Editor's Note: This post was originally published on September 7, 2017, and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Innovation is the introduction of something new – and we can view something new from different perspectives, some innovative and others not so obvious.
Innovation is like Shooting for the Moon
I recently drove a Model X Tesla between Palm Springs, California, and Los Angeles. I turned on “autopilot” and marveled as the car took over, controlling acceleration, deceleration, and steering. That was amazing; sitting in the driver’s seat but acting like a passenger while the car drove itself was a unique experience.
But the car took it a step further. As we approached slower-moving vehicles in front of us, the car sensed the left lane was open, and vehicles were moving faster. Without any guidance from me, the car switched lanes and continued on autopilot.
To say that self-driving cars are innovative is an understatement. The ability of a vehicle to drive itself – and even more impressive, to adapt to its surroundings and conditions on the fly – is extraordinary.
But while Elon Musk and Tesla are building groundbreaking technology, not all innovation needs to be mind-blowing – or even cutting-edge – to be valuable. If an invention is defined as introducing something new, hundreds (or even thousands!) of advances can be considered innovative.
Other Innovations are Down to Earth
Painting, in itself, is not innovative. But, some painting techniques have evolved due to creative thinking. For example, the ability to powder-coat steel with different colors and designs was unheard of less than a hundred years ago. But today, powder coating is no longer new and noteworthy. So how can painting, and more specifically, painters themselves, be innovative today?
All It Takes is to Introduce Something New
Innovation often takes place through the development of more-effective products, processes, services, technologies, artworks, or business models that are readily available to markets, governments, and society.Wikipedia
Process-improvement innovations are only sometimes groundbreaking innovations introduced by Tesla, Microsoft, and other large tech companies. Sometimes, innovation, or a more-effective process, comes in the form of new ways to track the progress of paint jobs, monitor paint inventory, and more. However, introducing new processes to improve efficiencies can have significant, long-term implications. And that’s what innovation is all about—introducing something new to improve a process and boost productivity and profitability.
In Field Service Operations, “Innovation” Takes Many Forms
How do you describe the changes the Internet and mobile devices brought about? Pretty extraordinary, right? These impressive technological advances have changed the field service industry forever, from cloud computing and hand-held devices that allow field technicians to streamline their work to augmented reality that enables remote support.
But what about more subtle (and more down-to-earth) innovations? They, too, have left an indelible imprint on field service operations.
For example, servitization is an innovative shift in business operations rather than earth-shattering product innovation. For many organizations, servitization means their work is no longer installing a vending machine or an air-conditioning unit at a customer’s site, ending the transaction. Instead, the organization partners with its customer to ensure uninterrupted performance through ongoing monitoring and providing service when required.
Or consider customer self-service. That’s “subtle innovation” at its finest. Allowing customers to take control of some equipment maintenance helps them feel in control. This control means the time the AC unit or vending machine is out of order is reduced or eliminated. Customer self-service uses existing technology and extends its application and effectiveness through innovative processes; making it easy for the customer to take control ensures more “up time” and increases their satisfaction.
Servitization and customer self-service may not be considered as extraordinarily innovative as cloud computing, but they are innovations transforming field service operations.