Technology Innovation Expands Room for Growth at Harman

Change management and skilled software delivery can reduce the risk associated with innovation.

How do you change a car’s tires while driving down the highway? This, in essence, is the conundrum facing many organizations who know they must embrace the future while continuing to do business in the here and now. Balancing innovation that expands growth without impacting continued business operations is a challenging juggling act. 

Kevin Hague, the VP of Technology Strategy, part of the CTO group at Harman International, a global provider of connected car technology, lifestyle audio and visual products, design and analytics, cloud services and IoT solutions, understands the precise nature of change needed if the company is to continue to lead and progress in the digital economy. “You can’t just shut down the business for a year to restructure; it needs to keep operating while moving forward, and this is hard.”

Disruption in this digital age is a “known un-known”. No business is safe—even when the margins are good—if the growth rate is low. If, as Hague points out “the bottom line for any business is to stay in business”, the ability to recognize opportunities when they come along, is essential. But so, too, is the ability to implement change without harming the business or the governance of its products. The ability of the strategic team to look 12 months or more down the line is crucial. 

The CTO group within Harman encourages movement technology and knowledge throughout the different divisions of the company. Maintaining alignment and consistency across divisions and with the parent company, Samsung Electronics, requires a 100% strategic alignment with tactical focus. Hague points out that “With the Samsung acquisition, Harman has the opportunity to look at strategic initiatives across the company and have the resources to solve the big problems.” In practice, this relates to a team that is “designed to drive business growth through technology innovation while reducing risk to the product teams.”

Parrying the thrust of non-traditional competitors requires Harman to go on the offensive and leverage its strengths and brand awareness. Hague believes that Harman is leveraging partners in new growth fields by “making a point of leveraging our capabilities in advanced audio and visual technologies to deliver transformative solutions, like industrial virtual assistant hardware or leading conference room automation systems for different industries.” Important for these technologies will be understanding and evaluating the value lifecycle of a solution, which in turn opens the potential for expansion into key industry verticals to resolve specific business needs, thereby opening up new markets and revenue channels. 

This new focus on the broader solution lifecycle requires a fundamental transformation of Harman into becoming more of a software-driven company. Achieving software-based transformation when the core of the business has been predominantly hardware requires multiple internal change agents. Operational and portfolio change leads into business process change that must, in turn, deal with the procurement, financing and marketing of new products and services. Or as Hague highlights: “It may no longer be about just selling hardware but leasing it as a platform solution with a range of add-on services, all of which changes business models of our groups.”

New approaches to the development and delivery of software are also essential. “Leveraging de facto software development and delivery standards such as agile methodology has seen the widespread use of, and support for, agile processes over traditional waterfall methods,” says Hague.

“Agile offers a more responsive approach to deploying resources to problem areas. Moreover, well-executed DevOps has shown itself to be vital for innovation, reliability, control and governance required in the highly sensitive and regulated industries for our cloud services.”

Ultimately, though, change success comes from having the right team in place with sought-after characteristics that make them open to change and comfortable working in a highly transparent environment with processes that quickly surface issues before they become a problem. For example, “tiger teams” can focus on new solutions, in new ways, without the hindrance of established processes, to deliver a powerful punch inside a big organization, while putting in place the steps for others to follow. Strong leadership from executives will help enforce direction, but influencing by working and validating the approach is a more positive way of getting others in the organization on board

Crucially, it is important to recognise that change transformation is not a linear process from point A to point B. As Hague suggests: “It’s really like a car on ice experience, where you have some control but not in all dimensions.” Early successes in a transformation program can simply highlight paths for future improvements. There is always a danger in underestimating the things that are expected to be easy, when in fact “a little more time making sure that the easy items are not harder than anticipated”, will, as Hague concludes, “save time, allowing you to give the right attention to the known challenges.”

Transformational success for Harman, although nascent, has seen Hague and his team identify technology and business targets that reflect key aspects of the CTO group’s mission towards implementing a forward-looking technology strategy without distracting day-to-day operations and revenue streams. A new software-enabled solution that leverages Harman’s technical specialization delivers welcomed innovation to an expanding adjacent market. Employing a small tiger team of cross-organizational talent, partner collaboration and software delivery defined by agile and DevOps processes, reinforces the value of having the right business target and employing a strategy for mitigating the risk from new innovations.

Harman International: Technology Innovation Expands Room for Growth >
February 06, 2018