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Innovation as a Core Business Process or a Support Service?

Is innovation a core business process or support service in your organization? Your first answer is probably that innovation is core to your business—because improvements and new services enable your organization to sustain its profits, survive, attract new customers, etc.

But do you need to innovate in order to advise your clients or see your patients? Likely not. Although important, innovation is a support service in most organizations, just like accounting and human resources. Important, but not an integral part of each service delivery.

Except perhaps for design firms, whose customers expect innovation as part of the service offered, in most organizations innovation is considered important, but rarely urgent, because it is not needed for today’s service delivery.

Innovation as an important support function

Porter's Support and Core BusinessSupport functions are important. And no one will doubt that innovation is important, as no organization can survive without it. You need to innovate to stay competitive, otherwise, you will go out of business.

Nowadays, staying competitive requires a lot of effort, with all the opportunities the internet, social media, and other technological advances provide.

However, innovation is costly. Unlike with other support functions like Human Resources and Accounting, where costs can be spread throughout operations, as everyone benefits, that is harder to do with innovation in professional service organizations. Innovations often target particular markets and certain types of customers, and only occasionally concern internal processes that benefit all. Although an important support function, the costs of innovation are difficult to budget.



... but not urgent, until it's too late

Innovation is rarely urgent until it's too late. And since implementing innovations can be disruptive, many make the mistake of postponing innovation activities until they are no longer needed because the organization has collapsed. Highly effective people focus on important tasks before merely urgent tasks according to Covey. How to make "innovation" important enough to grab everyone's attention?

Making innovation an important and urgent support activity

What can be done to increase the sense of urgency for innovation, without increasing the burden of this support task on the organization? Is it possible, just as with other support functions like accounting and human resource management, to outsource the daily management of innovation activities?

You can outsource the management of innovation to a large extent, with your organization's contribution limited to those tasks where the involvement is critical.

Your staff will need to be engaged in identifying needs, providing feedback on prototypes, running experiments, and teaching others how to implement the innovation—these are all tasks that are difficult to outsource in the innovation process.

Many other activities, however, from teaching innovation skills, providing access to expert networks, monitoring performance, and analyzing project portfolios, to identifying and eliminating bottlenecks can all be outsourced to specialized innovation service companies like Organizing4Innovation. Such companies will not innovate for you but will enable you to collaborate with others—minimizing the burden of innovation while maximizing its impact.

Outsourcing may also help to increase the sense of urgency for innovation. When you collaborate with others—especially if you are the one who initiated the innovation project and will benefit the most from its outcomes—they will expect you to be an active participant in the process. As an active participant, you will need to reply promptly to questions and free up time to move the project forward—thereby creating a sense of urgency that matches the importance innovation holds for your organization.