Game Changer Insights Detail
5 big questions on innovation
Shannon Lucas, Director of Innovation
As Director of Innovation at Vodafone Global Enterprise, Shannon Lucas focuses on empowering global Fortune 500 businesses to stay agile, competitive and sustainable.
One of the world’s largest telecoms companies, Vodafone has mobile operations in 26 countries; partners with networks in a further 55; and provides fixed broadband operations in 17 markets. As of June 2015,…
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How is your team changing the game within your industry sector?
The Vodafone Innovation team is fortunate to be positioned at the intersection of the world’s leading total telecommunications company, innovation and relationships with the largest global enterprises. Mobility is the heartbeat of today’s innovation. While not every innovation is built on mobile, mobility is transforming the way the world operates. This gives us the freedom to embark on an innovation journey with our customers.
We run approximately 100 customer innovation workshops each year and take the radical approach of having an open conversation without an agenda and ask big questions starting with, “What if?” We are confident that no matter what emerges, we can help our enterprise customers on their innovation journeys. This approach shifts the relationship from customer-vendor to collaborative partners. The conversation is focused on business transformation, not technology. Of course, we look at ways that technology is supporting an ever-changing world. But first we collaboratively develop the vision of, “Where do you want to be in 3 years?” At the end of the workshop, we collectively ideate solutions, refine and prioritize and then execute with a lean, agile approach. The innovation program is our think-and-do tank.
Increasingly we see disruptive ideas or solutions emerge from our workshops that cannot be tackled alone. In response to this growing need for co-creation we launched the Enterprise Studio. It’s both a physical space in Silicon Valley and a global methodology. We pull from a variety of innovation frameworks like design thinking, lean, agile, etc., but as each project is wildly unique, we have to be willing to adapt our approach. The Studio is not an “app-factory.” We tackle problems such as user-based, real-time car insurance in the UK, to financing for smallholder farmers in Africa, to holistic analytics platforms to manage supply chains.
We have a lot of experience to draw from having run so many workshops in the last few years. At the same time, we recognize this is an iterative process and we are always looking to learn from our own experiences as well as thought leaders from across the global innovation community.
What are some of the biggest impediments to innovation in your organization or industry sector?
One of the biggest challenges to driving innovation into large enterprises is the size and complexity of these organizations. The size and scale of large corporations can enable truly transformative solutions. They have access to human and financial resources, a global footprint, and infrastructure that allows for scale. However, the complexity of navigating stakeholders, competing project priorities and finding the appropriate subject matter experts can slow down innovation. Within Vodafone Global Enterprise we are fostering a culture that embraces lean and agile concepts to help navigate the accelerating speed of change that businesses are facing today.
How has innovation become engrained in your organization’s culture, and how is it being optimized?
Two years ago we started running Innovation Bootcamps in Vodafone offices globally. We replicate and condense a customer innovation workshop and invite Vodafone employees to take on the role of the customer. We bring to life concepts like design thinking, divergence/convergence and personas. We have our employees ideate as if they were a customer. The experiential learning fosters a deeper understanding of the value of innovation as a tool for internal business transformation and as a differentiated engagement model with our customers. We have also started running workshops to generate new solutions or tackle business challenges internally.
We don’t want people to just take our word about the impact of the Vodafone innovation program. We share data regarding opportunities created, new executive customer relationships established and highlight examples of how the program has demonstrated positive impact with our customers.
Optimization is a constant journey. The innovation team is by definition always finding ways to improve. We pause at the end of the year to reflect on what has worked well, where we need to improve, where we see innovation as a practice heading, and then create a plan for how to improve for the following year.
This year we have a strong focus on scaling the program. The success of the workshops and co-creation engagements has generated a large number of opportunities that require a strong global bench of Innovation Champions (Vodafone employees) to help execute. We have created tiered certification programs for both the champions and the sales teams. We believe that the training opportunities we are creating for the Champions provide excellent personal and professional development. We know that a simple “Thank you” can go a long way, so we have also created a rewards and recognition program to highlight the efforts of these employees.
What technologies, business models, and trends will drive the biggest changes in your industry over the next two years?
The ubiquity of connectivity cannot be overstated. As you look at the number of people joining the connected world in emerging markets as well as the number of connected things, the question becomes, “Why do you want to connect with someone or something?” not how.
In our world of enterprise innovation, co-creation can be game changing. Organizations that successfully tackle big challenges will simultaneously create tremendous value for their company and for society. It’s our view that this takes a new type of business relationship, where new partnership models evolve based on open innovation and co-creation to build disruptive solutions.
Co-creation uses two companies’ current capabilities as a foundation, while building a new solution on top, creating something disruptive that could not have been easily accomplished by one company on their own. Co-creation also allows the team to tap into the collective wisdom of both organizations, de-risks the project and strengthens the relationship between the two companies. We are seeing demand for this type of engagement and are excited about the possibilities that can emerge.
Can you share a specific innovation strategy you’ve recently encountered which you find compelling?
There is no magic formula for innovation. It’s a combination of openness (to new approaches, opinions, mindsets, partners), perfectionism (how do we make this better still?), collaboration (together is easier than alone), and hard work (good innovation takes practice!). Our program has embraced iteration as a key philosophy and we are always looking for ways to improve.We have the found biggest determinant to our enterprise innovation program is employee empowerment. By providing a way for top employees to channel their passion, we create a win-win for the organization. The innovation program can have large impact with a very small core team, because we foster a global community of innovators who contribute their skills to the program. Those folks, in turn, get to participate in meaningful and exciting work while developing their professional skills and increasing their visibility within Vodafone. Because their voices are heard and their ideas acted upon, they are more likely to speak up and suggest ways to improve or help our customers. Not only that, but also they become key participants in building those solutions. They are the evangelists for new ways of thinking and doing business, which is what enables the innovation program to accelerate success. It’s a virtuous circle of enterprise innovation.