By Warrick Cramer
Restrictions are easing globally and our lives have begun returning to the old normal. In the aftermath of covid-19, many organisations have undertaken some form of digital transformation. This journey has also opened up many discussion topics around work-life balance, mental health, empathy and community.
There is an opportunity for boards and leaders to choose two paths in the restoration of their organisations post Covid-19. They can go back to their old way of operating or they can embrace a new model that keeps them relevant, accelerates digital transformation and gives them new ways to connect with their customers. Innovation plays a vital role for organisations that choose the latter.
As a first step, the word ‘innovation’ needs to be understood in its capacity to be of value to the organisation. An innovation department is often seen as the ‘fun area’, which gets to play with all the new and shiny toys. This view of innovation for some organisations is probably true. However, if an organisation embeds innovation into its core structure, it can become an essential strategic area that can produce deep insights and bring enormous value.
It will take some patience and commitment to develop, and over time it will start to yield untapped value streams to catapult organisations into the future. Developing an ecosystem and unlocking supplier collaboration are two simple strategies which immediately provide deeper customer and competitor insights. These can also help to shape an organisation’s culture and attract new talent. From an operational perspective, these highlight opportunities for process enhancement and benchmark the organisation across multiple sectors. If innovation is executed decorously, the benefits are endless.
The big questions
Having spoken to global organisations from different sectors, common questions are asked when implementing an innovation department and strategy:
- Who is the executive sponsor?
- Where do we focus? How will it be funded?
- Do we build it internally or use start-ups?
- Do we have the right internal skills?
- What is our operating model?
- What does success look like?
- How do I manage risk?
These big questions are all still relevant post Covid-19. However, a new set of challenges and questions have arisen driving innovation post Covid-19 and the answers may not be as simple. Innovation requires collaboration, both internally and externally. Traditionally this has been achieved by face to face meetings, workshops, events and focus groups for example. With post-Covid19, three main operational constraints come to mind:
1/ How do I drive innovation with remote working?
The new normal of video conferencing has been a seismic shift for many organisations. Making a video call with a colleague will not drive innovation. Innovation is about solving problems. Organisations will need to rely on data to gain insights to challenges. Every organisation has data. The question that needs to be addressed is whether it is useful data. Quality data will help in driving innovation forward and provide the necessary insights.
2/ How do we attend events to see what innovations exist?
Attending events where 1000’s of start-ups are all under the one roof, has been a great source of innovation. With travel being limited and an events industry almost non-existent, experiencing the latest products, and seeing what is on the horizon is definitely more challenging. A fast way to tap into start-ups is via Venture Capital organisations. They usually have large portfolios of companies, which they can showcase via virtual meetups.
3/ How do I build an ecosystem if I can’t physically meet anyone?
Procurement becomes a vital ingredient in helping to build an ecosystem because they have access to a mass of suppliers. Embedding innovation into the Procurement Team’s sourcing strategy should accelerate the development of your ecosystem. Being involved and working with suppliers is a fast way to develop a meaningful ecosystem, where collaboration and knowledge sharing can take place.
Innovation is not a silver bullet fix and may not yield instant returns. Like any new business function, it requires extensive planning, patience, a versatile team and a solid strategy.
Post Covid-19, innovation has however, become even more relevant.
Warrick Cramer built numerous businesses from the ground-up in the automotive, mobile payment, and advertising industries. Warrick’s passion for and experience in innovation and business development ultimately brought him to Vodafone, where he devoted his entrepreneurial mind-set to revamping innovation at the heart of Vodafone. His vision to create a technology development program materialized through the creation of a Global Innovation Centre for Vodafone. Warrick has been seen as a pioneer and thought leader in corporate innovation and has won numerous global awards for his efforts.
Read Warrick’s interview with Advance.org CEO Maria MacNamara from 21 May 2020.