Embracing innovation to boost our vitality

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The opportunities are there to take for those who are willing to change and adapt to innovation and technology.

(Photo credit: Esri China (HK))

Today, embracing technology and encouraging creativity seems to be a norm, but is this truly the case?

I remember 20 years ago, when I introduced the digital map to public and private enterprises, they all considered the hand drawn paper map was good enough and was not in need of change. It wasn’t until much later when they realised the power of the digital map’s analytical function which could assist them in decision-making.

It is not easy to change the “status quo” mode of work which has been going smoothly for some time. It is especially true for large enterprises which have tens of thousands of people in the workforce, and to make a change within a short period of time would be particularly difficult for them. However, with the popularity of today’s social media, such as Facebook which has daily active users of up to 1.3 billion, comparable to the population of China, the influence is self-explanatory. At the same time, the popularity of the smartphone has also heightened people’s expectations for receiving a quicker response. A survey showed that over 80% adults expected to get a reply within 24 hours for their comments on social media, while nearly 50% adults expected to receive a response within an hour. Facing such demand, the challenge for large enterprises is huge.

An article in the Harvard Business Review titled “Social Media Is Too Important to Be Left to the Marketing Department” quoted the transformation of Hertz, a car rental group that has 9,700 points of sale worldwide. In the past, Hertz’s Facebook page was handled by the marketing department which would forward customer enquiries and complaints received on its Facebook to the customer service department. The reply would be uploaded to the FB in about four to seven days’ time, nine to five, Monday to Friday.

This response time was, of course, not satisfactory from the customers’ viewpoint. What’s more is that according to internal analyses, 70% of the complaints from social media were real problems of the services that needed to be solved as soon as possible. The slow response naturally led to loss of customers and business. To retain customers, the company decided to reform by establishing a new cross-departmental team to provide quality and timely social media services with assistance of a software system to detect all-round social media activities.

I can imagine that it would not be easy to convince those in management to carry out such change as it involves a change of mindset and structural reform. Even more challenging would be to persuade all staff from bottom to top – because most staff would be concerned with how the work model, workload, remuneration, bonuses, and promotions under the new practice would affect them. In short, whether the new approach and new technology can be successfully implemented depends on people’s mindset.

For example, an airline company once wanted to introduce ticket kiosks, but this caused concerns to its frontline staff as their positions could be replaced by the machines. The company had to explain to its staff that the kiosks were capable only for ticketing work, and the more complex work such as handling individual passengers’ requirements would still rely on manpower. Upon clearing the doubts, employees were willing to take the initiative to introduce the kiosk service to customers, so that the new technology and new products could be used.

I do not know how Hertz persuaded its employees to implement the new system, but upon adopting the new approach, the company’s response rate was shortened to 75 minutes with over 1,000 customer enquiries being handled within one week. So while reforming the system creates a business challenge, it also offers an impulse to the company to make itself more efficient. As mentioned by Microsoft’s Bill Gates in his book Business @ the Speed ​​of Thought: Succeeding in the Digital Economy published in 2009: “In three years every product my company makes will be obsolete. The only question is whether we’ll make them obsolete or somebody else will.”

Innovation and change are inevitable; we have to keep our minds open to embrace them so as to maintain the vitality of companies and individuals.


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Dr Winnie Tang

Honorary Professor, Department of Computer Science, The University of Hong Kong