strategy+business — Winter 2013
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The Global Innovation 1000: Navigating The Digital Future
Barry Jaruzelski

Booz & Company's annual study of R&D spending reveals the tools that are transforming innovation- from customer insight to product launch.

At Catalent, a U.S.-based producer of pharmaceutical products and provider of advanced drug delivery technologies and services, digital tools often support the practices of the company's 18 research and development sites around the world. Data pours in from R&D, sales and marketing, operations, quality assurance, and regulatory affairs, as well as customers. Evjatar Cohen, vice president for global innovation and portfolio management, and his team make sense of it all with a slate of new market and customer insight enablers. "Collecting the data is just part of what we do," he says. "It's really about using that input to come up with market uptake estimates for each potential product and an understanding of its business value. That aids us greatly in deciding where to focus our day-to-day activities as well as planning our long-term strategy."

Catalent's story is similar to that of other leading companies around the world. To enhance the front end of their innovation process, more and more R&D teams are using new tools such as software programs that mine and analyze "big data" and customer immersion labs that use digital reality to simulate experiences. "The earlier in the process you are," says Cohen, "the more uncertainties and hurdles there are to manage"- and the new digital tools are ideal for confronting uncertainty and surmounting hurdles. Although they have not yet been widely adopted or tested, these tools are already enabling some companies to first gather a better and deeper understanding of customers' needs and engage them in the design process, and then monitor their products' use after launch to capture data that can be fed back into the innovation process.

These new digital tools are fostering change, but not in isolation; they are joining another group that has been around for years and is already well established at most companies. Productivity enablers such as computer- aided design (CAD) software used in the design and tooling stages of product development and project management tools that help track time lines, workflows, milestones, and spending have a long track record of helping companies boost the efficiency of their innovation processes-particularly at the back end when they are developing products.

The result? Digital tools are influencing every stage of the innovation life cycle: from collecting and analyzing customer insights, to generating and vetting ideas, to designing and manufacturing new products, and, finally, to tracking products' success once launched (see Exhibit 1). As part of this year's Global Innovation 1000 study, our ninth annual analysis of R&D spending, we took a closer look at these digital tools, both old and new, to determine what's being used most widely and what's working most effectively (they aren't always one and the same). We found that companies have a real opportunity-perhaps even an imperative-to rethink their digital tool kit. Indeed, we are seeing the first signs of a digital revolution that will transform how innovation is done. As with all revolutions, both breakthroughs and dead ends will make an appearance along the way. And there can be a tendency to get caught up in the hype. But make no mistake-digitization will change innovation, and companies should act now to avoid being left behind.

Many are already taking action: Executives at the more than 350 companies we surveyed say they currently spend 8.1 percent of their R&D budgets on digital tools, suggesting that of the US$638 billion spent on R&D by the Global Innovation 1000 in 2013, about $52 billion was invested in digital enablers. But as we know from our ongoing annual studies of R&D spending, when it comes to successful innovation, what really counts is not how much money you spend, but how you spend it. Our 2013 study found that respondents whose companies made significant use of these digital enablers were 77 percent more likely to report that they outperformed competitors than were those with low or moderate usage rates (see Exhibit 2). However, because our results revealed that usage of digital tools does not necessarily correlate with the tools' effectiveness, companies need to choose the enablers that are right for their company and that align with their overall innovation strategy. Digital tools are only as good as the underlying innovation process they support. Those companies that understand that are poised for success.

The Customer Insight Advantage

The new entrants in the digital tool kit tend to appear more frequently in the earlier stages of the innovation process, when gathering feedback and insights from consumers and customers can lead to better decisions that will reverberate throughout the life cycle of product development. When it comes to these new tools, we often find that fewer companies are using them (especially as compared to the more established productivity tools). But these lower usage rates reflect the fact that many of these tools are still untested, and many companies are just dipping their toe in the water.

Customer immersion labs, for example, are used by only 14 percent of companies, but those few already find them highly effective. These labs enable companies to gather reactions and data on new product designs directly from individuals using them by providing a digital, simulated experience. At construction and mining equipment manufacturer Caterpillar, they have become an integral part of the early stages of research and development. Chief technology officer Gwenne Henricks says that the company "makes significant use of immersive visualization, where we can bring in customers, service technicians, or assemblers from the assembly line and expose them to three-dimensional, real-time virtual depictions of new product designs. It's here that we are able to capture their feedback [in terms of] usability, serviceability, manufacturability, and the like- all of those design aspects of our product that involve interactions with humans."

