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Monday, 01 August 2022 23:44

Digital transformation requires a culture of innovation

By Ram Chakravarti, chief technology officer, BMC Software
Ram Chakravarti, Chief Technology Officer, BMC Software Ram Chakravarti, Chief Technology Officer, BMC Software

GUEST OPINION: Few items rank higher on the C-suite agenda than building a more innovative culture in their organisations. Innovation not only guides them through uncertain times, but it also enables them to be agile and flexible to adapt to new market conditions. 

Today, modern business demands more innovation than ever.

Recent surveys suggest companies drastically increased the pace of digital : transformation during the pandemic. What was considered “best-in-class” in 2018 became slower than average last year, and companies with the best technology capabilities, talent, leadership, and resources are operating at an exponential pace.

The reliance on hybrid, at-home and in-office workplaces led to organisations rethinking their IT infrastructure to find ways to apply artificial intelligence and enterprise automation, and free up time for employees to focus on what matters: innovation and excellent customer experiences.

These are just a few ways in which companies adapted to rapidly changing times. These past two years have generated enormous change in the way people work, shop, and spend leisure time. To align with this change, companies adapted their technology and practices. Whilst some companies added more e-commerce and hybrid work solutions to their technology stack, they also introduced IoT devices and Edge computing platforms to generate more data than ever before -- data that can be analysed to create even more stakeholder value.

The companies who successfully navigated digital transformations have one thing in common: a culture of innovation.

Turf wars, budgetary constraints, a lack of vision, and inadequate executive support can all stifle cultural change. The roadblocks to cultural innovation are numerous, and there’s a big difference between companies that want to build innovative cultures and those doing it.

Building an Innovative Culture?

Encourage employees to try new things and celebrate them whether they succeed or fail fast. By letting employees experiment with ideas in the knowledge that failing at first is okay, we encourage them to use those failings as learning opportunities. I know of no better way to help employees find meaning and value in their work than to empower them to solve problems.

At BMC, we’re focused on creating a culture of innovation internally and across our ecosystem. Recently we hosted our first annual Innovation Summit to explore the requirements for establishing a culture of innovation and the benefits we derive from those efforts. This included some exciting demos of products in development, inspired and influenced by our customers and partners. With our Innovation Labs Preferred Partner Program, we focus on exactly this kind of ideation and experimentation, with the goal of designing and commercialising modern technology solutions to support customers on their Autonomous Digital Enterprise journey.

Organisations can put this into practice by implementing dedicated intrapreneurship programs, which encourage all employees to contribute ideas without fear. Whether it’s for products or even concepts outside the company’s typical business, for review at any time, it sets the precedent that everyone can shape the next generation of cutting-edge business technology.

Within my own team we’ve put these ideas into practice. New employees spend about 75% of their time working on a new product or a project that builds the brand. The other 25% is spent learning new technologies or exploring business problems that disruptive technology can solve. For certain high-demand roles such as data scientists or engineers, we’re hiring 150% of our capacity to make sure everyone has time to focus on innovation.

We also have a portal for employees to come in with their ideas. Periodic campaigns and idea-thons also energise those who may not be inclined to use the portal on their own. These steps have proven beneficial for idea generation and employee morale.

But how do organisations know when they’ve built a culture of innovation? This brings me to measurement. But not the way we traditionally measure success. Rather, we need to rethink measurement relative to the innovation approach.

Measuring Success

If the company goal is to build an innovation culture to encourage digital transformation, we must measure two things. The first is the rather squishy concept of culture. The second is digital innovation itself.

On the culture side, traditional culture metrics track things like turnover or employee sentiment through surveys or social media analysis, but there are also qualitative metrics. On the innovation side, companies often rely on the “Innovation Quotient” survey, which measures innovation across six dimensions. These assessments are often qualitative and highlight the degree to which measuring soft variables is exceedingly difficult. There is also a small handful of quantitative innovation metrics, like R&D-to-product conversion, and the degree to which new products contribute to revenue.

But innovation and culture feed into each other. If you give employees the ability to leverage their own creativity, you will see massive increases in job satisfaction. As a result, the business landscape can become more compassionate, collaborative, and focused on collective value between human innovation and automated processes.

The ultimate testament to building an innovative culture is adapting or incorporating ideas from fail-first programs into new or revised product offerings. Good ideas can come from anywhere, and often they arise from an earlier project that never quite took off. A telltale sign of success is when these ideas and programs start to come to fruition through the collaboration and ideation of individuals that help shape the future.

The bottom line: Innovation starts when you unleash the creativity and passion of your people, giving them the tools to navigate change, leverage analytics, and help build agility into the business. Building an innovative culture means that innovation never ends -- and that’s how it ought to be.

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