One of the great things about visiting SAS offices worldwide is the excellent opportunity to meet amazing colleagues, witness their work and learn from them. One of the great perks is getting reading recommendations as if you have a team of expert curators.
With the vast amount of data available and the complexity of analytics tools and techniques, organizations often need help finding the right approach to extract impactful insights from their data. To overcome the challenge, organizations are increasingly turning to innovative approaches. On the such occasion of visiting SAS’s Dubai office, I recently discussed innovation with colleagues and got an excellent recommendation from them: taking a “jugaad” approach to innovation.
In Punjabi, “jugaad” means a homemade vehicle, usually incorporating parts from other cars, plus planks and metal sheets. Their engines are often taken from agricultural pumps or other machinery. These vehicles cost very little to make and can transport up to 20 people at a time, provided the passengers are not too worried about safety.
In recent years, the word has taken on another meaning: a low-cost but effective innovation. In the UK it would be referred to as a ‘hack’ and in the US as DIY. In the context of analytics, this means prioritizing practical solutions that can be implemented quickly rather than waiting for the perfect option. This principle of “fast trumps perfect” is especially important when it comes to getting models into production rapidly and ensuring they provide value for the business. The book Jugaad Innovation: Think Frugal, Be Flexible, Generate Breakthrough Growth by Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu, and Simone Ahuja cites multiple instances of this type of innovation.
The concept behind the interest in jugaad innovation is that perennial chestnut in Western-based businesses: how do you keep innovating but also standardize processes? After a while, companies get too big for the free-flowing innovation processes that tend to abound in start-ups. Of necessity, they formalize their R&D processes, but something needs to be improved in doing so. The book quotes George Buckley, CEO of 3M, as saying,
“[You can’t just say] well, I’m getting behind on invention so I will schedule myself for three good ideas on Wednesday and two on Friday. That’s not how creativity works.”
Various approaches have been tried for years, including innovation labs, buying start-ups, and using hackathons to attract new ideas. According to this book, companies worldwide, from Google to Facebook, Apple, Proctor and Gamble and Tata, are now using the principles of jugaad innovation to reinvigorate their creative processes.
Implementing jugaad principles in analytics
In analytics, there is a growing need to move beyond just knowing “what” can be achieved with analytics. The real questions are “how” to make analytics work for businesses in a sustainable and valuable way. This is where the principles of jugaad innovation come in handy. But the usefulness of jugaad goes beyond just speed.
Considering recent terrible events in Turkey serving as a stark reminder that it’s important to consider that analytics capabilities don’t break down in the event of unforeseen circumstances.
The real question here is not just how do you deal with a major interruption to business operations, but how you prepare for it in advance. More importantly, how do you ensure that analytics continues to deliver the intended business value despite changing market dynamics and organizational priorities
While these are difficult questions to answer, the principles of jugaad innovation offer some ideas. By prioritizing practical solutions that can be implemented quickly and efficiently, organizations can ensure that their analytics capabilities remain resilient in the face of unexpected events. And by focusing on the goal of creating value for the organization, they can ensure that analytics remains relevant and effective for years to come.
The answer to generating value fast?
At first glance, jugaad draws a line between ‘quick and dirty’ and well-considered, but I’m not sure I agree. For me, it is more about generating value fast—something that SAS often mentions in conjunction with using AI and analytics. Jugaad is about generating value fast and doing more with less, which is crucial to consider in cash-strapped times. It highlights the need to keep it simple, especially when considering the chain between your actions and the value generated for the business and focusing on what matters.
While it might be easy to put together a makeshift solution like a water pump on planks and wheels, it’s another to deliver value with sophisticated technology. This is where the importance of having an AI platform that lets you focus on what’s essential and manages the rest with little overhead comes into play. A good platform should offer performance, scalability, integration, governance, access to relevant information, and various modeling techniques and tools.
Once you have the right platform, you can start experimenting with different “water pumps” or AI assets that were built on the platform and put them to use in new and innovative ways. In essence, the platform becomes a jugaad playground for innovation.
The fundamental principle of jugaad innovation is all about showing results. It’s not just about taking shortcuts, but rather focusing on business outcomes and answering important questions like “how” to achieve success and sustain AI adoption in the enterprise. This isn’t just something that applies to fast-moving developing economies either; it’s a mindset that all organizations can benefit from.