Automated product usage tools, or sensors, are used by just 14 percent of our respondents, but have proven quite effective for some companies. They enable companies to passively collect and analyze product or service usage data direct from the customer via automatic tracking technologies. One example is Sales force .com, a leading cloud provider of customer relationship management services. Because all its products are cloud-based, the company has great visibility into how customers use them. That means that rather than developing and releasing new versions of its products every two or three years, can update its products every quarter. Says Bill Blau, senior director of partner marketing and strategic alliances, "Every time someone logs in to something or clicks on something, we can see what fields they're using, what fields they aren't using, how much data they're putting in the system. We're constantly getting that from more than 100,000 customers."

Other market and customer insight tools, such as software used to analyze big data and to profile customers, are more commonly used and also rated highly in terms of effectiveness. One-third of our survey respondents say their companies are employing these tools to exploit their massive pools of structured and unstructured data and gather insights into customers.

For example, at healthcare giant Aetna, the company's ability to analyze that data provides it with enormous leverage in developing new products designed to cut the cost and improve the quality of healthcare. The company's head of innovation, Michael Palmer, cites a striking example: Up to one-quarter of the U.S. population has metabolic syndrome, which, left untreated, is associated with a significantly increased risk of stroke, heart attack, and death. Aetna engaged in a data analysis exercise that determined which of the five component factors of metabolic syndrome had the greatest impact on future health risks and costs. This work led to the development of a predictive model that identifies which individuals are most likely to develop metabolic syndrome in the future, including which specific individual risk factors they are most likely to develop next. This information can now lead to the development of more effective, targeted clinical strategies to mitigate future clinical risks and costs associated with metabolic syndrome. "That helps corporate healthcare plan sponsors decide where their best bang for the buck would be if they're trying to decide on which program to use to improve the health of their employees," Palmer explains. "And it encourages employees who have one or more of the factors to be more engaged in trying to reduce the risk."

Meanwhile, Philips Lighting, a maker of commercial lighting systems for large-scale installations, can outfit (with the customer's permission) each light fixture in a system with technology that gathers data such as hours used, dimming level, sensor switches, motion detectors, and the like, and sends it back to a central information system. "Eventually," says Bob Esmeijer, head of Philips Professional Lighting Solutions NA, "we'll be able to use that information to develop lights that do the work themselves-that can sense the amount of light coming in from outside and how much activity is in the room, and adapt accordingly."

Crowd sourcing-opening up idea generation to sources inside and outside the company-is another tool with fairly high usage rates (it's used by 41 percent of respondents). And although respondents had mixed reviews on its effectiveness, anecdotal evidence shows that it has the potential to help companies engage with customers and generate ideas., for one, is experimenting with expanding its enterprise social network, Chatter, to the outside world. Says Blau, "Chatter communities enable the sharing of ideas and information inside what is in essence a social network, but outside the company walls. We can launch our own communities around specific industry verticals or product areas and gather product feedback as well as new ideas for what people would like to see in the next release of our products- or really any crazy idea out there that they think might be great for Sales force to take a look at."

Catalent has also established a crowd sourcing process-called "Bright Ideas Are Everywhere." It enables scientists and other innovators across the company, globally, to send in ideas. Evjatar Cohen and his team are always on the lookout, scouting for the "game changer." "It provides a central location through which everybody can submit an innovation idea," says Cohen. "I see every one of those ideas personally and my staff is available to jump on them immediately."

The Tried and the True

The new digital enablers offer exciting opportunities for innovators, but they won't diminish the importance of the more mature productivity tools that companies have turned to for years. Indeed, many of these tools are must-haves, as indicated by the frequency of their use among our survey respondents. The most common, project management tools, are used by almost 70 percent of companies in the development phase, and are also ranked among the three most effective tools in this phase.

