Business innovation has been rapidly advancing over the last decade… or so we thought. Reading BEIS’ recent 2019 Innovation Report, we can see that innovation in UK companies fell in 2018 to the same levels as 2010, writes Neil Sholay, VP of Innovation, Oracle EMEA. Only 38% of companies were ‘innovation active’, a drastic fall from 49% in 2016. But why are we going backwards? Why has innovation become an uphill struggle? And how can the current crisis help us get it back on track?
In the last few months, I’ve been working with businesses large and small, helping them make adjustments to how their business runs – to weather the current storm, and become more resilient for the future. One of the most critical things I’ve learned is that from now on, it won’t always be about looking at major transformational projects to usher in innovation and change. Just as valuable are smaller changes, tweaks, and little steps forward that can actually have the biggest impact.
Small things like digitising your expense system or integrating automation into your cybersecurity are by no means trivial or inconsequential. That said, they can be quick and relatively easy. Speed and ease are crucial to getting the UK back on track with innovation – but more importantly, these kinds of changes really impact businesses, and can help them increase productivity, cost-effectiveness and adaptability when they need it most.
I have a couple of examples that any UK business struggling to make innovation stick could look to for inspiration. The first is Co-op: it moved its health and safety training to a cloud-based model. Quite a small move, in the grand scheme of things. However, thanks to this, when faced with the challenges COVID-19 has wrought, it was able to update the training to reflect the new health and safety requirements, and roll this out to 40,000 employees to complete in a day. This one small innovation meant that we could all shop safely, and staff safety was a top priority – this one project had a monumental impact.
A time of crisis is not the only time we should be thinking about the little things, however. Last year, National Grid was faced with the huge challenge of predicting more variable volumes of solar and wind energy – in their ongoing effort to make the UK grid carbon-neutral. With millions of data points to analyse, it became impossible to rely on the team alone. They ran a few machine learning models in the cloud to do the work for them, and started to see patterns in the data they never could before. What started off as a small way to help make the UK more renewable ended up with 21,000 machine learning models. This helped the UK hit historic milestones in our use of renewables. When it comes to the impact of small innovations, it doesn’t get much bigger than that.
BEIS’ report shows us that following the financial crash, the UK took innovation and ran with it. We’ve veered off course – so now we need to do the same again.
Amidst all the uncertainty facing us today, innovation might be the last thing on some business leaders’ minds. But we know that particularly now, it’s not always about big, sweeping transformations. Rather, now is the time to take a look at your business and understand how you can make small innovations that solve current challenges, but also secure future success. The little things matter as much as the big – this is as true in business as it is in life.