More and more companies employ innovation managers. What do they do and why do we need them? After all, everyone can and needs to innovate, right? Every day you notice things that have room for improvement or efficiency. Or you have ideas for entirely new products and services. The key question is how to bring these ideas to life in a huge company with 7,500+ colleagues.
Types of innovation
Most companies use the '3 horizons model' of McKinsey to distinguish between the various kinds of innovation. Horizon 1 (H1) stands for process innovation. This regards improvements, variations and savings within the technology and the market you are familiar with. In H2 you enter new markets as a company or use technologies that are outside your comfort zone. This is called business model innovation, in which you run the risk of disruptive results. H3 is the big unknown area. This regards technologies yet unknown to the majority of the world. Pre-eminently the place where shocking outcomes and astonishing methods come up. Although the type of innovation and the time to success are more and more difficult to predict, now that business models are changing faster and different industries are starting to compete with each other.
Liaising with other industries
Core business innovation (H1) is quite natural for VodafoneZiggo. That approach is embedded in our DNA. After all, our industry needs to develop in parallel with all new technologies. If we don’t, we immediately lose our relevance. H2 and H3 are far more difficult to initiate and predict. For that you need to liaise with other industries entering our market. Think about WhatsApp, Skype, Netflix and Disney+, digital identity or virtual reality, for example, but also trends that could well become dominant in the near future, like internet through satellites or even for free through advertisements of data sharing. As innovation manager I mainly focus on H2. Which technologies, products and services are apparently coming up and how can we test them in our market. They can prove to be either an opportunity or a threat.
Internally as well as externally it is wise to have a single point where innovation requests are assessed. In this way you avoid overlapping or repeat projects or previously gained experience to end up in a corner. External innovation and partnership requests are handled by our team. We determine their value and share the likely candidates with colleagues in the relevant departments.
Looking beyond KPIs
I see to it that all requests are given the attention they deserve. It’s not like they are assessed by someone primarily focussed on KPIs (key performance indicators) contributing to his or her targets. If we see potential we supervise a PoC (Proof of Concept) to determine whether or not we want to fully embrace the initiative. Large initiatives we have assessed by our board of directors. I ensure that initiatives are not rejected prematurely, defending ideas that are not given sufficient attention. Sometimes I challenge start-ups to make their initiatives more concrete.
Sequence of ideas
As soon as the decision is made to initiate a PoC for a certain initiative, you start to get cracking as innovation manager. In most cases I make up my own team of 5 to 6 people in order to be able to run the project properly for 3 to 6 months. I have the plans checked by the necessary departments like Legal, Privacy and Security, to make sure everything is in order. And I always keep in mind the goal of the project, so as to run a tight ship.
Innovation is not just about spending money
To some, innovation is nothing but a cost item. Initiating random projects, hoping one of them will be successful. What is often underestimated, though, is that we learn a lot about what does and what doesn’t work. This experience is used in launching (or not launching, for that matter) innovative products and services that fit our core business.
In addition, by following and scouting innovative solutions we may be able to embed certain trends in our current products or services. In this way I try to keep my own organization on their toes and to stimulate them regarding new initiatives and possibilities. It also helps to change the culture and to conduct small experiments regularly, as you are being entrepreneurial, failing and learning. And finally, we often sit with new customers, for whom we will provide the connectivity or additional services later on, in a very early stage to discuss new ideas and propositions, in this way generating leads for our enterprise department.
More on innovation