Billing giant Amdocs says it has embarked on a “path to systematic innovation,” changing the company’s mindset to reward developer invention from within the organization itself.
Speaking to a room full of developers, press and mobile enthusiasts at the Aalto Venture Garage in Espoo, Finland, Amdocs’ Jeffrey Stern said culturing innovation could only result in value for the firm, which boasts dozens of tier-one and two customers including AT&T Corp., Cablevision Systems Corp., Elisa, Comcast Corp. , Sprint-Nextel Corp., T-Mobile, Sensis and Vodafone Group plc.
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses,” said Stern, quoting Henry Ford and noting every company should seriously think about it. “Are we just building faster horses? Are we really looking into the future?” he asked, explaining that whilst the horse-and-carriage business may once have been a booming one – with the top carriage sellers smugly sitting atop the world – almost none remained in business just five years after the first car came out.
“The question is are we still making the horse and buggy even though we know that the car is coming. Do we want to become the buggies of the business, just a footnote in history?” he asked a room full of shaking heads.
Companies, said Stern, often wanted their employees to have tunnel vision, with just short-term goals, clearly defined in their narrow scope of work and little corporate box. This is what Amdocs is apparently attempting to change by encouraging employees to develop their good ideas inside the workplace rather than on the side.
“How much revenue is generated by ringtones yearly?” asked Stern, answering that the figure currently stood at some $7 billion. “Where did the idea come from? A simple competition in South Korea Telecom where a firm asked its employees to find another way to make a profit from a phone,” he said. “We have about 18,000 employees in Amdocs who are well educated. Do you think we do not have at least one ringtone type idea here?” After all, $7 billion is more than twice what Amdocs makes in a year.
“It’s not that we are not innovative at Amdocs,” Stern said, noting that going from Yellow Pages to billing to customer relationship management was “crazy innovative,” but explaining that the problem was that innovation was not systematic.
“Innovation occurs by the half-a-dozen people on the top. We have 18,000 people who are for the most part not involved,” he said, painting a picture that holds true for many a corporate behemoth.
To solve this problem, Amdocs has already put into place a three-step solution; making innovation every employee’s job and a way of life, identifying and removing innovation barriers within the firm, and educating, evangelizing and actively managing innovation.
The firm has even set up its own innovation portal, or “gateway to innovation,” as it calls it, disseminating news regarding innovation throughout Amdocs and success stories and rewards given to employee innovators.
On top of that, the Amdocs innovation portal also offers “Community Sharing” which includes an “Innovation Repository,” Codox – Amdocs’ internal inner source, and “extensive innovation and creativity skills information.”
Adding a structural framework to the system, Stern explained how a multi-leveled innovation infrastructure has been put in place throughout Amdocs, which includes an Amdocs innovation team, an expert network, innovation agents, innovation corners, an innovation board and an incubation team.
Also, in addition to the intranet portal, Amdocs is sending out internal newsletters and holding weekly unit and quarterly town- hall meetings to offer a forum for ideas to be presented.
Innovations are rewarded by the company too, with a whole host of certificates, employee reviews, implemented ideas and other purportedly motivational practices.
The firm says it is already seeing results too, with Stern claiming thousands of new ideas had already been put forward by Amdocs employees, and that the rankings and comments system was booming with over 100 ideas already funded and implemented.
This has resulted in “dozens of new products and services, millions of dollars in cost saving and new revenue and the positioning of Amdocs as our customers’ innovation thought leader,” said Stern, concluding with a quote from Wayne Gretzky: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”
Perhaps other telecom giants will soon realize the same instead of staying stuck in the past.