Since starting an IT services company back in 1992, while technology may have radically changed over the past 29 years, one guiding business principal that I believe stands the test of time is striving to be a technologically innovative company. In fact, in these highly challenging and uncertain times, being a tech innovator should be a key goal for any aspiring or established business that’s aiming to not only survive - but thrive.
The benefits of being a tech innovator are clear and undisputed; if you want a great demonstration of this, just think Apple. But equally, also think about the cost of failing to be innovative. The graveyard of business past is haunted by the ghosts of high-profile operators, such as Palm, Compaq and Kodak, all of which flew high but were then eaten alive by more technologically innovative and agile competitors.
The truth is that most companies pay lip service to being an ‘innovator’, they evidence this by talking about big initiatives like ‘digital transformation’, but in reality, living it and offering it is hard and it doesn’t happen overnight. If it were easy, all companies would be innovators, and to be one, would no longer be an advantage. The recipe for successful innovation requires a number of blended ingredients, here’s a mix of three big ones that I’ve tried, tested and try to maintain along the way.
1. Make innovation part of business culture
So, how do you best approach becoming an innovative company? Being truly innovative requires a continual drive and ambition, it means creating an agile working culture that’s easily adaptable to accelerated change, it also means out-thinking others, being bold, disrupting, breaking rules, embracing new, differentiating ideas and technological trends – while failing and then learning fast. Every innovative company has created an environment where innovation thrives and happens all the time.
However, even by empowering everyone in a business to innovate, very often they waste the opportunity, or believe that it’s someone else’s job. Innovation has to be everybody’s job. It comes from everywhere. It comes from people who deal with customers every day and know how things can be improved. It comes from people who build and sell products, or those who simply think of an unusual way to do things. The most innovative companies in the world extract and pursue the best ideas from the entire organization.
This means that every employee should be actively and consistently encouraged to contribute ideas and improve things for customers wherever they can. Open communications are key here, so you must openly communicate with employees about operations, plans and choices. This sharing approach must occur at all levels of the organization and employees must be encouraged to actively participate in decision-making, planning, work design and problem solving.
2. Build an innovative team
A key success factor to being innovative is building a team that possesses the capability to actually deliver on it. But you must first understand in this context, what’s your definition of a ‘good’ employee fit is, and what ‘good’ actually looks like too. While the skills and experiences that candidates gain at university are valuable, by focusing heavily on the academic attainments, you may be missing out on a whole range of diverse, talented, people – at any stage of their careers.
So start seeking naturally curious people who are willing to continually learn, to become not just logical but analytical thinkers and those that demonstrate innate business acumen. Really strive to nurture and retain those people that persistently exhibit these traits.
For example, we changed our recruitment activities to focus on people that best fitted our innovation mantra. So rather than just seeking those that could effectively pass tests, we started looking for people with other talents; those that could passionately present an idea in front of others, or think creatively about problems. And crucially, for all of them, the words no and can’t” are simply fuel. By following these rules, we’ve built a passionate, committed, highly-skilled, team of data scientists, software engineers, automation experts and visionaries.
3. Sustain product and service innovation
It’s perfectly normal to believe that the great IT services or products you’ve been providing for years will sustain you forever. However, an innovation-driven mindset will never allow you to settle for this false assumption, which will prevent competitors from eating your lunch. Ultimately, every successful company realizes that for real technological innovation to have a real commercial impact, it must be relentlessly re-focused and refreshed to generate the greatest customer value.
We’ve lived this journey. After decades of delivering bespoke, business-aligned, IT services, we understood that this wasn’t sustainable and we needed fresh offerings. We examined technology and industry trends and quickly realized that the future would be automated, with the exciting promise of enabling more work to be done, much faster and better, with less.
However, we also quickly realized that others were seeing this opportunity too, so we swiftly innovated our automation services to align with what we believed customers really needed. This resulted in a unique service that not only delivers automation, but combines the best human, artificial and systems intelligence too – all as a single solution. Here’s several examples of this is action.
An energy company challenged us to help it become an “AI first” utilities operator. We’ve created a range of tools that allow their customers to serve themselves, including a highly effective self-service onboarding solution and the ability to send in photos of the meter for up-to-date readings. These services have enabled this relative newcomer to rank in the top 20 energy suppliers on TrustPilot.
Caerphilly Council recently asked us to create an automated system for the accelerated processing of free school meals applications, checking eligibility and letting families know the outcome the same day. Ultimately, by automating this work process has enabled the council to re-invest savings back into the business, improve staff morale; increase data input accuracy and improve the speed of the overall application process.
Ultimately, whenever you apply technology-driven innovation it must always be customer centric – focusing not only on what you can best deliver, but how it best satisfies their wants and needs. Try and visualize how it will solve their problems, save costs and create new opportunities. The key isn’t to sell service or product innovation in the traditional sense, but to perform enough initial customer education effort, that they feel comfortable enough to buy. For us, 90 percent of our work is won from conceptualization and visionary benefits-led selling – we think this is a truly innovative way of not selling.
With multiple industries being disrupted, competitive advantage is rapidly shifting from the traditional, large corporations - to agile and nimble enterprises. The good news is that any organization can harness the power of collaborative thinking and capture the ideas of their employees to generate compelling opportunities. Ultimately, every organization must reinvent itself and work out what they’re going to innovate. It’s a question of what you’re going to exploit, what you’re going to create. You’re chaining yourself to the past if you don’t start thinking about this - you have to be an inherently innovative organization to keep ahead.
Ultimately, you don’t have to accomplish this daunting feat alone. Look for a technology partner with a proven track record of advancing and applying cutting-edge digital innovation that combines the best human, artificial, robotic and systems intelligence as a single capability to conceive, conceptualize and deliver ‘enhanced work’ solutions. Those that embrace this will not only release vast time, resource and capital savings, but experience greater operational agility, performance and efficiencies, while creating high value growth opportunities - in months - rather than years.
Liz Callaghan is, founder and managing director, Codebase8