Using innovation and technology Featured

7:00pm EDT November 24, 2006

Today is a whole new business world. Things are moving faster than ever, and companies are looking to the future as much as they are concentrating on the present.

James Snyder, professor and department chair of automotive supply management at Northwood University in Midland, says business is now global with rapidly changing technology. Executives must learn to lead efficiently while developing innovative products and services. And the key is continuing education.

Smart Business spoke with Snyder about how executives can hone their business skills and learn new ones to adequately manage innovation and technology.

Why is managing innovation and technology such a vital component of executive education today?

The impact of technology on today’s corporate executives is being felt not only with product and process innovation, global product development and new business models for innovation, but also in the way organizations are being restructured and managed. The factors that lead to a company’s success may also contribute to its failure. The leadership, vision and culture that have provided growth can become its Achilles’ heel as technological and market conditions change over time.

In order to prevent failure, senior executives and managers must learn to lead efficiently in current markets while developing innovative products and services for the future of their companies. The challenge is that the required internal structures and cultures needed to foster innovation are often seen as threats to an organization’s current priorities and future success.

Where does innovation come from in today’s business world?

Since the early 1990s, our competitive benchmarks have increasingly come from growth and development in Asia. Forty years ago, companies were typically provided a quotation to bid on for manufacturing a part. The customer would choose between one or two suppliers that would manufacture these parts. The question arose, ‘Do you want a quality part or do you want the part at the lowest price available?’

The quality revolution of the ’80s brought about experts in this field — Deming, Juran and Crosby — who emphasized that quality is free and that you can reduce cost without first addressing quality. Quality systems became the norm, and innovation in quality became the major selling point. In the ’90s, we implemented ‘lean and just-in-time’ delivery and emphasized the total cost impact these concepts held for the customer.

All along the journey, there were reasons why the early adopters received the orders. The innovation was not only in the product, but in the process of manufacturing and delivering parts.

What are some of the tangible results of honing an executive’s skills in this area?

An executive education program in managing innovation and technology should consist of an introductory module that provides a framework of how the manufacturing industry has created and embedded constraints that affect their ability to respond effectively to challenging competitors and the continual reshaping of markets. The program should also include a series of discussions around visualization, discovery, transformation and integration to provide the understanding of how transformation to self-sustaining organizational effectiveness may be achieved quickly by intelligently leveraging technology.

The tangible results of such a program include transitioning into leadership roles, creating long-term improvement in the organization’s performance, making more informed executive decisions, and attaining higher levels of sustainable growth.

What sort of options do executives have today for pursuing more education?

Executives continually face ever-increasing demands on their time. Many universities design class schedules structured to fit the schedules of today’s busy executive by offering programs at campuses, at company facilities, and distance education via Internet.

Why is it important for executives to continually pursue more education?

In today’s fiercely competitive global economy, almost every company faces the challenges of ever-increasing complexity. ‘Keeping up’ while maintaining competitive costs and satisfied customers has become more challenging due, in part, to supply-and-demand variables that are changing at a more rapid pace than ever before.

Despite these challenges, a handful of companies consistently produce strong revenue and profit growth. Market leaders have a common characteristic: agility — an exceptional nimbleness and unparalleled ability to respond rapidly and appropriately to changing market conditions.

In order to survive and grow in the global market, executives must reinvent their business model through discipline (common processes and systems), yet maintain flexibility with their local management and decision-making process. Creativity and innovation will require more disciplined approaches and integration of the entire business, from design to delivery.

JAMES SNYDER is professor and department chair of automotive supply management at Northwood University. Reach him at (248) 649-5111.