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Innovation? What Innovation?

November 2, 2012

I recently came back from the Worldwide ERC conference in Washington, DC and while there, I had the good fortune to give a number of clients a sneak peek at a new web application we have developed. There was a lot of excitement about it. I was very pleased. I was even approached by people who had heard about it from others, and asked to have a demo. The best quote was from a great fellow from a UK firm, who said, “You need to stop now because you are blowing my mind.” I do not misquote and he wasn’t being sarcastic – he assured me.

So All Points could choose to pat ourselves on our collective back until we bruise. However, that hasn’t been my reaction. Instead, I bemoan the state of innovation in our industry. While I like our new development, it isn’t revolutionary.

The relocation industry has developed into an innovation wasteland. Some of the best innovations come from small firms, but our industry is driven by large relocation companies that emphasize global standardization (e.g. an innovation in Canada is worthless if there is no similar innovation in Germany). Such standardization has value: it makes things more efficient, and can drive down the price of services. In turn, however, this also means that those smaller companies have a) less money to innovate; and b) no upside benefit to innovate, as the largest companies don’t value that innovation (the innovation cannot be easily put into a spreadsheet).

Again – it bears repeating: the current structure of the industry diminishes motivation to invest and innovate amongst smaller companies that are dependent on the largest relocation companies for their business. We are fortunate enough to work mainly with corporations directly, but also third party companies that actively engage with us, and value our enhancements.

I was recently at an industry information session where two speakers discussed possible future developments in technology for our industry. I was aware that, at the time, there were three such (different) applications in the room (only one was that of All Points’), but they were all from small to medium sized vendors. I would bet heavily that in the case of one of those really excellent applications, it will not be the large relocation companies that shine the light on it. That person will have to choose a different avenue to get his application used by the industry.

Why aren’t the largest companies creating disruptive technology?

This is because, in several cases, relocation is only a means to an end for those companies. Vertically integrated relocation companies have tighter margins on relocation, whose job it is to attract business to higher margin divisions. Other than that, they too understand that a unique innovation by just one vendor is not likely to impress a global procurement team. On the flip side of the same coin, their ability to create an innovation, and then get all downstream vendors to work with it is very challenging as well. Not all vendors will be able to adapt to it readily.

There may be those that disagree with my assessment that there is not enough innovation in the relocation industry. But for those people who disagree: when was the last time you saw a relocation innovation that blew your mind? I personally want more mind-blowing in our industry. I love this industry and think it deserves a good dose of mind-blowing. It just doesn’t get it very often.

Posted on November 2, 2012 in blog

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