Despite the turbulence of 2022 and continued tough economic conditions, many business leaders may be wondering how to make their organisation more innovative this year. And while there are plenty of other things for manufacturing leaders to think about, considering investing in innovation isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Katy Ho, Head of Innovation Practice at Digital Catapult, investigates.
Many businesses already recognise that strategic innovation is a business imperative – whether to be more sustainable, comply with net zero regulations or optimise processes and efficiencies to save money.
Digital Catapult’s recent Manufacturing Leaders Poll found that even with supply chain challenges and the rising costs of energy and components, the UK’s manufacturing industries will invest more cash into transformative technologies in the next 12 months, paving the way for faster adoption of digital solutions by industry in order to retain a competitive edge.
Not only that, creating flexible business models, building a more data driven supply chain and collaborating with start-up businesses were viewed as some of the greatest opportunities facing manufacturing in 2023 to boost growth. Digital innovation holds the key to unlocking growth and improving profitability.
Becoming more innovative is like getting fit; it’s not a one-off effort, but a question of resolution, creating a new habit and building up knowledge and skills. It’s about getting into a set of good practices and keeping at it – practice makes perfect after all.
With all this in mind, how can you make your organisation innovation fit? Here are four suggestions you can start implementing tomorrow.
Find support, collaboration and inspiration
When embarking on your innovation journey – whether that’s a new year’s resolution or a continuation of what you have already been doing – remember that you don’t have to start from scratch or go it alone.
Building a really well-connected ecosystem takes time and there is no reason to try to do it by yourself. There are many national innovation and capability building programmes that you can tap into that offer established, well-connected ecosystems of innovators for you to take advantage of.
There is now more support than ever from a wide range of sources, government and non-government backed, including programmes run by not-for-profit support bodies. Organisations like Digital Catapult, which is technology agnostic and the UK’s authority on advanced digital technology, provide value for money and help demonstrate clear impact and ROI.
Through its deep tech acceleration expertise and connections into the UK’s vibrant start-up and innovator community, programmes like Smart Nano Northern Ireland are connecting manufacturers with small businesses to accelerate and develop the nascent photonics and nanomanufacturing industries in the region. This third-party expertise and support can be critical in helping to understand how to bring innovation to life, where you can prioritise and create a tangible outcome.
These opportunities can help make connections with innovative agile start-ups and small businesses – often from sectors that you might have no connection to or hadn’t considered looking at – as well as investors and the research and academic communities.
In addition, scan the market for learnings and initiatives from your peers and competitors, and look out for cross-sector networking opportunities that can also give you inspiration on where to get started and what resources you can tap into.
Build your community
Once you’ve made these initial connections, look at how to build a community of innovators and partners around you. Establishing collaborations can have long lasting benefits, from new investment to employment opportunities. You may discover a use case you had never considered or bring innovation from another sector to your business. These unexpected collaborations can be excellent ways to open new horizons, create new partnerships and attract new investment.
Getting involved in programmes that connect industry directly to start-ups or other small and medium sized enterprises can be an effective starting point. Working with a smart, innovative and small business that is able to be agile, can help create solutions much faster, or provide organisations with the ability to innovate without compromising on critical day-to-day operations.
At Digital Catapult, we’ve worked with a number of large businesses, like BAE Systems and Babcock International Group, as part of the Made Smarter Technology Accelerator. The aim is to create partnerships with disruptive, agile start-ups where new solutions to all manner of industrial challenges – from remote inspection, to resource optimisation and identifying defects during the fabrication process – have been created in collaboration between companies that may not have otherwise met.
Aim to be an innovation leader
Set an achievable innovation vision, give staff responsibility and time and hold them accountable for innovation ideas and projects. In practice, this can mean writing innovation into individual staff objectives and incentivising and recognising success, as well as helping your team prioritise which ideas to take forward and giving them the tools and backing to do so. Building a sustainable innovation culture by upskilling and enabling your teams to contribute to the strategic growth within the business also has benefits beyond specific innovation outcomes.
Get comfortable with ambiguity and change: innovation is not a linear journey. The mechanisms and tools you use to allow for innovation will change over time (and sometimes very quickly), and so will the ideas you experiment with. As you go through the cycle of ideation, experimentation and iteration, your idea will almost certainly change; you might even decide to throw it out altogether, or you might develop new ideas in the process.
Practising an openness to ambiguity and change on a daily basis will help you get into the right mindset to drive bigger company change through innovation (within the limits of your responsibility, of course).
Think about how to embrace and exploit market trends
Many of us have read about the inevitability of the metaverse becoming a place where all business is done, or how ChatGPT will be able to do all your writing for you.
There are certainly applications for virtual reality and/or augmented reality – combined with a 5G network or with the Industrial Internet of Things – in the manufacturing industries and there are already multiple examples of where this is being particularly effective. Whilst the term ‘metaverse’ may or may not stick, what is certain is that a new generation of digitalisation is happening regardless of what sector or industry you are in.
Key trends right now include the increasing digitalisation of supply chains in the manufacturing sector (to find out more about the Made Smarter funded Digital Supply Chain Hub programme visit: digitalsupplychainhub.uk), the growing importance of sustainability and understanding how to reuse materials more effectively and efficiently, and what is known as the ‘twin transition’; that is the increasing overlap between digital and sustainability strategies to underpin the adoption of exciting new technologies like digital twins.
How do you take advantage of this? I’ll refer you back to point one; find support and look for collaboration opportunities to understand what will work for you. And remember, this process will be iterative. You don’t have to do everything, everywhere, all at once.
If you can consider how these suggestions could fit into your work practices, you will start to build new habits and perspectives, leverage new networks and collaborations, and kickstart the journey to make your business more innovation fit and ready to leverage new market opportunities ahead.
Read more of our Innovation articles here
Read more of our Innovation articles here