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As Vice President System Innovation, Dr. Christian Ripperda is responsible for group-wide innovation management within the Interroll Group. A discussion about how to keep a company on a consistent innovation course in times of accelerating change:
Dr. Ripperda, what are innovative companies’ actual secrets of success?
Basically, two things are particularly important: First of all, it is important to put the company's innovative strength in the right fields. Generating lots of ideas is not really a problem. Nor is it easy to introduce or combine new technologies. So, what yardstick do you apply to your ideas? Our answer at Interroll is crystal clear: Innovations must generate sustainable customer and end-customer benefits and added value. Innovations must not be about acting out technology preferences or adding fake advantages. That would lead to a cardinal misuse of our resources. Customer benefit is the linchpin of our processes: Only then are the necessary budgets provided and corresponding projects started.
And the second main point?
Ripperda: It is important to take the realization seriously that in the end it is always people who are the decisive guarantors of corporate success. If you want to drive innovation forward, you always need the professional cooperation of many different talents and knowledge carriers—in other words, our employees. For an outstanding team performance, however, the right people for the respective phases of the innovation process must be optimally networked with each other. A simple example is the close cooperation between sales and product managers, which Interroll ensures at the start of the project to position the power of innovation. The expertise and experience of our engineers then come into play in the subsequent search for solution concepts and in the actual product development process. The clear separation of these phases is actually logical—and yet this is probably the most common reason for the failure of sustainable innovations.
And what about the implementation of planned innovations?
Ripperda: You are addressing an important topic. After all, the best services of our Innovation Project and Development Center are of no use to us if you don't put its horsepower —its expertise in pre-development, development and laboratory—on the road. For this reason, we have comprehensively strengthened project management in the innovation area. This is where we ensure that our activities are truly interlinked; in other words, that they are as effective as they are efficient, and they are planned, coordinated, executed, and continuously monitored in the right order with the right use of know-how. For example, our patent experts are involved in this process in order to increase and secure our intellectual property values and defend the business interests of our customers. For a successful market launch, all parties involved, from purchasing to marketing, must be appropriately involved.
And how do you ensure that innovation management itself does not stray from the right strategic course?
Ripperda: By really thinking long term and following the clear strategic mission statements that our company has from its role and position in the market. In this way, you will remain on a stringent course even in times of change, ensuring that the technological leadership and strength of our company is really expanded in a sustainable manner. With this consistent orientation towards long-term goals, you avoid a short-term, trend-driven, zigzag course that breaks through guardrails and leads to a business impasse. This may sound abstract, but it immediately becomes concrete in the operational work. For example, when it comes to system architecture, i.e. there is the question of which technologies and communication standards our platform solutions must support in the future in order to continue to be successful. In this area, too, we cooperate with external partners who support our work as needed, such as leading universities and research institutes like the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML) in Dortmund, Germany. Or, for example, when it comes to the question of which other lighthouse projects in digitalization can provide the greatest leverage for customer benefits. Of course, I will not reveal any details here, but our customers can be sure that our innovation pipeline is not only well-filled, but also offers exciting innovations that will further significantly strengthen their competitiveness.
And how do you see the role of your organization in the company?
Ripperda: I see Interroll as an entrepreneurial unit that knows very well that its own success ultimately depends on the sustainable benefits that the innovation offers our company's end customers. We must also be measured by the benefits we offer our internal customers, above all Interroll's global centers of excellence. As a customer-focused and agile innovation service provider, we must therefore ask ourselves every day how we can help to solve our customers' problems. So, we see ourselves as an enabler for the enabler.