Sunday, December 17, 2023

Learning from innovation dashboards visible through annual reports

Innovation means different things to different sectors and these differences get reflected in how they present their innovation dashboards. For the past few years, several listed companies in India have started presenting their innovation dashboards either explicitly in the form of a table sometimes titled “intellectual capital” or implicitly through various parameters like new product launches, pilots, kaizens, new initiatives, automations, etc. How do these innovation dashboards look? Let’s look at 4 such dashboards as visible to us through their FY23 annual reports. These companies are Tata Motors, Asian Paints, SBI Life Insurance, and Zomato, and their sectors are automotive, building materials (paints, coatings, and home décor products), insurance, and online food ordering. Please note that the innovation dashboard that gets presented in annual reports is likely to be a subset of what is tracked internally. Disclaimer: Some of these companies are my clients, but here I am restricting myself to data available only through annual reports.

What can we learn and not learn from these dashboards?

  • Despite being from different sectors, all four companies had something to report on new products/programs launched in the financial year.
  • Intellectual property especially patents and designs are relevant to Tata Motors and Asian Paints but not to SBI Life and Zomato. Tata Motors in India may be learning the nuances of the game from JLR.
  • Digital transformation is an important focus area for SBI Life while for digitally native companies like Zomato, it is part of the DNA.
  • Automation is an important focus area for all four companies. For SBI Life, underwriting process automation provides a good opportunity for improvement.
  • Partners – insurance agents for SBI Life and delivery partners for Zomato play an important role in their business. Improving partner experience is happening through digital transformation for SBI Life while for digitally native Zomato providing offline experience through resting places with drinking water, washrooms, charging stations, WiFi, helpdesk, and first-aid is important.
  • R&D expenditure as a proxy for experimentation capacity is visible through Tata Motors and Asian Paints reports but not from SBI Life and Zomato. Tata Motors report mentions they have 11 technology hubs/R&D/engineering centres while the Asian Paints report mentions the strength of the R&D team. Zomato report mentions various pilots like Intercity Legends, Zomato everyday, and reusable packaging. These are experiments which may or may not become successful.
  • Continuous improvement must be important to all players. However, systematic efforts are visible through kaizen reporting in Tata Motors and Asian Paints but not in SBI Life and Zomato.
  • Automation through bots is visible in the SBI Life report. However, the efficiency of bot usage can come at the cost of customer experience. Currently, the quality of automated responses to customer support queries is poor in most cases. This trade-off is not visible.
  • Platform is an enabler of innovation and all four players leverage different types of platforms. Tata Motors has vehicular platforms, Asian Paints has chemical technology-related platforms, SBI Life has digital servicing platforms, and Zomato has an order management platform. However, platform-related metrics are not visible in these reports. We can infer that platforms would have played a role when Tata Motors launched 150 variants in a year.
  • Open innovation is an enabler of innovation. Asian Paints report mentions having a technology council with four external members with diverse expertise in various technology areas relevant to the business. Tata Motors must collaborate with other Tata and non-Tata companies, especially in the electric mobility space in creating the ecosystem. However, the related metric is not visible.

In short, there is a lot that can be gathered about innovation from the dashboards available in the annual reports. Innovation dashboard reporting is not a statutory requirement. And yet, it is a good source of input for students of innovation.

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