Karel van Eechoud, Head of the Implenia Innovation Hub, explains why successful innovations need to focus not on technical feasibility, but on the needs of customers and users.
Karel, what exactly is innovation?
Innovation means developing new or improved products, services or approaches that create a certain commercial or social value. A simple formula I use is: innovation = new idea x commercialisation. Just having ideas is not innovation. We need to try to convert them into commercially usable solutions for customers and end consumers. To do this, we need to bridge the gap between technology and research and pure business development.
How innovative is Implenia?
We have a growing community of innovation-minded and entrepreneurial colleagues. Time and again, I am impressed by how solution-orientated and open the people at Implenia are. That is a huge help. It is noticeable even in the kickbox process, which has already received more than 75 ideas from staff.
Where is there still room for improvement?
I see potential in two areas: Firstly, we need to focus our innovation activities on our customers even more radically. We are already very good at offering solutions to challenges they face, but we can get even better at understanding what our customers need as a whole and at being proactive in helping them to design the buildings and infrastructures they really need.
And the second area?
Most of us are engineers or technical experts. That means that we tend to concentrate a lot on the “feasibility” of new technologies and concepts. Our focus is on the technical implementation: the “how”. But if strong innovations are to become successful products or services that customers want to pay for, what really counts is questions of “desirability”: Does the customer really want the product and are they willing to pay for it? and “viability”: Can we make it a commercial success?
Und das zweite Gebiet?
Die meisten von uns sind Ingenieure oder technische Experten. Deshalb neigen wir dazu, uns stark auf die «Machbarkeit» neuer Technologien und Konzepte zu konzentrieren. Das heißt, wir stellen die technische Umsetzung und das "Wie" in den Mittelpunkt. Damit aus starken Innovationen erfolgreiche Produkte oder Dienstleistungen werden, für die die Kunden bezahlen wollen, zählen aber vor allem auch die Fragen nach der «Wünschbarkeit»: Will der Kunde das Produkt wirklich und ist er bereit, dafür zu bezahlen?; und der «Durchführbarkeit»: Können wir es zu einem kommerziellen Erfolg machen?
«We need to help our customers to find out what they need.»
Karel van Eechoud
Why is innovation so important for a construction and real estate service provider like Implenia?
The way we live, work and travel is changing incredibly fast – and with it, what customers and users need. We need to understand these needs if we want to build the world of tomorrow successfully and sustainably. Simply applying traditional techniques and approaches is not enough. We need to completely rethink how and what we build in collaboration with our customers.
How can we react successfully to changes on the market and in society?
We need to focus on the customer, understand their needs, and know how they are changing. By customer, I mean not only the company that pays our bills, but also the users that actually drive through our tunnels, the people who work in the offices we build, and the families who live in the properties we develop.
What is the best way to achieve this?
We need to research and understand the future of mobility, work and living. This has nothing to do with technology, but with understanding human needs. Normally, we are very good at responding to requests for tender with good bids and building what is required. In future, we need to go one step further. We need to help our customers to find out what they need and how they can implement that in sustainable and well-designed infrastructures and buildings that make people happy and efficient!