Realistic Innovation and Process Change: sometimes you just gotta fax it in.
When launching any new initiative two of the biggest considerations are the people and processes it impacts. Oftentimes, however, people focus first on tech issues due to perceived complexity or a penchant to build.
The team then goes on to build a technically solid solution well aligned with key business drivers. But it doesn’t take hold with employees or consumers. Because one of the biggest hurdles to successful tech innovation is habit change.
The new technology has to solve a compelling problem and do so in a way that can be easily integrated into someone’s day-to-day. Most users are reticent to change—either because it’s uncomfortable, takes additional effort out of an already busy day, etc.
As a result, the best new mobile technologies focus on a core problem and aim to solve it as seamlessly as possible. Consider Hotel Tonight, a consumer app that offers a slick way to book a last-minute hotel room. Just open the app in any major city, scroll through the hotel pictures and tap to book. It’s a great way to snag a last-minute deal and offers a way for hotels to sell excess inventory.
So how is this app powered? Now we come to process. One thing startups do really well—perhaps out of a scarcity of time and money—is restrict development to the most critical elements of their business. What do we need to build to prove our concept?
You might assume the Hotel Tonight founders began by building custom software that integrated with all hotel reservation systems and automatically populated inventory into their app. But that’s exactly what they didn’t do. That would have been expensive and time consuming.
Think of it from a behavior perspective. Hotel Tonight was an unproven player trying to acquire new hotels. Requesting access to hotel systems would only create another barrier to service adoption by hotels. So Hotel Tonight took into account the day-to-day hotel processes. What is a hotel’s main objective? To get a booking. And what do most hotels have that all employees are comfortable with and experienced at using? A fax machine. Yes, that’s right. A lowly, error-prone, inefficient fax machine. Who would have thought a slick mobile booking app would have its backend enabled by an army of fax machines? I’m guessing early-on the inventory was managed manually via daily phone calls with Hotel Tonight Account Managers and the hotels.
So here’s the deal. When you tap the button to confirm your booking, a fax literally gets sent to the hotel. Consumers experience a process they are comfortable with—ordering in a seamless and slick manner via their mobile devices—and the hotels receive the order in a way they are most comfortable with, archaic as it may seem.
Once your core tech is in place to serve your business need (in this case increased bookings and revenue), only then should you begin focusing on maturing the technology and improving the process. A successful first rollout can create a wave of positive momentum with employees. And once they are comfortable with the initial phase you can start pairing process change with continued tech innovation.
Hotel tonight has matured both their tech and the processes for hotels and now offer an extranet for their Hotel Partners. We can assume this will be a gradual rollout to get the hotel employees trained and comfortable using the new technology.
Grubhub, a mobile-enabled food ordering service, adopted a similar strategy—faxing orders, followed by an automated phone call for confirmation. GrubHub has since rolled out OrderHub—an Android app that enables restaurants to accept orders digitally.
I’m not advocating ignoring opportunities to improve processes. A mobile strategy enables companies to evaluate its processes for efficiency opportunities. Rather, I’m suggesting adopting a phased approach that takes into account the day-to-day of consumers and employees and acknowledges that behavior change is the hardest part of any new tech initiative.
So when you are developing innovative solutions, be sure to build the core technology specifically to solve the most pressing problem. If there is a simple way to solve other issues that also allows your employees or customers to continue their current processes then be sure to explore those possibilities as well. Launch the main technology first and gradually increase the efficiency of the processes as technology matures and user-adoption increases. Pursuing this approach will always result in realistic innovation in the enterprise.