Case study: The innovation matrix
Disenchanted with the Howard Government's efforts to promote innovation, the textile, clothing, footwear and leather industry has decided to create its own programs - with the help of government funding. The industry's innovation effort is being led by the TCFL Centre, which was set up in 1999 with funds from the Department of Industry, Science and Resources. The centre was established to contribute to the economic, technological and social development of the textile, clothing, footwear and leather industry, which turned over $9.8 billion in 1998-99. Late in 1999, Allan Ryan, the managing director of the centre, set out to find a way of making manufacturers more innovative. He looked for innovation systems and consultants and found Roger La Salle - an engineer for the electronics company Invotech. He had created a computer program called the La Salle innovation matrix. La Salle's program questions employees about areas for innovation in their companies, including products, systems or departments. ALLAN RYAN: Not everyone can be an inventor, but everyone can do innovation. Photo: Will Salter Ryan describes the La Salle matrix as a 'facilitated brainstorming session', in which every idea is considered until the one with the greatest chance of success is identified. Then it is up to the company to implement the idea. Ryan says: 'From the 48 questions asked, literally hundreds of ideas for product extensions, accessories, complementary products or channel enhancement are created.' The matrix, Ryan says, covers thousands of possibilities with its system of questions. 'Everyone can do innovation,' he says. 'Not everyone can be an inventor, but they can do this. This is practical, managed innovation.' The TCFL Centre promotes the matrix through industry seminars. Ryan conducts introductory seminars at no charge, then if a company chooses to continue using the matrix, there is a fee. Ryan says this is about $200, but it can vary depending on how much a company uses the matrix and for how long. The fee goes towards further promotion of the matrix and covers Ryan's costs. Barry McDonald, managing director of the technical textiles company Albany International Australia, says his company has been using the matrix for three months. Fifteen per cent of the company's staff have been involved in the program, and McDonald says it has improved employees' skills and confidence. Using the program, Albany has found two products with sales potential (McDonald will not name them). Graham Johnson, the managing director of Melded Fabrics of Melbourne, which makes car interior products such as carpet and trims, first encountered the La Salle matrix at a TCFL Centre seminar. He says the program has helped him to think about entering new markets in clever ways. 'Innovation is crucial to manufacturers,' he says.