The financial and economic crisis that was forced upon us in 2008 had a huge impact on the way we perceived innovation in the subsequent period. The spirit of the age was to force down operational expenses and to go back to core business. Most managers had budgets cut and were therefore forced towards ‘navel gazing’: analysing their internal processes in search of quick wins. New technologies and social innovation were only adopted if they promised to lead the company away from the threats it was facing.
We cannot now ignore the changed perspective that is reflected in the magic word ‘Innovation’. In social media, advertising and on billboards it is used as an enabler for new business and growth. There has been a massive shake out in the industry, but for those who have overcome this, the dark clouds of threat are rapidly moving back. They are replaced with illuminating opportunities, approached with the self-confidence that they are within reach. And innovation will bring us there!
Back in 2008 though, I admit that the challenging environment at first had a similar impact on Scanlaser, where I had taken over as CEO a few months before. Someone explained to me that the Chinese symbol for ‘crisis’ contains the combination of the symbols for ‘threat’ and ‘opportunity’, and with the optimistic attitude that comes with a new job, we took a different turn from most others in the industry of graphical art and digital print.
The 2008 version of Scanlaser used information and communications technology (ICT) and digital print extensively in its USP. That sounds like an innovative approach, but in fact the business model was similar to those of every other traditional production factory. During the past decade however, the company has transformed tremendously. Instead of using unique custom-made solutions, the present main operational process of Scanlaser runs on a generic infrastructure. It services about 300 customers in a variety of industries (to compare: in 2008 the company had five customers accounting for 90% of turnover). Part of this infrastructure is a virtual warehouse for books and documents. The front end of this warehouse is connected with 60 supply chains (web shops and logistical systems and so on), while the back end coordinates the automated production environment of the company. Connectivity with the supply chains results in a continuous flow of incoming real time orders. On a daily basis, several thousands of books, brochures, manuals and other documents are being produced on demand. This production happens in the automated print factory, where the products also are dispatched and shipped immediately to the end user. This transition of services not only enabled Scanlaser to survive the crisis, but also to grow and exploit new business at the same time.
At the Digital Printing Conference, which is organised by IMI Europe, from 30th November-1st December in Amsterdam, I will go into further detail about the countercyclical business development we have experienced and the way we focused on innovation during our transformation. But when someone asks me now, what the most important driver in this transformation is, I’ll tell him that we’ve abandoned the purely technical focus on innovation, and moved towards the focus on an integral framework of innovation; including social innovation and business network innovation. That formulation is somewhat abstract, so I’ll be more specific using an example. When a vendor approached the 2008 version of Scanlaser, with the announcement that they will release a new high volume, cut sheet inkjet printer in the coming year, then that Scanlaser management would have checked the technical and financial impact of this investment. You’ll recognise the list: the size of the investment, ROI, productivity, quality, workflow et cetera.
Today when the same vendor announces a product to the 2016 version of Scanlaser, the management takes another route to reach a decision. The aspects that were investigated by the 2008 management team are still valid, but the list of criteria has expanded. The investment will be analysed as part of a total framework of innovation. This innovation framework is developed from the basis of a traditional business model framework: such business models go back to the 1960s and were very popular during the internet bubble at the end of the last century. An innovation framework brings a much wider perspective on the business and helps the management in the process of decision-making. Because a business model defines how an organisation interacts with its environment to define a unique strategy, attract the resources and build the capabilities required to execute the strategy and create value for all stakeholders.
Having such a framework is essential for companies that want to use innovation to change the game of their industry. Here a quote of Peter Drucker is applicable: ‘In stable times, executives often rely on the intuition that comes from experience. When the rules of the game are changing however, this experience may steer you wrong and new logic has yet to be developed’ (Managing In Turbulent Times). A framework for innovation is a governance tool for leading your company into future improvement of the general business model of the company.
In 2015, Scanlaser invested in purchasing the Canon VPi300 cut sheet inkjet printer. This investment firstly had a significant effect on operational expenses and reducing running costs for digital print. It also enabled Scanlaser to anticipate ongoing changes in several industries by improving existing propositions and developing new business. Beside the operational improvements, there have been gains in warehousing, connectivity, distribution and data management. By looking outwards rather than inwards and exploiting possibilities, your business model can interact with that of your customers, partners and other stakeholders. New services can be developed with every single one of them. From there it’s only a matter of creativity and entrepreneurship, so that new business models will emerge. As well as technological innovations; those elements in leadership will remain the same in any era.
Sander Jansen will be speaking at IMI Europe’s Digital Print Europe event in Nov/Dec 2016.