Five principles for building innovative businesses in the 21st century

What would differentiate a 21st century enterprise in such a fast evolving world and pave the way for innovation. Here are five major aspects that I could identify as key

Updated: Nov 22, 2016 11:49:12 AM UTC

HCL Technologies is a leading global IT services company working with clients to impact and redefine the core of their businesses. Since its emergence on the global landscape after its IPO in 1999 and listing in 2000, HCL Technologies, along with its subsidiaries, today operates out of 32 countries and has consolidated revenues of US$ 6.4 billion, for 12 Months ended 30th June, 2016. For the 21st Century Enterprise, HCL focuses on business model transformation, underlined by innovation and value creation, offering an integrated portfolio of services including BEYONDigitalTM, IoT WoRKSTM, Engineering Services Outsourcing and Next–Generation ITO that focuses on integrated infrastructure services, applications services and business services. HCL leverages DRYiCETM, its third generation autonomics and orchestration platform, global network of integrated innovation labs, and global delivery capabilities to provide holistic multi–service delivery in key industry verticals including Financial Services, Manufacturing, Telecommunications, Media, Publishing & Entertainment, Retail & CPG, Life Sciences & Healthcare, Oil & Gas, Energy & Utilities, Travel, Transportation & Logistics and Government. With 107,968 professionals from diverse nationalities, HCL Technologies focuses on creating real value for customers by taking 'Relationships Beyond the Contract'. For more information, please visit

The fashion shopper would demand the latest clothing lines offered to her, much ahead of it hitting the stalls(Image:

I took my daughter (a millennial) out to the shopping mall the other day and I must say, it was quite an experience to observe how differently her generation approaches the market with very different expectations from the brands and products they consider. With shorter attention spans, unlimited choices and more informed than I could ever have, she revealed to me the characteristics of the 21st century customer. This got me thinking – can businesses still living in 20th century even begin to comprehend the needs and desires of this 21st century customer, let alone fulfil those?

Let’s do a deeper dive into customer’s behavior and expectations that we see around us. In the last couple of years, the emergence of ubiquitous connectivity across multiple devices and digital innovations have redefined business models and experience. For example, in case of mobile app–based shopping, the choices available, the ease of choosing delivery time and innovative payment methods with easy return policies have become common factors in shaping the overall shoppers’ experience. Further, consider the most discerning customer – the fashion shopper. She would demand the latest clothing lines offered to her, much ahead of it hitting the stalls; she expects the brands to know her preferences in terms of color, style, size and price points – would want to try out the new designs in the fitting room, but only after she has shortlisted some on her smartphone and then she would expect the retailer to make necessary alterations on the dresses she picks, suggest matching accessories and deliver the lot to her in a different city – because she would be travelling!

This made me ponder on what would differentiate a 21st century enterprise in such a fast evolving world and pave the way for innovation.  Here are five major aspects that I could identify as key:

Customer Centricity: Customer is the king! And more so in the digital world. Enterprises need to be customer–driven, building experiences that can create and foster customer loyalty. This requires the use of multiple technologies at different levels, and not just point solutions for specific outcomes. Mobile apps, for example, is just a point solution, and hardly a differentiator. It is how the mobile app and the full customer experience work end-to-end, which is important. In order to build an exclusive experience, brands may have to add various interactive services and innovative features around the mobile app, requiring various technologies to work harmoniously at the back end. In order to keep the shopper engaged, businesses must leverage advanced customer analytics to analyze, segment, understand product preferences, gaining the ability to predict the next possible purchase and impacting the customers’ decision at the right point on the path to purchase. They may have to deploy tools to listen to the social conversations, use new age technologies like VR, AR etc. to build immersive interaction, embed advanced payment options and use encryptions to ensure secure and protected financial information. However, to achieve this, they would need to connect the technology with ease to back–end systems for inventory availability, pick up, delivery, return etc.

Begin at the end: Enterprises have to strategize on what is the end goal and then work backwards to weave in technologies, processes and ways of working to deliver that outcome. This would require business innovation, process re–engineering and not just adoption of a technology solution. Thinking “Digitalization” opens up a total new world of opportunities.  Making something old and sub–standard just a little better is not the answer.  You really need to step back and re–imagine what is possible by finding the unmet human needs and then redo the full process to achieve the desired outcome.

Be Lean and Agile: Nimbleness is the key – size does not matter, attitude does – whoever said elephants can’t dance! Companies need to be start–up at heart, no matter what the age of their businesses is. They must be ready to experiment, rediscover and agile enough to trapeze through the ever–evolving landscape. This goes for technology as well as the businesses as a whole.

Leverage the ecosystem: In order to deliver seamless and unique experiences, companies have to work together in an ecosystem, with their partners, customers and suppliers. It does not take away competitiveness, it just redefines how to compete and build a differentiating edge.

Streamline decision making: Intuitions are good but business decisions need to be backed by solid insights. Enterprises need a holistic – big picture approach and a future roadmap. Getting to the right answer and outcomes is not just a quick sprint to develop mobile solutions, but rather a marathon of one sprint after the other, which needs to be focused and guided towards the right vision and outcome. Being analytical in every decision is critical to see what is working, what needs change and quickly act in real–time, serving the customer.  Customers live in the “NOW”, so having barriers to quick decisions can be limiting to say the least, companies need to act as they think – quickly!

And this brings me to the critical question – how do technology partners help businesses transition to 21st century enterprises? A ‘Beyond Digital’ approach is required, keeping in mind the new realities for end–to–end business model innovation, and not just adopting point solutions. The five factors that we talked about, can serve as the core guiding principles for building 21st century business models for innovation. Technology can be a tool, attitude and aptitude towards delivering business outcomes and innovation – a true north star!

- By Jaco Van Eeden, Executive Vice President and Global Head, BEYONDigital, HCL Technologies. Views expressed are personal.

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