Silke Bonarius in an interview about innovation management

AI, personalized content, virtual reality and augmented reality are central topics in tomorrow’s communication. All the experts say so – but little is happening in practice. A new expert survey conducted by The Nunatak Group together with the Macromedia University of Applied Sciences reveals that it will be six years before the tide turns. That’s much too late, says Silke Bonarius. Communicators are in danger of losing their role as innovators. And that’s fatal, because it puts the credibility of innovation management and the company at risk.

 

Ms. Bonarius, first of all – why are so many companies stuck in the innovation backlog?

SILKE BONARIUS: There are several different reasons for this. It often starts with the fact that many companies simply lack a strategic answer to the often very digital transition phase. Frequently there is no genuine culture of innovation, or middle management, fearing for its own goals and resources, simply slows down the process – for example, when particularly creative and high-performing employees are temporarily taken off a project. In addition, we often reach the diagnosis that the actual idea providers are no longer involved, and that internal multipliers are involved far too late. Innovation processes that began euphorically come to an abrupt standstill. 

What role do communicators play in innovation processes?

They play a key role here. After all, they must credibly communicate the company’s supportive openness to innovation – both internally and externally. This is necessary in order to, on the one hand, establish a corresponding reputation, and on the other to create the basis for an innovation-friendly climate within the company itself. So in advance, the aim is to manage a professional, interdisciplinary dialogue – for example with research, start-ups or high potentials. Professional communication is required in order to overcome existing barriers within the company and to create interaction between individual departments. And, of course, it is also important to position top management accordingly in the company’s external image. Therefore, communicators must be part of the entire innovation team right from the start.

What requirements do communicators and their departments have to meet?

To credibly embody such a role, the communications department itself must, in my view, set an example of innovation – in other words, consistently question existing processes, messages, channels and mechanisms within the department and drive digital transformation forward.

Is that already working?

Yes. In theory, in any case: at podiums and in the trade press, we regularly discuss the possibilities that AI, for example, creates in a data-driven world.

And in reality?

The reality looks completely different! Because the promising digital future has by no means arrived on a broad level in communications departments. This gap has now been revealed by a survey we conducted together with the Macromedia University of Applied Sciences, among 155 communications managers. According to this, only 15 percent of those surveyed are currently involved in the development of AI applications in their company. In the case of mixed-reality applications, the figure is only 12 percent. An absolute minority, therefore, who actually deal with the game changers in the industry.

Do the communicators see a need for action here?

There is actually still little sign of this. In the opinion of the communication managers we interviewed, it will be six years before the situation will change. For example, 44 percent say that it will not be until 2025 that a large part of the content will be created automatically and passed on to the individual stakeholders. Also, 37 percent believe that only then will virtual, augmented reality and mixed reality make new forms of storytelling possible. For 38 percent of those surveyed – and thus the relative majority – the use of virtual assistants in the personalized addressing of shareholders is a topic only for the medium term …

… and thus probably comes much too late.

Definitely, because in practice the future has already arrived: car manufacturers such as Lexus use mixed-reality smart glasses for virtual press conferences. BMW, for example, is already relying on algorithms to select topics with its content-marketing agency TERRITORY, and automated text generation has long been tried and tested in practice. The range of communication possibilities and channels has multiplied with digitalization. To neglect this range of possibilities, or even ignore it, especially in innovation projects and the transformation of companies, would be a devastating signal – internally and externally. Because it would reveal that there is a lack of courage, confidence and readiness to change oneself. And so communicators are not only professional companions of the company-wide transformation process, but also the ones making it happen.

So what needs to be done now?

It would therefore be much easier, as a first step, to quickly and successfully close the time gap between the recognition of new technologies and their practical implementation.