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Entrepreneurship from within

The rise and rise of Silicon Valley, driven by tech entrepreneurs, has redefined our very notion of what it means to be an entrepreneur and what defines a successful business. This month we look at how large organisations can foster and embrace entrepreneurs from within, and create a culture of innovation at scale.

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3 min

Innovation by numbers: Classic, complementary techniques

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Innovation by numbers: Classic, complementary techniques

Innovation is a tricky business. No single solution has enough scope to generate revolutionary progress. There’s no magic bullet – it takes many iterations.

With a little imagination and effort, the best innovators use a range of cohesive techniques to keep ahead of the game, and even put on a sprint. “Figure out what problem you’re trying to solve first,” says Annie Parker, co-founder of Telstra’s start-up accelerator program, muru-D.

To solve your problem, be prepared to step outside your comfort zone, she says. Parker’s immersion in the start-up ecosystem has taught her that diverging from the norm is OK because everyone learns as they go.

“That’s the whole definition of entrepreneurialism: that you’re experimenting with doing things differently and trying new things,” she says. “If you accept that everybody’s in the same boat, then what have you got to lose?”

Integrate your innovation

Avoid having isolated pockets of innovation, the Executive Director of Operations at online education provider Ivy College, Roger Burgess, says. Stressing the value of integration to make gains, Burgess is part of the team leading Australia’s second most innovative company, as ranked by the Australian Financial Review.

“We started from the top down – we embedded innovation within our organisational strategy,” Burgess says. To gain traction, he adds, your organisation should adopt an equally robust strategy based on a culture of high performance. Every company has the capability to do that, he says, advising that it’s important to define and measure progress.

It’s also important to assess advancement constantly through management-led discussion. Oversight is key, according to Burgess, whose company’s innovation hub, IvyX, is designed to ensure all projects are judged on objective merit. Projects are divided into two-week “sprints” that increase the speed and volume of iterations to be tested and implemented.

Be open to new ideas

Effective, cohesive innovation may involve crossing all kinds of boundaries, from the architectural to the psychological. Ensure that an attitude of openness to new ideas permeates your office – consider designing the space with teamwork in mind.

Ivy College is so profoundly invested in innovation that 65 per cent of its office space is allotted to creative collaboration. As a result, ideas can easily cross-pollinate through sharing across people and departments.

Avoid a silo mentality and, above all, keep iterating. “There is no such thing as failure, only insight for future innovations,” Burgess says.

 

There is no such thing as failure, only insight for future innovations.
– Roger Burgess, executive director of operations, Ivy College

 

Understand your customers

Be willing to get inside your clients’ minds by verifying what they want done and proceeding in a committed, measured style sustained by staff who have racked up abundant experience.

Ben Ross, general manager of design and user experience at accounting software firm MYOB endorses a strategy called the “jobs-to-be-done framework”, devised by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen –who once said you should “crawl into the skin of your customer”.

The empathic, task-oriented framework hinges on addressing how much a certain product or service fulfils a user’s agenda. Ross explains that the crux is the gap between what users want done and their level of satisfaction.

“This is the sweet spot, allowing innovation and creation to flow,” he says, citing how this framework has supported MYOB innovations including its Smart Bills software, which captures key invoice data.

Once a sweet spot or job opportunity has been identified, MYOB pursues the “build-measure-learn” process. This empowers development teams to build lightweight solutions, gauge client responses, learn from mistakes and rebuild software fast to deliver the best outcome for clients. Ross says one core knock-on benefit is a sustained, rapid pace of change, ensuring constant innovation.

Make mistakes and move on

Redefining failure encourages staff to experiment by stepping outside the norm and even making mistakes. “Failure is what helps you learn to infer what the next right step is,” Parker says.

By failing fast, your organisation will make much greater headway, she says. Having the right people, such as experienced staff, fuels progress.

“In my team, we’ve specifically recruited people who have been there, done it and got the t-shirt,” Parker adds, citing an entrepreneur-in-residence who has founded a host of start-ups. “Always, the know-how obtained through experience is gold dust.”

 

Idea in brief

  • Experiment boldly
  • Have committed, experienced staff on-board
  • Do particular jobs that users want done
  • Ensure innovation underpins your whole culture
  • Measure progress precisely

Telstra’s Customer Insight Centre is a purpose-built facility where innovative partnerships create ground breaking technologies. Find out more.

 
2 min

Five innovation approaches that really work

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Five innovation approaches that really work

Championing innovation begins at the very core of your business, but there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

Few companies have more credibility around innovation than those presented in the Australian Financial Review’s Most Innovative Companies list.

Here are some of their approaches to innovation that have yielded great success:

Recruit entrepreneurs

People are a key ingredient in an innovative culture, according to Stuart Elliott, managing director at Planet Innovation, which was recently named Australia’s most innovative company for the second time in three years by the AFR.

“We spend enormous effort recruiting entrepreneurial thinkers,” Elliott recently said, adding that he favours deep technical expertise coupled with broad commercial acumen. “Once on board we mentor our staff to seek diverse experience, share their challenges and champion their ideas.”

Appoint innovation ambassadors

Select champions of the end-to-end innovation process to build a predictable and repeatable innovation pipeline. This is the reason property developer Mirvac fosters “innovation champions” spanning different functions, divisions, locations, and seniorities.

Each ambassador is influential, respected and keen to drive change, according to group general manager for innovation, Christine Gilroy, who describes innovation as “very, very embedded”.

