Thursday, February 20, 2014

Tech buyouts, innovation and corporate world: Case in point Agbiz!

Facebook’s $16 Billion Deal for WhatsApp announcement on Wednesday is sure to light a fire in the belly of every digirati and wannabe tech-entrepreneur. Billion with a B is a lot of money, and at times it feels like we are back to the hype era, perhaps with a fancy 3.0 moniker. And speaking of money there is a race to keep even our money virtual; Bitcoin anybody? As Brett Scott writes in New Scientist, “Bitcoin has brought with it a dream of an autonomous digital economy, free from corrupt banks and Big Brother governments.”

Reading of all this “innovation” is fun, though one generally moves back from virtual and digital to the reality of business and life. And the business of agriculture – the business of my employer - is perhaps as real as it can get. Even in AgBiz, innovation seems to be springing both serendipitously and also as a process of continuous evolution. A few months ago I was reviewing “Big Data meets big Agribusiness” (link), an example of big dollars chasing big innovation. The recent HBR blog “What Dronesand Crop Dusters Can Teach About Minimum Viable Product” made me reflect on innovation as a process of continuous evolution; bottom-up innovation if you will. Using the example, Steve Blank, highlights a few interesting lessons learnt
  • Build continuous customer discovery into your company DNA
  • An MVP eliminates parts of your business model that create complexity
  • Focus on what provides immediate value for Earlyvangelists
  • Add complexity (and additional value) later
Most of us in the corporate world aspire to innovate. Sometimes it is innovating new business models, ways of working or adoption of emerging technologies. In all cases, the end goal is to either impact the top line – increase revenue or growth – or the bottom line; reducing cost, bringing efficiencies etc. And unlike the occasional multi-billion dollar deal for WhatsApp that strikes the Olympic gold by translating virtual ideas and eyeballs to real money, innovation in corporate world is generally unsung and under recognized. Only a few innovations end up as the stuff of folklore either within the company, industry or if really lucky get a mention in a b-school case study.

Which brings us back to this case study on enabling “Precision agriculture.” Technologies, including innovative uses of data and analytics are playing their part but the end goal is the same that generations of farmers, for thousands of years have been struggling with: generating consistently better yield of crops while addressing the risks Mother Nature throws at them.  And if Ashwin's hyper-spectral cameras fitted on crop dusters can help improve yields, we will be moving slightly closer to the utopian goal of feeding the billions of fellow global citizen. Now, this is innovation with a purpose!