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Tech intensity - what innovation really means for modern businesses

By , Chief Operating Officer & CMO - Middle East & Africa, ‎Microsoft.
South Africa , 12 May 2021
Mohamed Mikou, Chief Operating Officer & CMO - Middle East & Africa, ‎Microsoft.
Mohamed Mikou, Chief Operating Officer & CMO - Middle East & Africa, ‎Microsoft.

Innovation is the driving force of modern business. In a rapidly changing world, organisations need to be able to adapt and transform at speed: in fact, change management is the most important soft skill for businesses of today.

However, the pandemic revealed a lack of forward planning that impacted business continuity for many organisations – meaning that many were unable to keep up with the pace of change. This served as their moment of truth. It became clear that businesses that were able to adapt, transform and innovate quickly were able to survive and even thrive in challenging conditions.

The reality is that any organisation that wants to be relevant moving forward must start somewhere, and the starting point comes from a leadership decision, and the intentional motivation to transform. Increasingly, it means putting in place the fundamental formula of success: merging tech intensity with people development.

Tech intensity: the future of business success

Tech intensity means more than simply adopting best-in-class technology at speed to jump-start growth – businesses need to build their own technology and digital capabilities to solve business and societal challenges. Tech intensity is the rate at which organisations adopt enabling technology and build their own digital solutions, underpinned by trust that the highest standards of security and control are built into these capabilities.

Harnessing tech intensity is how the most innovative and successful businesses today gain a competitive advantage. This is because they rapidly adopt next-generation technology to build their own proprietary digital capabilities and first-party Intellectual Property (IP) to innovate and accelerate growth.

Microsoft’s State of Tech Intensity study shows, for example, that 73% of companies are currently creating their own first-party IP using next-generation technologies such as machine learning (39%), IOT (37%), AI (32%), blockchain (29%) and mixed reality (21%). Three quarters of these organisations also believe that harnessing tech intensity is the most effective way to build a competitive advantage today and in the future.

This is particularly critical in the Middle East and Africa, where business leaders are already seeing the use of advanced technologies like AI add value and transform the way they do business. For example, three quarters of respondents to the AI Maturity in the Middle East and Africa study believe AI will fundamentally change the way they do business, and MEA business leaders say they are already using AI to drive transformation and innovation. At least 30% say they are using AI in Research & Development, 20% in operations, and 18% in sales and marketing.

People as the key to unlocking the power of technology

It is undoubtedly critical to invest in the right tools and technologies to build solutions that enable innovation and agility, but it is equally essential to invest in people. People are the end point that unlock the potential and power of the technology and processes – and manage the essential change management process that serves as the foundation of successful innovation.

One of the most critical ingredients for innovation to take place is culture. Businesses need to harness the right mix of people, process, and technology, with highly engaged employees who are empowered and encouraged to voice their ideas as the vibrant heartbeat at the centre of this mix.

Modern organisations need to create an enabling environment and the psychological safety for their people to innovate. They need to give people the freedom, space, and time to innovate, be creative and execute on their ideas.

This means creating the space to try things and to fail, but fail fast, then learn and move on to the next thing. Businesses can also introduce initiatives like learning and innovation days in their HR policies and calendars.

This helps to redefine and evolve the ways that people work, and empowers them to think, ideate and innovate. However, this also needs to be matched with a solid reward mechanism to celebrate and reward people for the work they do, and crucially the impact they make. Further democratising technology and putting the right tools in people’s hands will amplify their strengths, create digital capabilities at scale, make it faster and easier to introduce new products and services, and drive a culture of innovation.

Innovation in action

When all these ingredients are in place, we start to see innovation in action – and the associated business benefits and value that it brings.

This is the true differentiator in an age of rapid and unprecedented change. And for companies to be able to tap into continuous innovation, rather than approach it as something that takes place at a point in time, they need to actively find ways to empower their people to innovate, aided by tech intensity.

The organisations that get this right will be the ones that not only survive but thrive.

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