How to create a foundation for digital innovation: people & policy

  • Posted on August 25, 2016

In this two part blog series, Julian Tomison, General Manager of Avanade UK, discusses some of the key questions and challenges around how to encourage and enable digital Innovation in the enterprise: People, Policy, Process and Imagination.  

In my own experience, of helping our clients bring the power of digital innovation to their businesses, to do whatever they do better, faster and more profitably, there are some common areas from which challenges emerge. And each raises a question IT leaders should be asking.

People: How Do I Encourage Them to Embrace Risk in Digital?

One of the biggest barriers to digital innovation is peoples’ fear of failure, because it often underlies their resistance to change. Doing things the way you’ve always done it, because that’s the way it’s always been done means you probably can’t get blamed for messing up. Yet it’s this circular reasoning, never looking outside your organisation for ideas, which causes stagnation in company culture. And it’s not even the safe option anymore, for anyone. The pace of change is relentless, and I won’t be the only person to tell you that this is the slowest it’s going to get.

Why does it happen? Often it’s about how you incentivise people. Hard, inflexible financial or performance KPIs and terrifying annual reviews, where staff are grilled on their chargeable hours, or how many calls they’ve made. Rather than encouraging them to think about how they can experiment with a few things, to make themselves and the organisation faster, stronger, better.

It’s also a question of vision. What is your company striving for – what’s its purpose? All too often staff are capable of quoting their KPIs at length, but not why they have them. They know their metrics, but not their goals. Yet it is vision that makes people want to jump out of bed in the morning. Only a grand vision can open peoples’ minds to new ideas, to a more agile and digital culture, and help an organisation develop the capability of adapting to whatever happens. It’s this mindset and capability which gives people the confidence they need to embrace risk, and experiment with digital innovation.

Policy: What Is The Best Organisational or Governance Structure for Encouraging Innovation?

Assuming you have a clear vision and purpose - and a culture that’s conducive to working towards achieving them… The next question to ask is whether your policies are supporting or restricting the use of digital innovation as a tool with which to make that progress.

Getting the balance right is no easy task. Regulation is also changing at a relentless pace. The pressure on organisations to more quickly review and continually ensure their policy and ethical compliance is only going in one direction – and that’s up. So it’s absolutely vital your IT policy supports the meeting of that legislative burden, as well as encouraging digital innovation.

Unfortunately, there are no simple or easy answers here, because the policy and governance required of different businesses in different sectors varies so massively.

Yet there are some common elements to success. The first is clarity – both with respect to your ethical view or approach, as well as on how your organisation will actually process, store and manage data. And the second is a retained focus on creating value and benefits for the customer, and efficiencies for staff, rather than simply cutting costs.

For example, imagine an organisation with the vision of improving its customers’ experiences, with staff KPIs that supported that purpose, and with policies that encouraged and enabled digital innovation and ethical interactions. I like to think an organisation like that would use new technology, such as IT automation, to enable departments to better collaborate, and accelerate the enhancement of its core business and customer service more rapidly. As opposed to simply cutting people out of processes to reduce headcount.

In the next blog post of this series, Julian will examine two more of the key challenge and question areas related to encouraging and enabling digital Innovation throughout the enterprise: Process and Imagination. 

Part 2: How to Create a Foundation for Digital Innovation: Process & Imagination

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