Business Technology

Does innovation really drive competitiveness?

3 minute read
By Ky Lân Vu Tong

The question may seem simple. Especially in the presence of so much innovation that has had such a massive impact on our lives over the past 100 years. And despite the speed of innovation we see today (and the speed of replication), there is still value in being the first with a new concept, or a new material application, or a new solution to an actual problem. Today, it seems a consensus is established. The question is no longer whether we should innovate, but in what way. Which innovation should we bring to market first? How will we manage our internal development teams? How do we evaluate the impact of the innovation? Companies often feel lost in the face of all these questions and start to question the real impact of innovation on their businesses. However, according to Ky Lân Vu Tong who runs Atelier, the research and innovation centre at ekino Paris, there is no doubt – provided that we have a pragmatic approach – the question of competitiveness makes perfect sense.

We hear a lot about technological innovation, product innovation or business innovation. Are these different? Can we define what innovation actually is?

Simply stated, it’s about creating something new – a new experience. Usage and/or business innovation is a very broad term. From voice assistant to artificial intelligence, to blockchain technologies, it is a question of posing an alternative look and vision on topics with strong business and exploration potential. And obviously, then realizing this vision into a physical design or interaction sequence.

So, does innovation really drive competitiveness?

Without a doubt. And this, for all sectors of activity: luxury, banking, trade, automotive – innovation has a strategic dimension. Keeping a constant watch over changes and forces in motion today helps to maintain vigilance in the short and medium term. This can give companies the chance to anticipate and change the market situation that concerns them. It is a necessary minimum. But for my part, I am convinced that we must go further and try to come up with a longer-term vision: 10, 15 or even 30 years. We must constantly anticipate, and prepare to not put ourselves in a passive posture, constantly under pressure from competitors.

Has innovation become a strong marker of differentiation?

Some companies innovate at a very fast pace. When an actor innovates in your market, you must often force yourself to follow him to be able to offer at least the same level of service. This involves a lot of investment, yet you do not stand out. Hence the importance of being proactive, investing in innovation and communicating around these topics. But no matter how, it is essential to work on pragmatic innovation.

What do you mean by pragmatic innovation?

At ekino, we have always had a culture of rising to the challenge. Not only in our own business, but also in the technologies and experiences we are working on. We are not afraid of failures. To innovate is to take risks. These risks, we do not suffer, instead, we turn them into opportunities. We implement design methodologies to test and learn from these experiences and turn them into assets and business opportunities. We are going to look for new usages that no one doubts; to have a clear vision of what can enrich the experience and goals of the end customer. We start from customer needs, and if the innovation does not solve its specific problems, we propose another solution. It is for this reason that it is very important to work transversally with our sales, technical and marketing teams. We listen, we learn, we research, we propose, and we design. We are convinced that only by confronting our concepts with real life will the right tools be developed. That's what we call pragmatic innovation.

The cost of innovation is often a drag on some companies. Why?

Testing an idea does not have to be expensive. For example, at ekino, we implement ‘pretotypes’. This is a phase upstream of the prototype; a sort of test that allows us to invest little while learning as much as possible. Before investing or investing a client in a budget for an innovative project, we must ensure that the solution will meet its objectives. Once the use has been validated with targets, we can develop the concept step by step and move to industrialization. We must not be afraid of innovation. A simple and good idea is not necessarily expensive. It is sometimes a reorganization of existing methods but one that makes all the difference.

Is innovation easily integrated into traditional structures?

Deploying innovative solutions/tools has an impact within the organization of companies that want to embark on innovation. It is our duty to support the internal teams in this transformation. For this, we work hand in hand with our Design and UX teams. These teams will spend time within companies to understand how they work, identify their needs, and understand their complexity. Throughout the project, we integrate the business teams, their feedback and testimonials and we accompany them for a perfect adaptation to the new device.

Is it possible today to anticipate the innovations of tomorrow?

Innovation has become a necessity for many of our customers. Innovation must be watched, captured, understood, studied, and challenged. Today, it is not enough to be passive and wait for a new innovation to solve a problem or threaten a business model. Today, the pace of new innovations is so radical and rapid that it is essential to be driver of change in order to understand the issues of tomorrow. Within ekino’s Atelier, we use strategic anticipation methodologies to identify technical, usage and long-term business issues. This allows us to determine the kind of research that we need to do to push innovation topics further and to ensure that they can unlock their full potential.

Can you tell us a little about the ekino workshop?

The Atelier ekino Paris was established four years ago. It is a research and development centre focused on digital innovation. We operate in two main areas: Business Intelligence and Applied Research. We challenge all new innovations to test their real value, i.e. their value of use and their business value. We write a reasoned report that allows us to decide on the usefulness of these innovations for our customers. Once this is completed, we go to the next stage and conduct business-oriented research. collaborating with researchers and our internal teams, we advance the ‘state of the art’ and stabilize our discoveries to offer validated innovations to our customers.

At this stage, it’s worth mentioning our support framework. With ekino’s expertise, teaching and experience, we support our clients from consulting to industrialisation. It is in this phase that our close collaboration with our design and technical teams makes perfect sense. We can lead innovative, meaningful and value-added projects built with the industrial quality of ekino.

How can we be sure of our research?

We surround ourselves with many collaborators. For example, on the relationship between man and machine, we exchange with researchers, but also with screenwriters of cinema. The idea is to create a compelling and natural conversational experience with the machine to go further than the current, often deceptive, chatbot dialogues. Today, discussions are disjointed and don’t flow, which makes us completely miss the global experience that is promised in the beginning. This new era of chatbot, which we call ‘conversational agent’ in the sense that it becomes a real channel of dialogue with the brand, will make it easier and a more natural experience for users to access services or seek support.

One last piece of advice for companies wishing to embrace innovation

Ask yourself these questions:

  • If I were a competitor of unlimited resources, how would I use innovation to attack my own value in my market?
  • What part of my business has not changed in a while? It may be the one that will be the most sensitive to the emergence of new innovations.

Answer these and you’ll have a better idea of where in your business you need to innovate. Here’s to a bright future!

Ky Lân Vu Tong
Head of Innovation, ekino, Vietnam.
Head of innovation, Ky Lân has spent the last ten years exploring digital possibilities to push the boundaries. A former art student and soldier, he is now a university lecturer and thesis director beside his functions at ekino. His atypical profile allows him to propose efficient and new solutions by being a bridge between fields: from military strategy to business, from research to market. In charge of internal R&D, research partnerships and technology transfer, his team get innovation from the source. They are also experts in foresight strategy and prospective design.