Every business in every industry is constantly evolving. Every week a new smartphone is released with new features users have only dreamed of. CERN is identifying a new particle that rewrites history and causes Stephen Hawkins to lose a bet. Even Hollywood is…well. OK, not a good example. But nearly every other market is being reinvented by necessity and ingenuity at a lightening pace.
With each wave of change a business endures, there is a constant state of weighing the “old” way with the “new” way of doing things. Organizations have to evaluate each tide with costs, personnel, and effectiveness. Not all advancements spark a change within an organization, but some are so powerful that they rock the very foundation of the industry.
R & D is an enormous part of the most progressive companies in existence. Microsoft alone spends $9 BILLION a year on R&D and Apple follows in suit with 2%+ of its revenue. The big boys have deep pockets and can absorb these costs much easier than a startup or small business just breaking into the market. So, how much should your business spend? As with most things, it depends. The first step is to look at a few key factors and come up with an equation that keeps you in the game, without bankrupting the company along the way.
Can you afford to be idle?
One of the biggest catalysts for change is necessity. And preventing a failing business model is certainly one of the most compelling necessities. Companies should constantly be evaluating their position and improving wherever they can. Often, habit and process streamline an organization. But in some cases, implementing a new technology or system will eliminate waste and have a profound effect on productivity. Recognizing these opportunities is crucial for business, especially those in the midst of a growth phase. In order to see them coming, a company needs to pay enough attention to emerging systems to know which may help their bottom line.
Companies that allocate resources in researching the latest trends and technologies fair far better than those who sit and idly wait for change to come to them. Smaller businesses benefit much more from these changes; however, the cost to put unbillable resources on projects has to be carefully weighed as to not hinder the business. Larger companies can more readily dedicate these resources, but it often takes longer to implement them.
So can your business afford to be idle? The answer is absolutely not! No business can. Every company should constantly be evolving and recognizing improvements in every area of their organization. The most successful are able to do this while balancing and maintaining their productivity and profitability. The amount of money and resources a business can afford to dedicate will vary, but every business in every industry should be in the game to some degree.
Watching your competition
Several companies make a habit out of watching their competitors, mimicking their actions, and hoping to gain market share. I’m never an advocate for copycat business models; however, businesses should be aware of what the industry is doing and where it’s headed. Blockbuster suffered catastrophic losses by not paying closer attention to Netflix and the movement towards digital media and steaming. That same lesson transcends every industry and often companies can keep up with new trends and processes by keeping an eye on the company next door.
While every company should be striving for individuality and distinction, recognizing improvements other companies have achieved can benefit any business. Having resources focused on the market and competitors will bring these to light that much faster. The sooner an organization can recognize a change or improvement, the sooner the benefits.
Progressive companies also can benefit from this point. Businesses that are constantly reinventing themselves and products tend to be copied by everyone else. Smart companies will constantly be looking for ways to excel, even after implementing a new standard. Those businesses dedicate teams of people to R & D to ensure they are always at the head of the pact and leading the way for others.
Listening to right voices
There is no shortage of review sites and critics for everything these days. Often, many bloggers and reviewers are jaded, biased, or skeptical. All of these traits result in an inaccurate assessment of the topic or product which certainly can skew a reader’s perception. On the other side, overly optimistic or naïve commentary is just as damaging when trying to research a topic or technology. Knowing who to listen to is extremely important when a company is investigating a new concept.
Industry standards are an excellent start for finding fair, balanced information. Research firms such as Gartner and Forrester are extremely reputable and provide essential information as new technology emerges. These firms are well known for their in-depth research and analysis, along with their ability to forecast market impact and sales trends. Both offer information with a fair and balanced view, looking only at the facts and concrete evidence. Speculative data is always risky, but having as much information as possible lessens the negative impact a technology or concept will have on a company. Detailed reports by these firms are an excellent way to obtain vital information when researching new development.
Always look ahead
The real driving factor in R&D is thinking for the future. Businesses that allocate resources to this are constantly evaluating their position in the market and searching for ways to improve. Contemplating where the industry will be in 5 years is a lot easier when a company has people dedicated to looking ahead and analyzing the trends of the market.
90%+ of Microsoft’s workforce has been working on Windows Azure. That has been going on for 2 years! Microsoft recognized the future of IT and has been investing in cloud technology and research to prepare itself for the new age of commoditized hardware. Forward thinking and an “out of the box” mentality sparks imagination and ingenuity, both of which are essential to change and excellence. The most successful businesses are never satisfied with being in the mere average and are always looking ahead.
Multitask your team
Most businesses don’t have the luxury of teams of people dedicated to R&D. For those smaller ventures, the solution is multitasking. Having at least 1 person within your business looking at new technologies and systems keeps you in the game and gives you a fighting chance to excel. How much of their time you can devote depends on all sorts of numbers that accountants love to deal with, but anything is better than nothing. Empowering at least 1 employee within your company to evaluate and research emerging technologies will guarantee a forward thinking organization.
The real secret is to empower ALL of your employees with R&D. Encourage them to read and educate themselves on technology and developments within your industry. Incentivize them with bringing new concepts and ideas to your team and you’ll find a much greater adoption. And because everyone is different, the cross section of information will most likely expose many areas and concepts you’ve never thought about before. The power is in the number of people looking ahead. And with more eyes comes more opportunities that you are able to spot.
At Bit-Wizards, we thrive on creativity and forward thinking. Mike Whalen, our Director of Web Development, recently had a competition within our web design group to find the best “Responsive Design” concept for us to implement. Every member of the team came back with a different method, all of which were great. Through the power of collaborative thinking and research, Bit-Wizards identified the best process for the company to develop web sites and our approach moving forward.
Technology will always change and its effects will always be felt in every industry. Recognizing opportunity and strategic planning will prove to be the differentiator for every business. Be sure your company is well prepared and always thinking ahead.