Thursday, May 24, 2007

Academics - the new research tool in service

A conference between business leaders and faculty on service innovation at the W.P.Carey School of Business at the University of Arizona brought out some interesting points. One of the reasons for the conference is that businesses tend to use the same old tools to solve problems. Academia can offer unfettered thinking, fresh ideas and a new variable to solutions and innovations.

"We need you" Bernie Clark, Senior Vice President of Charles Schwab told a room full of leading professors and doctoral students. Academic expertise is like a new technology, he said, and like any new technology companies must figure out how it applies. "Most corporations want and need academic relationships and quite honestly they don't know how." Understanding how to use this new technology, called academics, can expose dust under the rug and dark alleys that the company may not have noticed.

Terry Cain, VP of Avnet, said "I am not sure that you as students or professors actually 'get' the real world challenge, or the corollary, I'm not sure in the business, as business leaders, that we always understand how to apply your research." Cain adds that the greatest thing an academic can do is define a series of questions that will help uncover a problem that managers did not know they had. "And when that happens you've got our attention."

Dan Wiersma, Senior VP for Sony, explains that his company had to incorporate and engage customer service due to the growing demand of the service component. "Although Sony continues to invent, service and services have become a much stronger part of our overall business proposition, not only in the U.S. but from a global perspective."

The bottom line is:
1. A company's value is no longer defined by its products, but rather how well it serves the customer.
2. Successful companies have learned to differentiate themselves through their services.
3. Establishing relationships with academia can set companies apart from their competitors because academia can offer that unfettered thinking, fresh ideas and a new variable to solutions and innovation that is often overlooked in the day-to-day business operation.

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