Innovation is a misused term today. It has become one of those buzzwords without a deeper meaning: everyone is saying it, but usually without much clarity about its definition, and all too often, there is very little to show for all the discussion. This is especially true in the telco world, where it’s hard for innovation to get traction. Telco is in the middle of digital transformation and yet, we are still trying to get rid of old business models and outdated network hardware. How can we finally move out of silos and better prioritize the needs of the customer at the center of our business? If you ask me, I’d say we need to reboot, start from the very beginning and become as agile as a startup by inviting instant innovation into our universe.
I want you to imagine we have a clean sheet of paper where we can draw a picture of our future industry without focusing on the old and tired legacies we have inherited. Instead, we’d focus on how to change and transform, open doors to real innovation, and generate and sustain a new mindset. I want to talk to you about clean sheet thinking- thinking without limitations, that boosts progress and disruption. To me, that’s the biggest enabler of innovation. If we restart our organizations and bootstrap processes, we can redefine innovation and give the word a new meaning.
Where can we look for examples? We need only look to places where disruption has been born by the power of a clean sheet. There are plenty of businesses that have used forward thinking to open opportunities for tech innovation to happen. Take real estate and Airbnb; Nike and retail; and transportation and Uber, as examples. All three were responses to customer needs addressed in a fresh and agile manner.
Remember the Ford Model T? It was the first broadly available motor vehicle that was not only equipped with luxury features, but was also cheaper. The industry’s response to Ford was an even cheaper, safer Toyota car with more features and better reliability. Innovation in the automotive industry didn’t stop there. Not long ago we were introduced to the automotive industry’s answer to the need for a low-maintenance, high-performance, and environmentally-friendly car with low running costs: the Tesla.
The business model behind the Tesla really inspires me. It was launched at a critical, tough time for the automotive industry, when everyone thought cars could no longer do us any good and factories were closing. Tesla embraced clean sheet thinking. Their business model focuses on key dimensions of consumer needs: more efficiency and performance, production that meets demand, an attractive pricing model going beyond any previous industrial legacy, and smart points of sale. Tesla’s industry disruption is surprising and keen – it proves that innovation can be adopted on a broad scale if you only think “customer first.” This is exactly what we should be doing. Driven by customer needs, digital technology companies can become enablers, inviting innovative solutions that will bring the digital world to each and every customer.
Looking at our industry, which is actually driven by digital and technology, it’s clear to see that our organizational layers and conventional mechanisms are still keeping us in the past. We still think systems, not customer; physical, not virtual; local, not global. These thinking models limit flexibility and freedom for us, as service providers, but also put a strain on the level and quality of service we can provide to our customers. It’s time to drop the industry silos, think liquid ecosystems and digital engagement.
I hear, too frequently, that our industry is in decline, and we have lost touch with the customer. Telcos are going through some rough times, but these are the best times to start with a clean sheet and make innovation instant. The writer George Bernard Shaw once said: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” It’s time to stop talking innovation and start reinventing. This is where clean sheet thinking comes in and real disruption happens. It’s time for creative, innovative solutions to materialize and move our industry forward.
Let us think back to the turning point for our industry. A time where we could choose to stick to the old models and operations and remain a comfortable, but unprofitable commodity, or shake things up, start using our assets and knowledge, go back to profit and become a digital enabler for our customers. At VimpelCom, we have chosen to transform and invest in disruptive solutions. We are customer-obsessed. All we do needs to start with the customer. To put this even more simply: customers are the ones that have the power to drive our business forward, and ultimately, keep us in business. I believe it’s time for the whole industry to acknowledge that and start embracing customer-driven, instant innovation.