For companies that undertake large, costly projects, project management tools are indispensable. Reinhold Achatz, head of corporate technology, innovation, and quality at German steelmaker ThyssenKrupp, is familiar with such projects. "Years ago, our biggest plants and system projects cost $200 million to $300 million," he says. "Today, we are doing projects up to $1 billion. We are working on engineering at different sites with a lot of different people from different areas, and we are working with suppliers. These tools have transformed the way we work, by enabling us to manage increasingly complex efforts."

Another highly effective productivity tool in the development phase is CAD software. CAD tools were rated lower in terms of usage, but that's because they have a limited audience-these tools are much more commonly needed at companies in heavily engineering-oriented industries. Companies in both the auto and aerospace and defense industries use them extensively; fully two thirds of our respondents from those industries reported using CAD software, compared with just 25 percent of companies overall (we'll comment more about industry specific usage of digital tools later on).

One company that has made effective use of CAD software to do 3D digital modeling is Electric Boat, a company with one product and one customer: It builds one nuclear submarine every year for the U.S. Navy, at a price tag of around $2 billion. Most of Electric Boat's submarine engineering and design work is paid for directly under its contract with the Department of Defense- in early 2013, for instance, the company was awarded $1.8 billion to begin design work on the next generation of nuclear subs. The company's own R&D work is performed by a small innovation group that investigates new technologies for designing and building the finished product.

For many years, the company built wooden mockups of submarines it was designing to make sure the ship could be built as proposed. But the Virginia-class submarines Electric Boat is building today were the first designed almost entirely digitally. "What you see now when you walk through our manufacturing space," explains Mark Bennett, the company's R&D program manager, "are 3D isometric pictures that come off of our digital [CAD] database. That's what tradesmen work from. They're not solely relying on notes on 2D paper drawings the way they used to. We use the database to laser mark on the steel where plates will attach, and provide detail on how big the welds need to be." The digital files are also used in the company's electronic visualization rooms. "We can project 3D models of the submarine," Bennett says, "and that allows us to examine various spaces jointly with our customer." Electric Boat is now investigating the use of those 3D models to generate holograms of the inside of a submarine to improve understanding of the submarine's design and layout.

Rapid prototyping tools such as 3D printing are used by 34 percent of our survey respondents, and they are also ranked as the most effective productivity tools in the ideation phase (and in fact were ranked as more effective than any market and customer insight enabler at this stage). The R&D team at Philips Lighting, for example, now uses 3D printing to make mockups of its lighting fixtures to share new concepts both internally and with customers. In the past, such mockups took a great deal of time to produce. Now, says Esmeijer, "we can make a mock-up that people can look at and physically touch. They can make suggestions and corrections, and we can make another one in an hour."

Finally, collaborative environments-tools such as messaging, video, file sharing, and Webinars-are used by 45 percent of our respondents, and indeed are critical at many companies with far-flung teams. However, our survey results show that the efficacy of collaboration tools is moderate. Their relatively modest effectiveness may be attributable to the logistical challenges of connecting people in different time zones around the world. Key to success is sufficient investment in training and design standards, without which the benefits of collaborative environments are illusory. For example, insufficient investment is one of the major barriers to successful engineering off shoring. But for those companies that have mastered their use, these tools can be a powerful means of bringing people together at the development phase.

Caterpillar's Henricks believes that many of these collaboration tools have significantly improved productivity. Her company uses tools such as tele presence and Web-based communities to maintain interaction among R&D teams, as well as sales, marketing, and other functions around the world. "We truly can do R&D 24/7," she says. "Now we can take data in our test labs here in North America or in Europe and send the file to India. Overnight, our engineers in India can analyze it [and] reach some conclusions, and the next morning, engineers in North America or Europe analyze those results and plan next steps."

A Closer Look at Usage

Even as companies overall are making significant use of many digital tools, variations among companies in different industries remain considerable. Overall, software and Internet companies spent the largest portion of their R&D budget on deploying and operating digital tools, at 15 percent, followed by aerospace and defense companies, at 12 percent.

Interestingly, computing and electronics companies invested the smallest percentages of their budget on these tools-less than 6 percent. However, that still adds up to a significant amount, given their high overall R&D spend (see Exhibit 3).

