As it appeared in the Daily Nation on November 13th 2018
Dr. Lucy Kiruthu

Throughout my career life, I have been keen on innovation. Having started off in the field of product research and development I believed in the need for creativity in the development of new products and improvement of existing ones. I thereafter headed customer experience in a number of corporates and once again, there was room for innovation. I had to identify creative ways to drive the customer experience excellence organizational wide. I recall one specific innovative campaign where every staff appreciated that “our customers pay our salaries”. Further, I have witnessed many organizations drive innovation without necessarilyy having to invest in a new technology. As I reflect on these personal experiences, I am convinced that innovation goes beyond technology.

In the last two decades, it is true to say that technology has been at the centre of innovation in business. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems have been introduced, simple and complex processes have been automated, tech-enabled digital platforms have been introduced and much more. In addition, majority of innovation conference have focused largely on new technologies. As such, in many organizations, innovation is seen as synonymous with technology. On the contrary, other innovations require no technology. We do not necessarily need any technology to build customer trust or to make our customers and employee happy. We can be more innovative in how we relate with them one on one. For example being kind to our customers and considerate to our employee requires no high-tech gadget. In addition, we can run a successful one on one marketing campaign without relying heavily on any type of technology. It is for this reason that I believe that innovation conversations need to be go beyond technology.

At the centre of innovation is the creation of new products, services and processes. For this innovation to happen we must have people with the right talent thinking creatively about our products, services and processes. I believe that people come before technology in the innovative space. Without a focus on people, even the most magnificent technology might not succeed. Companies hoping to innovate must therefore first invest in their people before investing in technology. How employees feel has the potential to make or break a major investment in technology. In a recent article in the Forbes, Daniel Newman author of Futureproof: 7 key pillars for digital transformation success indicated that he quite often receives the question “What technology (ies) should we invest in first in order to speed up our digital transformation effort?” His answer that they should start with “Culture,” often surprises many. Without the right business culture, it is unlikely that any innovation will reach its full potential or even survive into the future. Unfortunately, I am yet to attend an innovation conference where the focus is on culture or on creating the right environment for the people and identifying talent. When the environment is right, employees think more creatively.

Innovation must not start and stop with technology! Smart companies must constantly look out for opportunities to improve their products, services and processes as well as the overall employee and customer experience with or without additional investment in technology.

Dr. Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer. Connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy