What can ‘innovation spaces’ do for your SME?

What can ‘innovation spaces’ do for your SME?

The past two months has seen a range of business innovation centres enter the market. Announcements from National Australia Bank, Westpac, Commonwealth Bank and Hills, along with the government’s Centres for Industry Growth Initiative as part of the Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda, to name a few.

NAB’s Village, opened in February and launched in October, is a co-working, open plan space for small business, not-for-profits and small technology companies.

Westpac’s new innovation centre – known as “the Hive” – will reportedly encourage its own teams to make use of the innovation facility. The bank’s technology partners, including IBM, Telstra, TCS, Infosys and Oracle, have also been invited to use the facilities.

Commonwealth Bank’s innovation centre offers a range of technology such as Kinect and Oculus Rift, data analytics for business customers, internal team and idea generation and collaboration spaces.

Innovation centres are generally a good opportunity to break the paradigm of “business as usual”, change perceptions, brand or rules of engagement. Some of the primary drivers for using such a centre include the possibility of changing brand perception, cultural change, or developing new skills such as agile delivery.

Co-creation or community engagement is usually a big pull, with customers, community or partners in a neutral, accessible space either to experience new technology – such as the Commonwealth Bank innovation centre with the Oculus Rift – or to access co-working and cross-pollination, such as in the NAB Village.

Access to data, business owners, problems worth solving together or APIs are also big draws – for example, the Greater Western Sydney Innovation Hub Pilot and the Queensland Government Innovation Hub Pilot.

Industry collaboration and R&D are also big encouragers. As a range of open source ecosystems emerge around payment, internet of things, and sandboxes, innovation centres may also be leveraged as a testing, certification and interworking verification factory, where remote capabilities are not possible.

The capabilities and approaches leveraged within a centre will determine the value realised more than anything else (except leadership support). The experience of the team, the repeatable process and rigour towards focused, targeted business outcomes will make the difference between those that deliver results and commercial contribution and those that perform a marketing function.

In my experience it’s the centres that focus on specific business results, those that have the highest leadership as their sponsors, those that innovate to support a business strategy, and those that have the courage to bypass or disrupt themselves where necessary – that will deliver the highest impact new products or services into the market. Easier said than delivered.

The most significant challenge for truly compelling results is less at the front end of engaging and idea generation and testing, and increasingly the inability for the concept to be adopted by the business, funded and delivered throughout in a way that iterates with customers in an agile environment.

The best few mechanisms I’ve seen envisaged balance disruption with scale; once an idea has been established and proven to the point where it is going to market in some form.

They usually follow some of the following steps:

  • Executive team line of sight and sponsor-committed regardless of internal disruption
  • The innovation capability has a beta or pilot capability with the view if the service experiences high uptake, it’s less likely to be ceased
  • Business realisation role as link with the business line, for example a business realisation or ‘scale’ manager, who has minimal engagement initially, and as the concept gains momentum eventually leads 100% as the champion back into the business from which they came
  • The service launches to the market in another channel or brand
  • Newly emerging is the opportunity to outsource, co-create or partner in a venture type arrangement outside the organisation

So how does a small business, customer or business owner, decide what engaging in an innovation centre means for them? Some key questions or attributes you may want to consider:

  • Is the space for collaboration and ideas or delivery?
  • Is it for near-term benefit or a further horizon?
  • Will it be internal, with partners, with developers or customers?
  • What is the balance between problem-solving on immediate issues and blue sky thinking?
  • How will the centre get services to market if at all?
  • How will the centre be measured?

The growth of these innovation spaces is an encouraging sign that innovation in all its forms continues to grow. The next evolution of announcements we might expect are result focused, less in terms of technology displayed or throughput and more in terms of services or products launched in a more radical nature relating to new revenues, markets or value propositions.

Kate Eriksson is the head of innovation at PwC Australia’s Digital Change services. A stalwart of the digital industry, Kate’s experience and network spans across some of the most iconic digital businesses in the world such as Google, Facebook, Skype and Twitter.

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