As a growing startup we engage with innovation and digital teams from many different organisations around the world. This gives us a unique insight into the current challenges and trends in corporate innovation management and digitalisation teams across industries.
Over the last few months we have observed and discussed a number of data points. It is obvious that defining innovation strategies and investing in innovative digital solutions is a trend that almost every organisation has embraced in one shape or form. My hypothesis is that few organisations have been very successful and may have a poor return on investment in this area so far. This is a huge issue for corporates, as they are investing cash and talent in this space. It is also a huge issue for startups, as this means that collaborating through digital and innovation teams is not as successful as we would like it to be. In the following, I would like to describe some common symptoms of these failures and suggest cures.
Symptom: The Digital Disconnect
The most obvious symptom of ineffective innovation or digital teams is a disconnect from the business. Often people with digital backgrounds are brought into corporate innovation roles, however fail to connect with the business. Either they are not fluent enough in the intricacies of the business operation and therefore not accepted as valuable advisors by the business or they simply lack connections and existing networks throughout the corporation.
- Avoid industry outsiders in innovation positions
- Mandate all levels of management engage with innovation teams on a regular basis
- Establish the credibility of innovation teams through lighthouse projects
Symptom: The Technology Obsession
Many people like to focus on the technology aspect of a digital project. Obviously the new technology is the shiny and exciting new thing being introduced. However, we have observed that implementing or integrating the technology is much easier than getting people to embrace the change. The result may be a successful technical implementation followed by a failure to adapt the technology in the daily work of the business.
- Build a substantial change management focus into every digital project
- Foster a culture of change - every employee needs to embrace that all jobs will change with technology
- Change culture does not develop overnight and needs to be continuously reinforced through messaging from the top
Symptom: The Experimentation Gap
Digital solutions and new technology may be evolving when corporations first come in contact with it. Implementation complexity with cloud or as-a-service offerings are drastically lower than with many traditional enterprise technologies. The approach many corporates apply are however often unchanged for digital solutions. Faster learnings, more data points and less up-front investment can be achieved through more experimentation.
- Enable middle management to experiment - including a discretionary innovation budget (even if highly limited)
- Set innovation projects on a timer - get to a clear yes or informed no quicker and within a defined time frame
- Set personal targets for innovation experiments for your leaders
Symptom: The Methodology Mismatch
Agile methodology and approaches are uniquely suited for many digital solutions. The aspects of incremental value delivery, short and defined sprints and collaborative working all support delivery of digital solutions. In contrast, many organisations approach digital technology with the same processes for decisions, approvals and implementation as for traditional enterprise software.
- Make exceptions in existing methodology or define new methodology for innovation projects
- Mandate adopting business units to follow agile methodology
- Deliver digital solutions in Increments rather than in a big bang
Symptom: The Expectation Trap
We often encounter a mentality that business units are searching for the silver bullet in digital solutions. If a solution cannot automatically solve a business problem to 100% it may be used as an excuse to revert to business as usual. Incremental optimisation or benefits may be rejected due to an aversion to change.
- Define realistic expectations for objectives of innovation projects
- Aim for evolution as well as revolution in digital projects
- Encourage direct interaction with the technology to reduce personal barriers to use new technology
Technology will continue to evolve at a fast pace and successful organisations both small and large will need to learn how to quickly embrace the benefits of these developments. As startups we also need to help corporates along this journey. Corporates need to generate and foster a culture of change to be able to adopt new technology. Any job that has not evolved in recent years is at risk of becoming obsolete at a speed that none of us have experienced before. Digital adoption and innovation management may be one of the most critical success factors in the coming years. We should probably get this one right!