'Start from outside in' to innovate

update In seeking IT innovation, companies should let staff and customers influence decisions, not start with internal processes, advises innovation consultant.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

update SINGAPORE--When seeking innovation, companies should start from the outside in, says John Rehm, an organizational designer and strategist, who notes that most choose to go about it in the reverse.

Rehm, who is from design and innovation consultancy firm IDEO, explained that companies need to get both staff and customers excited about new projects they are embarking on, rather than focus on optimizing business processes. "You should be spending time looking at the real world and let decisions about that influence processes, instead." Rehm was speaking at the launch here Thursday of a joint effort between the Institute of Systems Science (ISS) and the Logistics Institute - Asia-Pacific (TLI-AP), to raise IT innovation within the logistics industry.

Using consultancy work done with a Singaporean client last year as an example, he said IDEO was brought in to help make the experience more welcoming for visitors as they wait to submit their application.

IDEO decided to assess the process step-by-step, from a visitor's arrival at the agency's facility, to getting to speak to a customer service officer, and noted all the points of inefficiencies.

One of which was having to deploy two staff members to guide users through a computer sign-in process, said Rehm. "They may have gone cheap on IT at the start, but ended up wasting money hiring people to explain it to newcomers," he said.

Starting with implementation in reality, compared to planning out processes on a computer, would help companies save duplicate work or having to go back and rework processes after launch, he noted.

"Most people spend time thinking about only technology or only business, but you should be thinking about people," said Rehm. "You should understand why customers may or may not take to a new [initiative]."

Robert de Souza, executive director at TL-IAP, quoted a 2009 study that revealed the global logistics and supply industry faced insufficient alignment between business and IT.

The lack of integration and inadequate data quality on the supply chain industry have called for the TL-IAP to band together with the ISS, to launch the discussion platform called Think IT. Both TL-IAP and ISS are managed under the National University of Singapore.

This initiative will see the two institutions launch joint collaboration and research efforts toward bridging the business-IT gap, said de Souza, who was also at the launch.

Pang Hee Hon, CEO of Keppel Telecommunications & Transportation (T&T) said the logistics industry should tap the "gold mine" of data sitting on the Internet to improve business processes.

He called for companies to take a more strategic view of their IT deployment, and tap new IT trends such as social networking as a source of insight and knowledge-sharing. Keppel T&T is a subsidiary of Keppel Corporation, a Singapore-based company with businesses in offshore and marine, property and infrastructure.

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