It takes real courage to be open to new innovations

7 Jul 2017

From left: Omar Abbosh, chief strategy officer at Accenture, with Alastair Blair, country managing director of Accenture Ireland. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

The sci-fi movies we once thought were futuristic figments of imagination are here now. So, what does this mean for businesses?

We live in a world where the futuristic dreams from the likes of Star Wars and Knight Rider have become a reality.

Impressive robots have been transformed into exoskeletons, thanks to companies such as Boston Dynamics.

The lovable and always timely Kit is now a part of our lives in the form of autonomous vehicles and apps that will call our car to come to our rescue.

As chief strategy officer at Accenture, Omar Abbosh is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the company’s strategy, innovation programmes and investments.

If that wasn’t enough, he also has management responsibility for Accenture’s Dublin Centre for Innovation along with security, research, industry programmes and several other strands.

So, it’s no surprise that Abbosh believes that innovation is the key to the future. However, he says the tricky part of bringing these innovations into reality is not about finding them, but about employing them.

Shifting from the core to the new

Speaking at Inspirefest 2017, Abbosh said: “The job of any business leader is not to find where the innovations are, but how to shift from the core to the new.”

Kodak knew about digital photography. Nokia knew about smartphones. “They just couldn’t get there,” he said.

Abbosh spoke about the cost involved in the innovations that are available today that seem to have come straight out of a sci-fi movie.

Referencing Gattaca, a 1997 movie centred around a futuristic world where eugenics and genetic modification are common, Abbosh said these activities now exist in the present.

“You can now go into a gene, take a sequence of genes out and put another set in, without damaging the overall function of the gene,” he said, referring to CRISPR technology.

“When we coded the first human genome in the year 2000, it cost $2.7bn.” Abbosh said that same process costs just $800 now.

The same thing happened when it came to the cost of autonomous vehicle components. In 2009, the sensor technology for autonomous vehicles cost $30,000. Apparently, car manufacturers said this could never be commercially sold because that level of cost couldn’t be added onto the price of a car. “By 2014, that same componentry cost $80.”

“The cost reduction attached to these innovations is phenomenal,” said Abbosh. “The zeros are dropping off the vertical access.”

It’s one thing for companies to want to embrace innovation, and the cost reductions that come with it, especially if, as Abbosh says, they already know where the innovations are. But what is evident from autonomous vehicles and CRISPR is that they can be quite costly to start off with; to be the first.

Embracing innovation

Abbosh has served as the global client lead for multinational companies, advising clients on bringing digital innovation into the enterprise, capital allocation and investment management.

Therefore, he knows all about the struggles and obstacles for companies in this space, as well as what they need to do to achieve their goals.

“Disruption is innovation meets an existing, older business model,” he said. “This is TomTom, meet Google Maps.” However, he warned that this kind of disruption is explosive and it’s not the most common type.

The most common type of disruption is compressive disruption, where profits and cash flows of a company get squeezed over time. This is where companies can embrace technology and where they need to figure out how to shift from the core to the new.

Abbosh said that while every company is different, organisations that are the most successful do four things:

  • Firstly, they apply new innovations to transform their core business. This means allocating money that they usually pump into their core business into the innovations that will change things.
  • The second thing is about growing said core business. Abbosh said this involves using digital marketing to understand consumers to grow what is already there.
  • The next step is to scale the new. For business leaders, this means working out how to make their company a real winner in applying innovation.
  • Finally, Abbosh said companies will then have to do what he called a wise pivot. “Companies that spread themselves too thin across too many dimensions, you just cannot afford all that investment,” he said. Once the new has been scaled up effectively, it’s vital that companies figure out how best to allocate their funds going forward, and pivot their focus in the right direction.

“It’s a challenge for big businesses because they’re glued to their core business,” said Abbosh. “It takes real, incredible insight and courage of the top-level people and companies and, frankly, throughout the ranks, to make these shifts to be willing to be open to all the new.”

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic