As the CBI U35 Committee looks to the year ahead and asks what is important to the prosperity of business in the UK, it’s unsurprising that “Digital” is at the forefront of our agenda.
It’s no longer enough for businesses to adopt the technology that is already available. To stay relevant to consumers and citizens, organisations are recognising they need to innovate to drive growth and efficiency through the expansion of digital services.
The change in semantics that has taken place over the last few years is key. The conversation has shifted away from being purely about “innovative technology” where the focus was on the newest parameters of technical possibility – speed, scale, intelligence, efficiency – to a discussion about “digital innovation”, centred around human experience and value from a business perspective. This change in language is at the heart of the shift in focus onto human-centred experience design and the disruptions that tap into both individual behaviour and collective psyche.
This is where data comes in; some of the most successful digital innovators of the last decade have been those that have offered a user experience that aggregates existing services to simply make people’s lives easier. Making a restaurant reservation, finding somewhere to stay, selling a house, doing your weekly shop, taking out a loan; the experience of day-to-day life has fundamentally shifted to one that is digitally enabled and constantly evolving.
At the heart of this shift is data. Any organisation seeking to enhance their services or increase their competitive edge should ask themselves whether they are maximising the value they are getting from the data available to them. Are they capturing data intelligently, storing it in an efficient, scalable and accessible way, turning that data into insights, and using it as intelligence to drive improvements and innovation?
Avoiding fear of failure
Reflecting on what UK businesses need in order drive innovation, the CBI U35 Committee recognises some consistent demands across industries: the space for employees to be creative, the methods to enable teams to be disruptive but get things done, a culture that doesn’t fear failure, and the agility to fail fast, learn and course-correct.
Whilst most organisations will advocate innovation almost as much as they acknowledge the need to adopt technology, in times of increased pressure for efficiency and productivity, they also need to stay focused on value.
A culture of creativity
Businesses need the methods and frameworks to drive innovative thinking from their employees without moving too quickly to asking, “now what?” Too keen a focus on the immediacy of results will quickly stifle innovation, but so too will a culture of endlessly playing with ideas. A balance between the two and a framework that celebrates creative thought alongside clear methods for value realisation is key.
For innovation to drive real value, teams must set and maintain a clear sense of their purpose in terms of impact to society, customers or citizens. However, innovating with purpose is not purely a principle to be adhered to; it requires commitment, clarity and clear method to produce results. A recent trend in awareness of this is driving organisations to engage in digital innovation in a more meaningful and creative way.
Boosting UK competitiveness
In defining its new role in the global economy, the UK has understandable ambitions to position itself as a digital pioneer of the new decade.
To achieve competitiveness in a global market of digital businesses, we need more than just pure technology skills – we need to be cultivating creative talents, embedding diversity of thought and developing rich technical skillsets that equip our businesses with the capabilities to transition from bright ideas, through proofs of concepts, to the realisation of value.
For businesses to thrive we need to be making investments that place innovation at the heart of a culture designed to compete in a global digital economy. Investment is needed in creative, design and technical skills through schools’ programmes and apprenticeships at all levels of the education system.
At this pivotal moment for the UK’s global competitiveness, investment is needed in R&D programmes that re-introduce entrepreneurship back into our major businesses, enabling them to compete with digital disruptors on a global scale. Where automation is driving efficiency of processes, businesses should look at the need for future re-skilling rather than redundancy as they shape the skills requirements of their future workforce.
We better mean it
As we begin the decade that will see the first wave of millennials reaching middle-age, businesses should recognise that the digital age is behind us, and in this post-digital era dabbling in innovative tech won’t keep organisations on a level footing with the next wave of entrepreneurial engineers; we better commit to innovation and we better mean it.
The most successful digital disruptors of the last decade have started with nothing to lose, thus giving their teams the freedom to fail and the courage to innovate. It’s much harder to put that into practice when you have a history of success behind you and a long way to fall.
If the UK is to compete with leading digital economies, we will have to change the nature of the conversations within businesses and across the digital ecosystem, giving our teams that entrepreneurial freedom to innovate like they have nothing to lose, but backed up by a workforce that has the skills to be successful.
The CBI U35 Committee is keen to hear your perspectives. What are the biggest blockers to digital innovation that UK businesses are facing today and how do we make sure we are equipped to be successful in the next decade of this post-digital era?