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Technology, innovation and management
Technology, innovation and management

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3.2 Beyond product innovation

There is also a tendency to think of innovation only in terms of new products, particularly as we are regularly bombarded with advertising for such ‘stuff’, as we note later. Yet arguably the greatest single innovation of the 20th century, the one which most changed society, the patterns of living and our economies, was not a new product but a process, a way of producing a product. Henry Ford’s production line for manufacturing cars made them affordable for the first time to people on moderate incomes. It also had a profound impact on the way in which work within Ford’s factories was structured and carried out. Ford introduced the production line, with workers carrying out the same tasks, at a set speed, over and over for the duration of their shift.

The benefits (and costs) arising from Ford’s innovation obviously had a profound impact on the world for consumers, manufacturers and more widely. There are, of course, many newer examples of technological innovations (and inventions) that have enabled more wide-ranging process and organisational innovation. Advances in ICT enabled the process and organisational innovations that led to the advent of call centres, often in locations that bore little or no relation to the location of the customers who had to make use of them. As in Ford’s production line and its contemporary examples, the technology used in call centres has not only impacted organisations and their customers, but also on the way work is structured and controlled. It is worth noting, however, that evidence has existed for some years that shows organisations that are first to market with an innovative product or services are frequently less successful than those which follow on later (Rogers, 2003; von Hippel, 2005).