Welcome to my first blog of 2014...
Whilst the second half of this blog looks forward to the year ahead - the first half has been inspired by the fact that the letter "N" no longer shows up on the keyboard of my laptop. The key is still there but I must have the used the "N" so much that the white lettering has just worn away leaving a blank black key between the "B" and the "M".
Obviously no such issues on mobile devices but in terms of the laptop I wondered why this was and it dawned on me that probably the most frequent word I write these days is "Innovation". Please believe me when I say that I do appreciate the merits of delivering it and not just talking and writing about it - but it made me wonder whether the letter "N" has any additional significance?
This came to a head in December when I was collaborating with a colleague from academia, Professor Ilan Oshri (http://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/sbe/staff/profiles/oshriilan/oshri-ilan.html) over a couple of articles we were writing as potential contributions for the UK National Outsourcing Association Yearbook for 2014. Both articles touch upon linked areas in overcoming some of the challenges around delivering real value adding innovation in the context of a long term services agreement.
Whilst Ilan was tapping into some great thoughts on ensuring that making innovation work is really thought through by all parties when developing a sourcing contract, my focus leaned more heavily on making collaborative innovation work post contract.
It was when writing my article that I started to think about the blank "N" on the keyboard - and it struck me quite firmly that a lot of what I was writing about could be summarised in the form of the three "N's" in innovation...
- NATURE – The supplier needs to imbed an innovation culture into its client facing teams - including use of an entrepreneurial spirit at times – so that they understand that in addition to absolute focus on delivering the core service, they need to be continually looking for ways to deliver service improvement FOR the client and pro-actively looking for for opportunities beyond the core service to drive wider value through innovation WITH the client. This is equally true for the client's team and unsurprisingly I am seeing a growing number of forward thinking clients wanting to focus part of their energies on developing an innovation culture in their own teams - and ensuring this extends into their suppliers.
- NURTURE – Once the opportunity is identified, the supplier needs to be able to call upon a range of mechanisms, capabilities and resources to develop and deliver the innovation for and/or with the client. One size does not fit all. There needs to be a level of agility to do things quickly and a level of empowerment to move forward or equally to be able agree with the client to stop before too much energy and resource is expended. (I am a big believer in not spreading innovation too thinly - agree key areas and deliver on these rather than try to do everything.)
- NOURISHMENT - Both supplier and client teams need to know that if they spot a real opportunity and can develop a real business case and sponsorship, they will be supported in the delivery of it by their wider organizations. Joint innovation needs investment and funding models – and successful joint innovation needs joint rewards in terms of real business outcomes for the client and - lets be honest and not forget it - real incentives for the supplier
Perhaps not untypically my article for the NOA was a little too long and so I had to go through it with the proverbial red pen. In the end I removed the section covering the three "N's" - but I didn't want to lose the thinking behind it hence this blog.
I hope the NOA (http://www.noa.co.uk/) use our wider inputs as I think we both repeated some home truths about what makes innovation work - jointly agreeing what it is and having a joint delivery and governance mechanisms for example. I also think we had some very interesting new points - borne out by experience over the last few years of what has not worked and what has worked very well indeed.
The previous sentence leads me to the second half of this blog. Like many of you I am now planning for 2014. In my role of leading pro-active innovation activities and technical innovation agendas with IBM's IT sourcing clients I am reviewing what worked and what didn't, what we need to start doing, what we need to stop doing and what we need to do differently. Obviously I can't repeat it all here but here are a few insights I can share...
We will definitely be continuing with our cross client Technology Innovation Exchange events. These focus on pro-actively engaging the maximum number of clients on emerging technologies most relevant to them and engaging them in a way that gives them direct access to a range of top subject matter experts and an opportunity to network with their peers in the same and other industries. For those of you who have attended these events you'll know how focused we are on client feedback - and the main short term evolution for 2014 will be more client led sessions. This has often been a challenge as clients are sometimes a little reticent about doing this... But the great news is that the events have been so collaborative and we have so many individual client innovation agendas being developed that we now have a pipeline of clients wanting to come and present to their peers on joint innovation projects.... Many thanks to you all - result!
The next event is scheduled for 25th February 2014 in London - invites to clients come through the IBM account teams but up until registration closes you can see the agenda from the link on the left hand menu here: http://www.ibm.com/events/TechnologyInnovationExchange
The cross client activity is great but the biggest impact we can deliver is by developing an innovation agenda with the maximum number of individual clients. Regular readers to this blog will know that the general outlook is positive but also realistic. Yes, we have a (small and shrinking!) number of sourcing clients who do not consider that we have got innovation right with them. As with all clients, we are reviewing plans at an individual level for each of these. Sometimes like any supplier IBM needs to earn the right to have the innovation conversation and sometimes the client also needs to consider perhaps how they will provide their share of Nature, Nurture and Nourishment to really make joint innovation work. Whatever the cause we are focused on shrinking this group of clients even further.
As I write I have the 2013 full year client satisfaction reports for the clients I work with in front of me. As always this is a great source for identifying actions to address challenges - at a cross client and client specific level. The reports are driven by a third party and the clients say what they are thinking good and bad - and so its a great input into forward planning.
The hugely positive aspect (for me in particular) is the significant year on year increase we have seen in client satisfaction for innovation. No, this does not hold true for every client - see above - but overall the impact of the systematic and pro-active approach we have taken is making a big difference which is great. This leads me to think that 2014 planning must include building on what we were already doing and making the impact even more pervasive and where there are issues ensuring these are addressed early.
To come full circle, we need to focus on the three "N's" of NATURE, NURTURE and NOURISHMENT in innovation. And, to address another of my key learning points from the last few years, we need to ensure that we also positively communicate the great successes we do have - within the client and the supplier - so that value is not only delivered but also clearly understood and recognised. We'll be placing even more emphasis on this both with individual clients and in the 2014 versions of the Client Innovation & Delivery Updates which will also be available online here http://www-935.ibm.com/services/uk/en/it-services/outsourcing-and-innovation.html
Let me know what you think by emailing me on firstname.lastname@example.org and I wish you all the best for 2014...