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Mapping Out the Data-Innovation Journey

The goal was to take the pulse of the innovation and research world as they looked at what’s currently on their desk, the evolving world of innovation, the changes happening in the discipline and the job function, technological advancements such as AI, and more.

Download the FEI 2024 Brochure & Key Innovation Perspectives Report

A Data-Driven Innovation World

In terms of changes transforming the research and development discipline, it should be noted that artificial intelligence is not far from the minds of these innovators. With the growth of AI systems and frameworks, innovation is becoming more of a data-driven world, one in which analytics, data science and insights are playing a more important role. AI may be just a new tool being tested and implemented but it’s an important one for innovation and product development.

“AI’s impact on innovation cannot be overstated,” says Gail Martino, VP Partnerships, 387Labs. “It offers capabilities for enhancing efficiency, driving growth, and fostering novel solutions. However, this comes with the need for a nuanced approach to managing risks, particularly in areas concerning confidentiality and intellectual property.”

Michele Sandoval, Director of Innovation, E&J Gallo Winery, notes, “We’re starting to realize that AI and LLMs can be very powerful tools to help boost creativity and increase productivity. AI can be used to synthesize large amounts of information and help to progress things along at a much faster rate than would typically happen previously. Everybody is still learning how to use it.”

Developing Inside-Out Partnerships

Still, other executives point out that AI is still just a new tool and it’s important to learn how to wield it, without overusing it. Having strategic conversations with partners and stakeholders is key, as is building on internal and external partnerships.

“I’m starting to see many of these AI consortiums and collaborative groups pop up within corporations, which is good because it helps the teams focus,” says Lisa Costello, Director and Head of Platform, Prologis Ventures. “But AI is a tool, just like a pencil is a tool. Unless you can figure out your pain points, you can’t figure out how AI will solve them. That’s where it gets important to be talking to customers and internal business units to figure out where there are repetitive processes that are time-consuming or expensive that you think AI can augment.”

In terms of cross collaborative, interdisciplinary teamwork, the executives we interviewed also pointed out that insights is playing a significant role in moving innovation forward. This data-driven emphasis goes hand in hand with the rise of AI, but it’s already a prevalent mode of thought that coincides with innovation’s focus on rapid, agile methodologies, jobs to be done frameworks and multi-departmental teamwork.

Honing the Innovation Strategy

Communication, executives agree, is key. And this may also be a pivotal time for innovators and insights executives alike to take on more leadership roles within the company, as corporate enterprises grapple with both innovation and growth strategies.

“Innovation is becoming a cornerstone of overall strategy, where it ideates and initiates the projects and initiatives, collaborates and partners with the business across multiple functions,” observes Michael Nevski, Director, Global Insights, Visa. “As we move into the second half of 2024, we’ll partner with innovation teams to identify more opportunities where we can create tailored and visible solutions and processes for those segments that are more prone to adopt GenAI in their day-to-day tasks.”

Back to Innovation Basics

Ultimately, while AI can be an advantageous tool in the innovation sector, one must still focus on the foundational elements of innovation frameworks and processes, such as jobs to be done methods, agile technologies and balancing short-term and long-term business goals.

Milan Ivosevic, VP R&D and Innovations, CooperSurgical, points out, “Some fundamentals on what makes a new product innovation successful do not change. Everybody’s talking about AI today, however, it is just a tool although a powerful one. In a big enterprise, we already have a portfolio of different products. Sometimes we are incentivized to innovate on our existing portfolio, build synergies, look at the trends, and stay on top. In another case, a bold move to disrupt ourselves is the best way forward. Nevertheless, the story about innovation from that fundamental point of view of being able to meaningfully differentiate your business and your products, doesn’t change. So last year, this year, and next year, it all obeys the same fundamentals.”

Bridging the Data Gap

Ivosevic and other innovation executives we interviewed also pointed to the reliance on, and reliability of, data in this new AI world. AI is still only as good as the data being put into the system.

“One way or another, we are all facing exponential expansion of AI-driven digital trends. The underlying premise for an effective AI supported outcome is data. No data, no AI,” says Ivosevic.

With the growth of AI, broader issues such as data accessibility, data governance, privacy and transparency all come to the forefront for the corporate enterprise and the startup alike to contend with. In a sense, this time period could be about bridging the communication gap between technical and non-technical businesspeople, and to broaden the conversation around what AI can do for innovation and insights.

“In every corporation, we have this unintentional air gap between the people who understand the business and the people who manage the structured data. The advent of large language models and natural language processing enables the air gap to be closed because the people who understand the business challenges can now query the data using their own words. That’s the first big development,” says Leslie Shannon, Head of Trend & Innovation Scouting, Nokia.

It’s that integration of data, of bridging the gaps in the business, that AI can help bring to the table as innovation deals with the disruption and transformation of this technology.

For Kate Carruthers, Chief Data & Insights Officer, UNSW Planning & Performance, UNSW Sydney, the time for innovation and data is now—and it’s already happening, every day.

“The nexus between innovation and data is an important thing to understand now. This is what’s different from last century when I did innovation in a special group. Now, every innovation will be data-driven. Every innovation will be built on data, and it’ll be built on AI going forward. If you’re not ready to manage your resources in an essentially data-driven world, then you’re going to get left behind and you probably need to start thinking about living in a data-driven world,” says Carruthers.

AI, of course, is top of mind for many as this new tool is being tested and implemented. But these innovation leaders also spoke about resilience in the face of change, and adaptation in the face of ambiguity in the market. They also touched on the many changes taking place in the corporate discipline, while still striving to remain focused on agile methodologies, “jobs to be done” philosophies, the fundamentals of innovation and its core principles in both their short-term and long-term operations.

Download the FEI 2024 Brochure & Key Innovation Perspectives Report


  • Matt Kramer

    Matthew Kramer is the Digital Editor for All Things Insights & All Things Innovation. He has over 20 years of experience working in publishing and media companies, on a variety of business-to-business publications, websites and trade shows.

    View all posts

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