Naturally, companies in different industries tend to use the tools that can help create their unique products and services. The aerospace and defense industry, for example, relies heavily on CAD software, visual simulation, and customer immersion labs. These are not among the most-used digital tools in other industries. With the industry's high development costs and levels of complexity-building submarines, for instance-it is understandable that aerospace and defense companies would find these tools more useful than, say, social media dashboards. Companies in the software and Internet sector, however, make extensive use of social media, as well as monitoring and location detection of customer behavior and product usage-also no surprise, given that their B2C business models rely on customers who are highly likely to be online and mobile.

We also observed distinct differences in the level of usage (or adoption) of digital enablers by innovation strategy model. Since 2007, we have segmented companies into three distinct strategic groups-Need Seekers, Market Readers, and Technology Drivers. Need Seekers, the most prevalent model in the innovation hub that is Silicon Valley, engage customers directly to generate new ideas, then develop original products and services and get them to market first. Market Readers are fast followers. They typically generate ideas by closely monitoring their markets, customers, and competitors, focusing largely on creating value through incremental innovations to current products. And Technology Drivers depend heavily on their internal technological expertise to develop new products and services, driving both breakthrough innovation and incremental change, in hopes of meeting the known and unknown needs of their customers via new technology.

Over the years, our survey results have consistently shown that Need Seekers excel at several factors that promote innovation success: They do a better job at aligning their innovation strategies with their overall corporate strategies; they understand the importance of developing a focused set of innovation capabilities needed to carry out their strategy; and they turn their corporate culture to their advantage, ensuring that it supports their innovation strategy by maintaining a strong connection to their customers throughout the innovation process. They also have the strongest financial performance relative to their peers.

This year's results suggest that Need Seekers are gaining yet another advantage, through their use of digital innovation tools. Fully 62 percent of respondents from companies we identified as Need Seekers make significant use of digital enablers, compared with just 48 percent of Technology Drivers and a mere 25 percent of Market Readers (see Exhibit 4 ). And of those Need Seekers, nearly 60 percent indicated they outperformed their competitors financially. That's a testament to the power of these tools when they are in the right hands, but also to the fact that Need Seekers, the most active companies in seeking out customer insights in their R&D efforts, understand where the tools' transformative promise might lie. Market Readers' much less frequent use of digital enablers-particularly at the front end-reflects their incremental mind-set, which is more focused on process optimization.

The Implementation Challenge

Clearly, many companies have had considerable success with the full range of digital enablers. Implementing and using them, however, can be challenging. Who should lead the process? According to our survey, a quarter of companies turn to their business units to lead the effort, followed by product development teams at 22 percent, and CIOs at 20 percent. Just 16 percent of companies turn to their CTOs to lead the process of choosing and implementing digital tools. But almost half of respondents who let the CTO lead said their companies outperform their competitors, suggesting that uniting one's innovation efforts under a single executive can be very effective.

Of course, working with the R&D and engineering teams is also important at this stage, not least because of the need to thoroughly train everyone who will be using the tools. When respondents were asked to name the key element for success in using digital tools, 39 percent said training programs. "It's all about the engagement," says Catalent's Cohen. "For example, over the past couple of years we have implemented tools for portfolio management, [for] project management, and to manage our stage-gate process for enhancing collaboration. We chose these tools for several reasons- because they were economical, because the output was simple to understand and apply, and because the training process went smoothly.… It's great to have the tools, but you must get everyone to apply them in the right way and to the right projects. Everyone must understand how to extract what they need to know to manage projects along the critical path to completion."

Perhaps even more important is to ensure that everyone involved in using the tools and interpreting their results is on the same page-which doesn't always happen when tools are adopted rapidly across various teams. James Fair weather, vice president of product architecture and technology development at Pitney Bowes, notes that at times, "the tool itself seems to be mature enough, but it may be that not everybody in the organization understands the output. Different stakeholders will have different expectations about what they're going to see based on past experiences with larger programs that were run in more of a traditional format." It is thus critical, he says, to make sure to set the context for expectations.

Esmeijer of Philips Lighting cautions that people must focus on the insights they desire from the tools, not simply the process of using them. "We have all kinds of tools at Philips that you can use to calculate or play with things. People very quickly jump on them, sometimes before they get the problem they're trying to solve right. We want to make sure people think about the bigger picture-what we want to learn, or what we're trying to manage-and then use the tool," he explains. "In the end, lighting is a human experience."

