What’s the recipe for innovation at scale?

As organizations bet big on innovation in a race to harness new technologies, successfully achieving scale is crucial to getting ahead.
6 October 2020
  • Innovators across the globe filed 3.3 million patent applications in 2018 while almost US$300 billion was invested in nearly 32,800 venture capital deals worldwide in 2019
  • A new report shows that 68% of executives have already accelerated or will accelerate existing transformation initiatives
  • True digital transformers and applied innovators will use the pandemic as a springboard for change

Innovation has been critical in driving new levels of operational performance, meeting new customer needs, and building long-term value and growth, however, the difficulty of achieving scale with innovations in processes, products, or services has proven to be a significant obstacle.

A new report published last week from Capgemini titled, What’s the Big Idea? Why most innovations fail to scale and what to do about it, tackles issues surrounding scaling innovation and how businesses can properly thrive and prosper head-on.

The report states that innovators across the globe filed 3.3 million patent applications in 2018, while in 2019 almost US$300 billion was invested in nearly 32,800 venture capital deals worldwide. As the onset of the global pandemic began to take place, the need for innovation and renewal in 2020 and beyond has been reinvigorated.

Following the post-COVID ‘new normal’, Capgemini’s research shows that 68% of executives have already accelerated or will accelerate existing transformation initiatives. In addition to this, achieving scale is not a challenge specific to one sector or technology and is often cited as the number one barrier to realizing commercial goals.

Innovation at scale

Companies failing to properly differentiate between the front end of generating innovation and the back end of scaling innovation essentially stems from a divide in the distinctive skills required. The concept of innovation is markedly different from implementing innovation at scale, and companies have been unable to recognize scaling as a separate discipline within the innovation journey. In this regard, organizations are recommended to sow the seeds of scaling requirements sooner, rather than later to ensure innovation ambitions are properly met.

“While it occurs further down the line, its consideration must begin much earlier in the process. If ideas and experiments are not informed and challenged by adoption and scaling requirements, they run the risk of misplaced time and investment. Organizations, therefore, need dedicated teams that can address scaling and help to move innovations beyond proofs-of-concept,” said Chief Innovation Officer at Capgemini, Lanny S. Cohen in an interview with TechHQ.

Besides timeline adjustments and teams focused on the task, it’s also imperative to consider the different skill sets required for each part of the innovation journey. While an aptitude for innovation during ideation requires softer skills like emotional intelligence, creativity, and empathy – collaboration, organization, execution, and mobilization are critical for scaling.

“Not only are the skills different, but the style of working – pace and timing – differs too. For instance, many innovations, particularly those that are transformative, may require a longer time horizon for generation and validation and quicker speed to implement or time to value in order to achieve competitive advantage in the market,” adds Cohen.

Focused approach

Countless organizations have invested heavily in research & development (R&D) with dedicated innovation centers to devise disruptive proofs of concept, however, their impact and value have been diminished due to a lack of focus.

Cohen’s approach to treating scaling as its own discipline within the innovation journey is to ensure that there is a fundamental focus on planning, management, measurement, and sustainability. Organizations should put in place practices that encompass everything from business readiness, organizational landscape, governance, company culture, and leadership, as well as the technology used.

“Without the right framework, innovation struggles to move beyond an idea to deliver true business value. If we think of it as a method of solving a problem, rather than innovating for innovation’s sake, the importance of scalability quickly becomes clear,” adds Cohen.

A good example of this is Apple’s collaborative efforts during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Apple partnered with a company within its supply chain that produced masks to deliver a large quantity in a short period of time. While one had the expertise and technology to manufacture the masks, they lacked the ability to scale operations to meet demand. By collaborating with Apple, they were able to benefit from the tech giant’s scaling and technological expertise, as well as their supply chain connections to solve the problem at hand.

The report goes on to consider the importance of having a company culture of being able to kill a project after it’s been scaled-up successfully if need be. Projects are always in a constant state of flux where a company may find itself in an entirely different set of circumstances from those at the time the innovation was first conceived or even deployed at scale. It’s important, therefore, to ensure that business leaders are proactively monitoring outcomes in a pragmatic data-driven manner to make the right decisions.

“By creating a process that focuses on sustained value and building a culture of accountability around it, we become more critical of and strategic about, innovation. Business leaders need to make tough decisions – someone needs to be the ‘bad guy’ and take ownership of calling time on a project that no longer delivers value,” said Cohen.

Scale at speed

The onset of the pandemic has underscored many things, but nothing so much as the importance and urgency of scaling innovation. “Scale at speed” has become the new mantra for organizations around the globe addressing business needs amid the magnitude of challenges COVID-19 has brought with it. “We’re no longer dealing with a singular office or operation, but with global operations, global supply chains, entire countries, and populations – a level of a scale unlike anything we have routinely seen before,” said Cohen.

Post-2020 and beyond, Cohen believes that organizations that are true digital transformers and applied innovators will use the pandemic as a springboard for change: “They will see what is ahead, know what adaptations are needed, and, most importantly, do it – providing them with the necessary performance proficiencies for sustained competitive advantage.”

While companies that either return to business as usual or fail to cultivate critical aspects needed to scale may do so at their peril. “The pandemic is a reminder that scaling innovation is a competitive weapon that gives organizations a significant edge. Companies that cannot achieve scale risk perishing in the face of competition” added Cohen.

By treating scale as a specific and unique discipline, and building a culture that encourages scale, as well as putting in place the right governance, companies can achieve scale with a speed and certainty that other competitors will struggle to match.

As the fallout from the pandemic remains an uncertain territory, finesse in scaling innovation will be vital for enterprises to gain a sustained competitive advantage in the years ahead.