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Mobile is not innovation

Mobile technology is akin to magic in many ways. Yet, today, simply rolling out mobile phones to employees isn’t innovative, for the exact same reason as the wheel is not innovation today.

As a device, the mobile phone is the combination, testing, failing and iterative work of hundreds of thousands of people, including a number of Nobel Prize Winners. The innovations that have gone into enabling a mobile to make a phone call, let alone be a powerful computer, are countless.

Mobile technology is akin to magic in many ways. Yet, today, simply rolling out mobile phones to employees isn’t innovative, for the exact same reason as the wheel is not innovation today. It exists and is unanimous. More people in the world own a mobile phone than a toothbrush.

Mobile alone then, is not innovation. Instead, it is what companies are able to do over and above what already exists that helps them be innovative. The mobile phone is simply a tool that enables innovation. The biggest single challenge that many companies face with technology is implementing it in the right way.

History is littered with companies that have delivered complicated systems that have a detrimental impact on the efficiencies of its workforce. There are many apps that have been pushed out to users, only to be too complex to use, or not deliver the right amount of value.

Innovation is of course subjective. One company that is only just enabling email to its employees on mobile devices, or the ability to access files on the move, may be seen as innovative internally. Yet, externally, compared to other companies, they may be years behind the market. They are simply playing catch up. This functionality is readily available, often for free (after the cost of buying a phone and mobile contract), on the market to any company in the world.

Mobile is not the answer to salvage every company. Blockbuster used to be the company and place people would go to rent films. At its peak in 2004, Blockbuster consisted of nearly 60,000 employees and over 9,000 stores. The reason behind Blockbuster’s demise wasn’t that it didn’t make it easier for people to rent DVDs and BluRays. It was that it didn’t recognise where the market was heading. In 2000, the company turned down a chance to purchase the still fledgling Netflix for $50 million. Netflix’s revenue for 2014 was $5.50 billion.

Whether, or not, Netflix is innovative is a matter for debate. On the one hand, Netflix is part of a group of digital service companies that are disrupting traditional media companies. On the other, it relies on a series of innovations from other companies to deliver its content and deliver its service.

Below is a chart from an article on Highscalability.com looking into Netflix’s stack:

Netflicks stack

Much of Netflix’s infrastructure is built on Amazon’s cloud and database technology stack. Where Netflix innovates is by creating its own algorithms and its own content delivery network. Netflix has ensured that it is available on virtually any Internet-connected device with a screen; whether it’s a computer, gaming console, connected DVD or Blu-ray player, smart TV, IP connected TV box, tablet or phone. It innovates by being able to offer content that its users will be interested in, locally around the world.

The thing that separates Netflix from traditional TV services is that it knows data about all of its 65 million members, in over 50 countries, who watch more than 100 million hours of content per month. Take House of Cards. When it produced its new House of Cards, it knew that its subscribers enjoyed watching content directed by David Fincher. It also knew that Kevin Spacey was popular with audiences and that the British version of House of Cards was popular.

House of Cards therefore is the result of data analysis, driven by a technology stack. Netflix knows exactly when, in each of its shows, viewers become hooked. This all enables Netflix to better plan its content and optimise its technology stack to ensure that end users have the best possible experience. Netflix innovates by its use of technology and optimisations that it creates to ensure that it is in as many places, with the right content and the right channel of delivery.

Netflix has benefited from the rise of smartphones, as it delivers another channel for delivery, but mobile alone isn’t the innovation; it’s what happens elsewhere in the technology stack and the way in which it’s implemented.

Looking at a business environment, when working with London’s Air Ambulance, the innovation that was delivered wasn’t giving the team iPad’s. It wasn’t 4G technology either. It was looking at the processes involved in dispatching emergency responders and looking at how mobile technology could be utilised to make improvements. From here, looking at the technology available and seeing what needed to be created or optimised led to the creation of the Dispatch app. There was a large amount of integration involved, which couldn’t have been achieved with anything off the shelf.

By understanding the ways in which the responders at London’s Air Ambulance work and what would make their lives easier in any way possible, we were able to create an innovative app that – whilst simple in terms of functionality – had many complexities and needed to be reliable.

Mobile is not innovation. Innovation is what happens on top of, and around mobile. It is what hasn’t been done before. It is utilising different technologies in different ways to create something new, based around needs of a user group, to deliver benefits to the organisation or person. That is what innovation is.

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