Innovation must create something real and tangible that can help the business
When it comes to making the most of creative technology, Dave Humby is an industry expert. The director of Global Customer Innovation at BT is able to draw on more than 20 years of experience.
On a day-to-day basis, he helps businesses develop strategies that make the most of emerging ideas and new technologies. As part of that method, Humby works with some of BT Engage IT’s largest customers to help drive innovation.
His approach concentrates on the ways firms can use underlying technology to develop new, creative solutions that meet organisational objectives. Such work leads him to believe that executives must think carefully about how innovation is defined. “It’s a great buzz word,” he says.
“A lot of our customers want innovation in their contracts. But what do people actually perceive innovation to be about? For me, and for BT, innovation concerns the commercial exploitation of new ideas. It’s about driving business value from doing things differently."
Humby says innovation could cover a number of areas, such as growing revenue, opening markets or dealing with new customer experiences. But the end result is always the same: “It’s about the quality of the output,” he says. “Innovation must create something real and tangible that can help the business.”
Focusing on business outputs requires a strong framework. Humby says the underlying model must help the business discover new ideas, before a series of set stages – around articulation, validation and execution – which help key people within an organisation make the most of creative IT.
“Innovation for us, and our customers, is about accelerating our business strategies and plans,” says Humby. “It’s not simply about the invention of a new technology in a lab. Innovation relies on a strong understanding of the business and customer context, and how you can make the most of IT services to help accelerate and de-risk what your organisation is trying to achieve.”
Ideas, he says, can come from anywhere. Rather than just relying on internal knowledge, people within an organisation need to draw on ideas from other people outside the business. Such networking with partners and peers allows executives to see potential pitfalls, and to learn from other firm’s experiences.
Engagement, then, is crucial. And the IT department must be at the heart of the internal and external relationships that a business develops to help drive innovation. Ensuring a central role for technology will mean systems and services are created that take advantage of new digital ideas, but which work to meet set business objectives.
Individuals working in such an out come driven environment need to consider a range of other factors, such as the case for change, the pace of implementation, the scale of innovation and the measurement of success. Innovative projects, for example, might draw on cloud computing technology and consider how on-demand IT can be used to trial new ideas quickly.
“Be prepared to fail fast,” says Humby. “Do not be scared of attempting to do something different around your existing business processes. If you’re going to try something, be prepared to fail – get out there, try new ideas and learn from your experiences.”
As executives reflect on their experiences, the full end-to-end implications of any innovation inspired change must be considered. Squeezing costs through a new creative solution in a contact centre, for example, might lead to new expenses and unforeseen costs in other areas of the organisation.
“Take a networked approach and make sure changes don’t lead to unintended consequences,” says Humby. “Be agile and think about what information, services and systems you will need to make innovation work. It’s not just big deployments that can deliver significant value, small ideas work too.”
Most of all, prioritise your customers. Understand if innovation is creating new value for the people who buy your products and services. Test new ideas with customers, mock-up features and make modifications in-line with their demands. The customer, in short, must be at the heart of innovation.
“If you draw all these disparate elements together – the right mix of people, a staged approach to refinement, an understanding of the end-to-end business impact and an appreciation of the value of change for your customers– you can really drive innovation across your organisation,” says Humby.