What the Heck Is an Innovation Agency?

by Mark Hemmer

Unless you’re actively staying on top of technology, it can be daunting to catch up.

Technology jobs are hard to define sometimes. If you’re a farmer, explaining what you do, how you do it and what it yields is simpler. You can explain how to plant crops. You can show someone a combine (or even take them for a ride!), and you can hand someone an ear of corn. For those working in the tech sector, it’s a little more complicated. You may hear things like:

“So you do a lot of things with the computer?”
“You’re, like, a blogger or something?”
“Ohhh, so you fix Internet problems?”

Understandable. Technology is moving light years ahead of society at large, and unless you’re actively staying on top of it, it can be daunting—or even infeasible—to catch up or digest it. It's a sign of smart delegation and great vision for the long term to clearly establish not only who is going to drive innovation at your company, but how you’re going to do it, and most importantly, why it’s important for your organization.

Partners in Problem Solving
Just as brilliant sports executives hire analytics teams to keep up with games that are transforming before their eyes, major corporations need to find the right team and framework to help them innovate effectively. That’s where an innovation agency can come in. At its bare bones, an innovation agency is simply a company dedicated to solving problems in new ways for the benefit of others. Hiring the right agency with the right structure and vision can be the difference between leading your industry and falling behind.

Peoria’s OneFire is an example of such an innovation agency. An excerpt from its website captures what sets effective innovation agencies apart: “We don’t just use the latest and greatest technology to provide a ‘cool factor.’ We partner with our clients and leverage technology to solve real business challenges—from improving processes to generating demand to helping clients’ boost their bottom line.”

An innovation agency shouldn’t wave the newest technology in your face to dazzle you; an effective agency will leverage only the technology your goals call for. But how does it happen?

There are a handful of approaches in taking a client challenge, assessing how to meet it, and delivering. Oftentimes, companies think they already have an idea that solves their problem and just need a way to build it. More often than not, this approach wastes money and time because the solution wasn’t fully vetted before work started.

In other situations, companies have so many great ideas they don’t even know where to start, and ideas often fail to materialize into something tangible. This could be a new product idea, an improvement to an existing process or a transformational service that could help a company enter a completely new market.

Whatever the case, innovation in a broad sense can mean many things to many people. That is why OneFire developed the “Nucleus Process”: to help its customers navigate the landscape and provide a consistent, repeatable process for understanding and managing their innovation efforts.

The Flow of an Idea
The graphic above is a simplified outline that shows the general flow of an idea through OneFire’s Nucleus Process. Each step contains several specific action items, leveraging proven methodologies and research from across the current business and entrepreneurial landscape. The top row is where an idea starts—from ideation to the development and testing of a proof of concept. Once an idea has proven viable through extensive research and validation, the bottom row is where an idea develops into an actual product or solution, which is then delivered back to the client.

In a nutshell, an innovation agency can help each step of the way, providing insight and thoroughness in areas where you may not have expertise.

Is it necessary to use an outside innovation agency? Some companies form a group within their own organization that is service-minded and dedicated to solving problems for everyone else. This internal group then acts as an agency to other parts of the company. Other companies recognize their strengths and outsource innovation and problem solving to an outside company. While many organizations have people with great ideas, few have the time or capacity to evaluate those ideas, screen them, prove them as valid, and then develop and implement them. Agencies like OneFire enable innovation within an organization by capturing employee ideas and delivering on the ones that make business sense.

Partnering with an innovation agency is one way to stay current in today’s fast-paced digital world. The important thing to note is that it is less about buying a single product or service, and more about forming a long-term partnership to help solve your business problems. Hiring the right agency enables you to focus on your business specifics, while placing the development and execution of your innovation strategy in more-than-capable hands. Your team becomes stronger as a result, and you'll be the example your competitors try to follow. iBi

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