One in three firms surveyed for a recent report introduced major innovations in 2012. Mass adoption of information and communication technologies appears to play a crucial role in this process.

Intense Use of ICT Boosts a Company’s Ability to Innovate

Some 30% of the 32 companies responding to a study* coordinated by Canadian business association CEFRIO in tandem with CIGREF, an association of major French companies, had rolled out a major product innovation in the twelve months prior to the survey. However, the same number of companies – all with over 500 employees and from various sectors – reported driving through rather modest innovations or had innovated only to a very low degree as regards products, processes, marketing, or organisational structure. Several factors may encourage innovation in a company, among them, for example, sweeping organisational restructuring or the presence of multidisciplinary teams. The most important factor of all, however, appears to be the intensity of the firm’s use of information and communication technologies (ICT). In short, states the report, “the more an organisation makes intensive use of ICT, the more innovative it is.”

Innovative companies are ICT-intensive

To find out why this is so, the study compares ICT-use intensity on a scale of 1 to 5 with the intensity of product innovation within the firms that took part in the study. This comparison reveals that companies which introduced the largest number of innovations in the twelve months prior to the survey use a number of ICTs – cloud computing, analytical tools, mobile apps and so on – to an intensity of between 2 and 3 on the scale, whereas when a given firm achieves only modest innovations, its ICT usage works out at between 1 and 1.5 on the scale. Looking more closely at the 32 companies surveyed, we see that 97% use office suites, 93% email and 88% have their own Intranet. The most traditional ICTs are therefore the most widespread, an observation which holds true even at firms where the rate of innovation is low. However, the very latest technologies are not yet in general use. Only 1 firm in 5 for example makes use of external social networks, instant messaging or cloud computing.

The specific advantages of ICTs

The report points out that enthusiastically embracing ICTs helps to free companies from time constraints. Some 65% of the companies surveyed underlined that this enables them to have their product on sale 24/7, while 45% of respondents pointed especially to their use of ICTs to provide their partners and suppliers with comprehensive access to information. This advantage is of course especially relevant for decentralised companies, which work with different partners in different places and in different time zones. In the same vein, ICTs can help to extend a firm’s target market. Some 55% of the respondents use digital technologies to widen their geographical client base and 71% use ICTs to collect and analyse data on their current clientele in order to sell these customers more products or services.

*Indice de l’innovation par les TIC: l’innovation dans l’entreprise numérique (ICT-driven
innovation: innovation in the digital company) – results of a study carried out among major
French companies; March 2013; an initiative by CEFRIO (Quebec) and CIGREF (Paris)