Finally, ensuring proper implementation of digital tools, in the experience of Matthias Kaiserswerth, the director of IBM's Zurich Research Lab, requires a significant cultural effort. "There is definitely a generational component to the willingness to make use of many of these tools," he says. "The learning curve can be rather steep, especially for older employees, so culture matters. Ensuring the involvement of top management is critical."

The Importance of Being Bold

It's essential to be prepared when adopting any digital improvement in your innovation process. And for productivity tools that require heavy investment, companies need to have good training in place, as well as internal consistency regarding what the tools can and can't do, information formats, and usage conventions. When it comes to market and customer insight tools, however, our advice is to prioritize experimentation. Of course, the implementation issues noted by our interviewees must be taken into account, but the key is to leave yourself some room for flexibility. These tools, many of which are still unproven on any large scale, demand a bolder approach.

Companies need to be willing to spread the money around: Some of these tools, such as customer immersion labs and big data, will require significant investment. But the transformative benefits that insight tools can bring to your innovation process can far outweigh their costs. In our Global Innovation 1000 studies over the years, we've consistently found that a major innovation success factor is listening to what your customers have to say. And in fact, our 2007 survey revealed that companies that engaged directly with their customers had twice the return on assets and triple the growth in operating income of other responding companies. If customer insight is the next frontier of innovation, these digital tools will be game changers. They won't replace productivity tools-efficiency at the development stage is crucial to sustained competitive advantage. But they will make a powerful addition to your digital tool kit.

Remember that even if you aren't experimenting with these tools, chances are your competitors are, or they will be soon-and they will be the ones reaping the benefits. As Bill Blau of told us, "The pace of business today does not allow for years to go by. If you're not innovating now, you're going to die quickly." A better understanding of what customers and markets need will undoubtedly lead to the launch of more successful products. And yours could be the company developing them.

Reprint No. 00221

Barry Jaruzelski is a senior partner with Booz & Company in Florham Park, N. J., and the global leader of the firm’s engineered products and services practice. He created the Global Innovation 1000 study in 2005, and continues to lead the research. He works with high-tech and industrial clients on corporate and product strategy and the transformation of core innovation processes.

John Loehr is a partner with Booz & Company based in Chicago, and is the global leader of the firm’s innovation practice. He works with automotive, industrial, and technology companies to help them build competitive innovation capabilities and to resolve critical decisions in their product and market strategies.

Richard Holman is a partner with Booz & Company based in Florham Park, N.J. As a senior leader of the firm’s innovation practice, he works with clients in highly engineered products sectors such as aerospace, industrials, high tech, and healthcare on innovation capability building, new product development efficiency and effectiveness, and product management.

Also contributing to this article were s+b contributing editor Edward H. Baker and Booz & Company senior associate Stefan Luckner and senior analyst Jennifer Ding.


Barry Jaruzelski and Kevin Dehoff, “The Customer Connection: The Global Innovation 1000,” s+b, Winter 2007: Companies need to align their innovation model to their corporate strategy and listen to their customers.

Barry Jaruzelski and Kevin Dehoff, “The Global Innovation 1000: How the Top Innovators Keep Winning,” s+b, Winter 2010: Highly innovative companies consistently outperform because they are good at the right things, not at everything.

Barry Jaruzelski, John Loehr, and Richard Holman, “The Global Innovation 1000: Making Ideas Work,” s+b, Winter 2012: How successful innovators bring clarity to the early stages of innovation.

Barry Jaruzelski and Matthew Le Merle, “The Culture of Innovation: What Makes San Francisco Bay Area Companies Different?” Booz & Company white paper, Mar. 23, 2012: Booz & Company and the Bay Area Council Economic Institute identify the strategic, cultural, and organizational attributes that have led to the sustained success of the San Francisco region.

Alice Rawsthorn, “Catching Up to 3D Printing,” New York Times, July 21, 2013: The current state of digital manufacturing.

Jeff Schumacher, Simon MacGibbon, and Sean Collins, “Don’t Reengineer. Reimagine.” s+b, Summer 2013: How your business can realize its digital potential, from the team at Booz Digital ( digital/).

Booz & Company’s Global Innovation 1000 study microsite: innovation1000.

Booz & Company’s online innovation strategy profiler, innovation-profiler: Evaluate your company’s R&D strategy and the capabilities it requires.

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