In an African urban environment marked by rapid urbanisation and increasing constraints on resources, municipalities have to find practical answers to both common and contextual challenges. In resource-scarce environments, innovation becomes paramount as new, cost-effective and integrated solutions are needed in order to deal with the realities on the ground.How does IMQS’s approach to innovation speak to the African context?
Rapid urbanisation is driving major population growth in cities across the world. In Africa in particular, mega-cities like Lagos and Cairo are growing bigger, while big cities like Johannesburg are being re-branded as “mega”. On the other side of the spectrum, smaller municipalities struggle financially as they attempt to deal with years of infrastructural neglect.
In this climate, municipalities have to find practical answers to both common and contextual challenges. From providing power, water, homes, roads and transport, to catering for the needs of a varying body of citizens, the municipality whose solutions are resilient and scalable has the most opportunities to deliver on its custodial duties.
Integrated solutions directed at maintenance and management of infrastructure assets are integral in this context. In resource-scarce environments, innovation becomes paramount as new, cost-effective and integrated solutions are needed in order to deal with the realities on the ground.
Yet what does innovation mean in the context of African cities? If new challenges are demanding of cities to become resilient and smart ecosystems, how can organisations in resource-scarce and developing economies stay on par? What approach to innovation works best when one develops software solutions for clients in rugged environments?
One way of entering into the above discussion is to ask: How does IMQS go about innovation?
This question can be thought of in relation to the above-mentioned scenario of rapid urbanisation in resource-scarce environments. It can also be thought of within a global context where information technology is driving a new industrial revolution, and where the successful cities of the future will have to be smart, resilient and integrated.
Over the last few years, innovation has become something of a buzzword. In a recent conversation between Forbes contributor Peter Hinssen and Garry Lyon of MasterCard, in the online pages of Forbes, Hinssen tackled the topic of innovation in our current socio-economic milieu1. The title of the article touched on something we at IMQS understand all too well: “Innovation without execution is only ideation”.
The world is full of good ideas, but for those good ideas to become innovative they cannot remain in an ivory tower. They need to come up against real-world challenges. They need to solve real-world problems.
Solutions are developed in order to address real-world problems. Good ideas emerge in an open space of cooperation and partnership. This includes cooperation within an organisation, between partners who collaborate, and between you and your client. Good ideas are moulded into viable solutions only when they are tried and tested in the field. You may not always have the expertise and knowledge to work alone, so collaboration allows for networked solutions and the pooling of knowledge and resources. Finally, it is imperative to develop a product along with those for whom the solutions are created in the first place.
Innovation does not necessarily mean creating an absolutely new product for every problem or situation. In South Africa, for example, where the bulk of our attention is invested, funds are limited. Buying the most expensive technologies for the problem at hand is not always viable for our clients. In the same vein, limited funds cannot always be allocated to the kind of R & D projects that are run by more major global players situated in developed economies.
In Africa, and this could be extended to many developing economies, there is a need to be innovative through creative thinking. What can you use that is already there to tackle the problem at hand? How can you integrate with existing architectures and technologies? How can you collaborate with like-minded partners in order to supply cost-effective solutions for the people who consume public goods on the ground?
At IMQS, we have found that the combination and application of existing technologies in innovative ways decreases the time to market of viable solutions that are cost effective and developed along with the client. We have also observed how our clients use our own products in creative ways. In doing so, they extend the value of the product in ways that we did not imagine.
Finally, as noted by Garry Lyon of MasterCard, “innovation is not a once-off thing. It is a repeatable process.” It must be turned into a science with structured techniques and methodologies. If you are going to be serious about innovation, as he puts it, you have to foster a culture of innovation across your whole company or organisation. You have to think lean, act agile and be willing to fail. Moreover, if you are going to fail, you have to fail fast.
At IMQS, our agile and lean approach to project management is simultaneously the driving ideology behind the success of our company. It is our culture of innovation.
In our quest to build the best infrastructure asset management solutions for our clients, we have found that you cannot think or act in silos. Like our integrated approach to life-cycle asset management, we believe in an integrated, networked and horizontal form of intra-organisational cooperation. We try to foster an environment where incremental sprints of ideation and execution translate into innovative solutions.
Whether we work in teams or alone, the goal is to create viable, cost-effective and relevant solutions to real-world problems.
In Africa, innovation means working together and making a plan. Where you come up against challenges, you use the resources at your disposal in new and inventive ways. This is IMQS’s flavour of innovation – born in Africa, ready for the world!