving business outcomes by cutting costs. Properly implemented process innovation come with little risk.

Further, a dollar saved in process improvement goes straight to the bottom line as a full dollar, whereas increased revenue targeted from heightened sales activity translates to only some portion as a bottom line increase.

The more common process innovation approaches include, ‘Six Sigma’ with its aim for almost zero defects, ‘Lean Manufacturing’ that focuses on cost down initiatives and waste removal; and ‘Continuous Improvement’ that aims to involve the entire organisation in looking at ways of endless incremental improvement.

Innovate and remove market risk

If we accept that the by far the single biggest risk in business is market risk, that is the risk that nobody will buy the product, then logic would have it that the best way to mitigate this risk is to find something people are already buying and simple improve it. This in fact is what innovation is all about and leads to the ideal definition of innovation as “Change that Adds Value © La Salle 1999

Nokia is one of the world’s greatest innovators with new improved more featured hand phones coming on to the market every six months. They understand this game perfectly.

Car companies are pretty good as well with face lifted models every 12 months and models bearing a new shape, aimed at rendering your present one obsolete, almost every three years.

Why should the message be different for processes?

Create a Paradigm

Have you ever realised that some of the world’s great businesses have grown on the back of nothing more than improved processes!

FedEx, DHL UPS, did nothing more than look at the very successful postal service and innovate it to provide faster deliveries.

So too Dell Computers, Reuters, and even the Ford Motor company.

Henry Ford did not invent the motor car, he simply innovated the way they were made.

The list of such innovated process that spawned new global businesses is almost endless. And in the case of Amazon, they created a business with a negative cycle time, doing nothing more than finding a new way to sell books.

A structured approach to process innovation can identify complete new paradigms, if only conducted in the right mindset.

Remember, there is always a better way.

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