The Corporate Disruption Challenge

What are the key challenges facing corporate business leaders today?

Last week DISRUPTIONHUB and Sapient Nitro hosted the third in our series of Innovation Dinners bringing together business leaders to share insight and experience on what is a rapidly changing business environment. The theme for this month’s dinner was around the challenges related to planning and implementing innovation.

Chaired by Rob Prevett Co founder of DISRUPTIONHUB and with guests representing some of the UK’s leading organisations including 3i Group, Balfour Beatty, BP, Trainline and TUI the evening gave a fascinating insight into the challenges and opportunities facing legacy businesses. Here are some of the cross industry insights (and sympathies!) to be had in terms of spotting and driving innovation despite barriers.

Lack of industry collaboration in low margin businesses

If your company operates in a low margin industry, the kind of cross company collaboration which has lead to breakthroughs in some technologies or business models will not flourish. Any source of competitive advantage is closely guarded and risk can therefore be discouraged by the existing big players. 

Still difficult to get actionable insight despite a wealth of data

Most of our attendees worked at traditional asset heavy companies, rather than representing the information companies which are thriving the most in today’s information economy. Yet all had access to vast amounts of data,potentially valuable both for the insight into their own business models, and in some cases for external purposes. However, the complexities of the  journey from collecting big data to leveraging smart data was still very evident for most. Using external consultants to analyse the mountains of disconnected or unexamined data had proven extremely powerful for one company, and most attendees were working on developing more expert resource internally.

Human interaction still necessary for many consumers, but expensive to provide

Digital transformations can focus on automation of customer communication as a more efficient and profitable business model, and  AI powered assistants are increasingly the next step. Yet in some services the need to “see the whites of the seller’s eyes” is still prevalent. It was advised that this should be taken into account when designing new experiences, especially for companies who work across territories. For example cultural differences lead to striking differences in phone versus online booking. Balancing business as usual with innovation- industrialising innovatio

The distractions of legacy systems and middleware are dangerous

There was a common acknowledgement, especially among the acquisition heavy companies, that the more systems there were in place to serve customers, the harder it was keep the customer in the centre of your service. Dealing with ‘bastard legacy systems’ can often detract effort and attention from delivering the best customer experiences, never mind carving out innovative new ones. 

Improving customer journeys across silos

One of the most detailed conversations was had about the organisational challenges of mapping and improving customer journeys when that journey cuts across several historic silos. The role of a cross-organisational ‘journey manager’ was examined and looks likely to be something which can effect change more quickly- something which is imperative given the speed of change of customer journeys given the digitally driven high rate of change in their behaviou

Educating senior management starting to become easier

Although there was still an element of having to spend a great deal of their effort in setting the scene and educating the board on the threats and opportunities of emerging technologies, it was notable that the general consensus was that this had become much easier. It was worth noting that a tipping point had been reached in terms of acceptance of the need for embracing and navigating technological disruption

Quick and cheap proofs of concepts not always possible

One of the ways some attendees had tested and got senior management united behind a new innovation was through proofs of concept such as MVPs- Minimum Viable Products, and agile development. However, this is hard in some asset based companies who cannot accurately test low spec prototypes (think airplanes for example) as easily as those in tech or service industries. Huge investment in any new product offering can still be needed, which hinders innovation. It would be interesting to see how other companies in the same situation have overcome such difficulties in pretotyping

Hard to anticipate which of the new business models or technologies is the biggest threat

With so many new businesses and services springing up, the head of innovation has a challenging job to know “which one will bite me”, which to invest in, and which to protect against. Business represented with larger budgets were able to have labs which had a division for exploring each type of emerging technology. But as history has shown, having larger budgets has not always protected companies from negative disruption, so getting the company behind smart as well as informed decisions will still be necessary. We hope that events like this, in which the attendees will keep in touch and support each other over the coming turbulent years, will help to shape these decisions

Skills gaps can be more of a ‘void’

As new ways of operating are required by new models and services, despite having thousands of staff and a high enough headcount on paper, their concentration in silos does not always lend them to working across the organisation in a more agile and end-to-end manner. Recruiting talent remains a limitation to industrialising innovation

Uncertainty around the future legal and ethical issues surrounding some technologies

As the evening drew to a close the discussion around the amazing speed of progression around the applications of technologies such as AI turned a little more existential. It was a reminder that many factors surrounding the evolution of businesses will be governed by the reaction of society and the response from public and legislative bodies. With implications for employment, global food production, population control, the environment all impacted to the largest extent since the industrial revolution, forecasting macroeconomic models for business planning is certainly a challenge!

We invite you to comment on the challenges within your industry. Have you experienced similar or different challenges, and do you have tips for navigating them?

Please leave comments below, and feel free to nominate anyone in your organisation for consideration to our next Invitation Dinner.