The Future of Corporate Innovation is About Engineering, Not People

By Jan Beránek, U+ |  May 22, 2024

We are living through a strange moment in the history of technology. Faced with the revolutionary potential of AI and LLMs, many leaders, executives, consultants are using the tech to maintain the status quo rather than change the world. They view AI as just another tool, and not as a game-changer for individuals, businesses, and societies – one that impacts everything from organizational structure to basic questions of strategy.

Recently a client reached out to tell us that using our automated innovation platform has allowed them to rethink their approach to venture building.

The client said: “Working with AI has helped to take a preliminary idea and expand it by receiving suggestions for how to better solve the customer problem. Leaders and their teams, especially those that focus on speed to market, should consider adding AI to their innovation toolkit to help them make decisions faster.”

For now, AI is a tool in the “innovation toolkit,” but soon we believe it could be the only tool.

The Changing AI Status Quo

Some players are taking advantage of the varying levels of AI adoption, charging high fees for tasks that could be easily streamlined with AI. But as the technology becomes more widespread, this opportunity to exploit the knowledge gap will fade away.

Soon the changes will become a lot more fundamental, and corporations will need to rethink core assumptions about how to build new business lines, maintain existing ones, and effectively structure organizations. Here is how I see the technology’s development playing out:

Jan Beránek, CEO, U+
  • Phase 0: Shared service innovation team enabled by consultants
  • Phase 0.2: Consultants enabled by AI preserving the status quo (we are here, on average)
  • Phase 1: Internal teams use specialized AI platforms for innovation.
  • Phase 2: Business units use AI with support from internal innovation teams.
  • Phase 3: Fully autonomous innovation with AI leading the charge.

Bear in mind: these phases are not strictly chronological. Some organizations have yet to meaningfully incorporate AI into their systems at all, while others are already approaching full automation. As a general rule, however, I suggest that we are roughly at the stage where teams are starting to use AI to drive innovation processes on their own, but unsure where to go next.

Innovation as AI Engineering

As AI continues to automate tasks, organizations must evolve in tandem. Instead of traditional talent and team management, the emphasis shifts towards refining and automating technical processes. Though human involvement will remain important, particularly in B2B contexts where communication is paramount, the role of the individual will become less central.

In short, innovation will become an engineering problem, not a question of human management.

This obviously has many implications for innovators.

Heads of Innovation will need to prioritize technical expertise. They will be tasked with optimizing automated solutions to streamline processes. This shift may require leaders to enhance their own technical skills or build teams with the necessary abilities.

Here’s a word of advice about tackling automation. Start with simple, frequently occuring tasks that don’t require a high level of precision. These tasks are typically well-defined and repeatable, making them easier to understand and automate effectively. And since they occur frequently, automating them can lead to immediate time savings and efficiency gains. From there you can move onto more complex tasks.

Statistics show that organizations implementing AI-driven automation can achieve up to 30 percent cost savings and increase productivity by 20-25 percent in the first year alone. 

Bringing Innovation Into the AI Era

We are witnessing these changes happen in real-time at FifthRow.

Our Innovation AI platform represents a glimpse into the future of automated innovation workflows.

With vertical AI services like FifthRow, innovation teams quickly become indispensable to their organizations by providing fast, data-informed solutions to business unit needs. As these successes become apparent, fear of the unknown fades, and barriers to innovation lower. This AI-led approach will reshape organizational charts, spreading innovation functions across business units and making innovation a key internal capability.

To supplement this, we’re setting up our own venture studio with a separate pool of capital to invest into ventures identified primarily by FifthRow, as well as launching the following new services:

  • FifthRow Flows is a platform for orchestrating step-by-step tasks, integrating private data and online search. It enables highly customized workflows, advancing automation of business processes by utilizing AI agents that incorporate online data or are based on FifthRow projects.
  • FifthRow Continuum is the world’s first autonomous Venture AI Studio. This platform speeds up decision-making, conducts market research, generates ideas, ranks solutions, creates personas, simulates interviews, identifies competitors, prepares marketing materials, builds landing pages, and launches market tests, all at remarkable speed.

We’re only just beginning to feel the transformative impact of AI-enabled automation on our innovation mindset and execution strategies. In the future, the venture building process will be automated step by step. Vertical AI platforms like FifthRow equip innovation teams with the data, oversight, and generation capabilities they need, boosting their influence within their organizations. I look forward to seeing where the revolution takes us next.

Jan Beránek is Founder and CEO of U+ Digital Ventures and FifthRow, and a GP at U+NOVA.