Mastering the Art of Practical Innovation

Angela Eager, Research Director, Tech Market View

Angela Eager joined TechMarketView in June 2011 and is a Research Director for Tech Insights, focused on the Software market & Emerging Technologies. A respected industry analyst with over 20 years’ experience assessing the IT market, she is known for her in depth knowledge of the business enterprise applications sector, most notably the ERP and CRM segments, and as an early commentator on SaaS and cloud developments.

The innovation lifecycle blends pain points and purpose, with a splash of serendipity, and the incentive to
produce something that is both different and makes a positive difference to business and consumers. The challenge is building a framework to support ongoing innovation – from ideation through implementation to tangible business value – without stifling it.

Across the tech sector, providers have assembled skills, capabilities and components to support customers’ innovation ambitions as they digitally transform their businesses: iterative and agile approaches, innovation labs and hackathons, industry and cross industry learning. Investment is being directed towards services, products and IP around technologies such as IoT and edge computing, 3D printing and quantum computing, and new business model enablers including industry data platforms. But there’s a difference between check-listing and melding capabilities together in a way that has a direct effect on the organisation implementing them and its consumers, whose experience is the ultimate arbiter of success.

Innovation or incremental change?

Moonshots are exciting but to deliver value, innovation theories and enabling technologies need to be converted into something practical. Atos describes this as the “innovation of the possible” – a focus on bringing realism to initiatives through design-based models and structured programmes.

Innovation can be incremental or disruptive, small or large scale, or any combination. The bottom line is achieving something different that delivers new sources of value.

As John Hall, Head of Strategy & Portfolio at Atos UK&I points out, incremental projects can quickly plug small gaps and unlock potential. Indeed, significant changes via small tweaks could unlock more value than larger programmes. However, this approach can only go so far, he cautions, because they don’t always bring the degree of “difference” that is needed to sustain a digital leadership position. Responses to COVID-19 are a prime example of innovation in practice: an unprecedented situation driving the need to think and act dynamically and differently, from approaches to accelerating short-term vaccine development to reconfiguring business operations for long-term sustainability.

The art of meaningful digital transformation is maintaining the big dream but delivering in steps that release value. Potentially one of the most transformational concepts that Atos is advocating is that of multi-sided industry data platforms which enable B2B value exchanges across trusted partner ecosystems. These platforms bring network effects and associated flexibility to supply chains and collaborative engagements – the COVID-19 outbreak has certainly demonstrated the need for such dynamism. Organisations can’t move to a multi-sided model overnight, but a platform approach can support a step-by-step shift while the ecosystem grows, and the related operational cultures and business models adapt.

Commit to co-innovation and collaboration

Co-innovation and collaboration are central to real-world innovation. Co-innovation sessions put suppliers’ domain knowledge under scrutiny. So those like Atos who are organisationally aligned around industry sectors are well placed, particularly if they can also bring cross-industry insight to bear.

Part of the process is getting to the crux of real world business problems then looking to the wider implications. Technology is just one part of the solution. Take a water utility company wrestling with the issue of reducing water leakage, for example. Identifying the placement of leak detecting IoT sensors, and how AI/machine learning can be best applied to the resulting datasets addresses part of the problem, and was one of the outcomes of a recent Atos led innovation workshop. The bigger picture was what more could be done. Water leakage is not just a delivery network problem: beyond the immediate issue, there is an opportunity to explore how to engage with consumers to reduce wastage. As part of the co-innovation process, “strathacks” with business leaders helped frame the problem and generate ideas, using structured programmes to produce deployable outcomes.

Building resilience to withstand shockwaves

One of the outcomes of effective digital innovation is building resilience. The COVID-19 shockwave demonstrated the value of adaptable organisations, systems and processes when it comes to navigating through crises. On a practical level, building resilience includes establishing an appropriate balance between new, emerging and existing technologies.

Data is a powerful ally in building resilience. Analytics and AI/ML are critical to maximising value through optimising operations and understanding and anticipating behaviour to deliver better services to consumers. And when it comes to understanding and responding to behaviour, data processing at the edge is increasingly important. Whether it is supply chain intelligence, monitoring the location and condition of goods, or enabling digital payments, use cases are becoming more complex and time critical – these are scenarios we see Atos exploring.

In terms of resilience and the workplace of the future, there is more to it than simple remote and home working. Technology needs to be able to enhance the way people work: Augmented Reality (AR) allows remote experts to be “virtually on hand”, for instance. AR is already establishing itself in factory assembly environments and field service arenas, if Atos can bring it into the ‘office’ it will throw usage doors wide open.

Finally, high performance and quantum computing are also part of the proposition. While the quantum promise (and timeline to commercial availability) should not be over-anticipated, organisations do need to prepare. Here Atos’ focus on quantum simulation enables organisations to explore how they might use the technology, so they are ready to move when it reaches market maturity.

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