Innovating the Small Stuff Yields Big Results

In these days of highly complex markets, global competition, and rising customer demands, companies are faced with an imperative for innovation. The marching orders are to break the mold with new business models and release never-before-seen products, all in an effort to create some form of differentiation that keeps the business relevant if not on the cutting edge.

Innovation is so top of mind that nearly three-quarters of U.S. private companies are making it a priority, according to a report by PwC, “Growing Your Business: Innovation Imperative.” Within that group, roughly half of respondents expect innovation to have a significant impact on the way they do business over the next few years.

 While innovation is most often equated with the next, bright shiny object or practice, not all innovation is disruptive or a novelty. In fact, innovation is more often evolutionary, tied to the introduction of new processes and toolsets that reduce waste or create operational efficiencies and thus, end up having a dramatic impact on how a company does business.

Consider PDM solutions in use at engineering firms for decades. While no one is suggesting that PDM technology is an innovation by today’s standards, the platform certainly functions as a springboard for engineering departments to automate manual tasks and make dozens of much-needed process changes that cumulatively have a significant impact on the business.

With PDM in place, for example, engineering departments are more able to easily find and re-use design content and get critical materials under control by managing different CAD versions along with other supporting documents. PDM also fosters an ability to work with multiple CAD systems, which is an essential requirement in today’s world of globally-dispersed design partners. At the same time, the platform facilitates collaborative workflows that streamline such critical processes as engineering changes and design reviews, culminating in significant time savings.

If you think that these are small gains and not the big stuff associated with innovation, you might want to reconsider. Market leaders like Dow Chemical have a totally different perspective on how small changes can add up to big, innovative results. For instance, at Dow, simple, additive changes to everyday engineering processes resulted in pretty substantial, yet unforeseen benefits. In one such example, the Adept PDM system became ground zero to gain access to previously inaccessible data that could “change the way we do business for 20 years” at no additional cost, according to one Dow engineer.

Moreover, by leveraging PDM to remove the tedium and waste from core engineering processes, Dow contends engineering teams are now freed up to spend more time on new product development, which consequently leads to … drumroll please, a stronger focus on product innovation.

Ultimately, that’s what successful data management is all about. It may not be shiny and new, but it’s real and can deliver demonstrable gains by giving back precious hours and weeks to key engineering personnel and projects. While it depends on the company culture and the mindset of individual teams as to what becomes of those reclaimed hours, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that in many shops, the small wins eventually add up to major gains in innovation.

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