We need to innovate to compete


John Tria John Tria

The last two months have seen the first face-to-face business conferences in two years. In the face-to- face Davao Agri Trade Expo, the Mindanao Food Congress in Cagayan de Oro, our exchanges were three dimensional, cultivating realizations from a more thorough experience which includes the important networking of people.

In last week's Davao Innovation Summit, a new set of realizations were achieved by various entrepreneurs and stakeholders who attended the two-day conference. The event could not have come at a more opportune time, as many of them would like to innovate as they tread the post pandemic recovery path. Even government agencies in Mindanao are fine tuning their innovation strategies to leap into the new normal.

Innovation is an oft-repeated mantra that advocates and consultants use to impress us. There is an enabling law and programs we are thankful for. Some cities have “innovation ecosystems” that spur new business ideas. Yet if we want to harness innovation we need to understand it within the right context for it to be appreciated.

In the case of businesses, our context is that we need to innovate in order to compete in a brave new world where competitors from various countries seek to sell the same, or better and cheaper, products on the same global online platforms that empower consumers (and that includes us). We thus need to be better than the competition. We should not be discouraged, rather, we must be inspired by competition. A culture of innovation must therefore take root in our enterprises.

Moreover, we need to understand that in this new normal, innovation is not a one time activity. Rather it should be a continuously ingrained culture that becomes part of our normal processes much like observing safe practices and keeping our offices clean. It is thus, a set of constant habits and behavior that enable continuous growth and improvement.

Innovation can range from achieving operational excellence, which means being the best, cheapest and most efficient at doing what you currently do, to crafting new strategies to seek new opportunities and markets for your product or service – to go beyond what you currently do. In both cases, it means that we never stop thinking of new ways.

An example are restaurants seeking to contract the farms to supply the eggs, vegetables and meat they serve to diners. They can better manage costs and ensure stable supply of the raw materials they use. At the same time, this means stable buying prices for the farmer. Price stability allows growth; fluctuations create uncertainty which impede growth. Related to this are new ways to lower expenses, such as installing rooftop solar panels in areas where power rates are high, to lower electricity costs.

Another is to cultivate a presence in new markets. When the same restaurants are able to penetrate the market for deliveries, or prepare frozen items for sale in other retail stores, they transition from the food and beverage to the retail sector. The same product can be exported outside the locality to meet new customers. This creates new income streams with little additional cost for the producer since the same kitchen will be maximized.

Another is digitalizing. This can include digital payment systems, digitalized and automated monitoring of operations and digital marketing through social media. Q-commerce, or quick commerce can be explored.

The new normal market beckons. Innovate to compete!