“It’s a continual process – and it’s based on lean start-up methodology,” says Gilroy.

Bust boundaries

Cutting-edge construction company Laing O’Rourke operates on the basis of an offsite practice called DFMA (Design for Manufacture and Assembly). Although routinely applied in sectors such as aerospace for more than a decade, DFMA tenets are new to construction.

Through this process, Laing O’Rourke is revolutionising how towns evolve via a range of manufactured modular solutions, including sleepers and smart walls, all delivered quickly and affordably at pace beyond that of traditional construction.

Go high-tech

One of the most ambitious innovators, ING Direct, runs an instant virtual environment designed to mirror the out-of-the-box banking giant in all its complexity.

“The solution enables us to streamline processes that previously took eight people three months – with a very simple self-service model,” ING Direct executive Andrew Henderson says. The takeaway: get radical. Be ready to embrace broad technical solutions.

Encourage cross-collaboration

“Great ideas come from everywhere,” says Xero Australia’s managing director, Trent Innes. This is why the global cloud accounting software giant welcomes innovation through diversity and cross-team collaboration.

For example, when building a new product or feature people from various teams, such as sales and customer experience, are encouraged to be involved from the beginning. “They know the customers inside out and it makes great sense to have them help on the journey,” says Innes. “People with a diverse set of ideas will push your product forward.”

Partner with Telstra to become an innovation leader in your industry. Ask you AE about the innovation partnership opportunities.

 
3 min

CFOs make innovation count

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CFOs make innovation count

Products and services are often at the centre of innovation. But from where the chief financial officer sits, the business model may be ripe for a revamp.

“Innovate or perish” is the rallying cry of business in the 21st century, and for companies that excel at innovation it is well understood that an exacting and ongoing commitment is needed.

“Simply articulating a compelling vision [for innovation-led growth] is far from sufficient,” global consulting firm McKinsey & Co notes in its report, The Eight Essentials of Innovation Performance.

Quantifying the scope of innovation required to meet financial growth objectives is an exercise every company should consider, but McKinsey laments that only a “handful” of companies do this as part of their strategy and planning processes.

“Only once [innovation] is quantified is a company able to ensure that managers make the proper trade-off to drive innovation alongside other business activities and put in place the appropriate metrics to track progress,” the report notes.

McKinsey adds that a strong “innovation portfolio” goes beyond new products and includes factors such as new business models and processes that can offer an edge.

“Of all innovation types, business-model innovation can create the most significant long-term value,” the report states. “These innovations can include new distribution and production methods – both can disrupt current practices and erect powerful barriers to competition.”

 

How the CEO sees it

Professional services powerhouse Deloitte Australia is imbued with the innovation imperative. Former chief executive Giam Swiegers – appointed in 2003 to revitalise the then lacklustre firm – stressed the importance of innovation.

Swiegers’ successor, Cindy Hook, who was appointed last year, is increasing that focus.

She recently announced record revenue for Deloitte Australia of $1.53 billion for the year ending May 31.

“The rapid pace of change in the world today requires business leaders to strike a balance between delivering operating profits today and investing in transforming their business models to enable sustainable growth and profitability in the future,” Hook says.

 

How the CFO sees it

While it is often CEOs who are most identified with a company’s innovation strategy, chief financial officers also play a vital role in providing the financial and strategic framework in which innovation flourishes.

Deloitte Australia CFO Andrew Griffiths says innovation is deeply embedded in the organisation. “Innovation is what we do – it’s not separate, it has become integral to the way we do business,” Griffiths says.

“If you do innovation for innovation’s sake you don’t get anywhere. Innovation requires a proper framework that links it back to the business purpose – the reason you innovate is to help you achieve your strategy. It is not just about coming up with ideas; but delivering on the ideas and having tangible, measurable outcomes.”

Innovation, he adds, must be “viable and sustainable”, include reward mechanisms, and be measurable against performance indicators. “There needs to be a strong link between the strategic plan, business plan and financial plan,” he says.

Stressing the importance of “structure, support and enablement” in driving innovation, Griffiths says he works closely with Deloitte’s chief strategy officer to create the structure that takes innovation “from ideation to commercialisation”.

Every initiative aimed at advancing the firm’s strategic objectives – whether it’s a push to pursue new markets or better service clients, or an acquisition aimed at expanding capabilities – goes to the investment committee including the CFO, CSO and CEO.

Recent acquisitions include businesses specialising in identity security, cloud consulting and spatial design.

When Swiegers became chief executive he was among the first business leaders in Australia to talk about the little-understood concept of “disruption” and its impact on Deloitte and its clients. That focus is being increased today.

“We are constantly asking ‘how do we disrupt ourselves?’ because unless you disrupt yourself, you’re in trouble,” Griffiths says. “We have to integrate disruption into the business and we have to look at new ways of doing things to be a sustainable business.”

 

Innovation is what we do – it’s not separate, it has become integral to the way we do business.
– Andrew Griffiths, chief financial officer, Deloitte Australia

 

How to go global

Linda Dillon has been CFO with diverse companies including architects Woods Bagot, wind-energy company Vestas and engineering group Aurecon. These days the Melbourne executive specialises in consulting and Interim CFO roles for ASX small cap and businesses with growth trajectories preparing for IPO and ASX listing.

Dillon has been involved in setting and overseeing the “strategies, processes and platforms” that provide the framework for commercialising innovation.

Australian companies looking to commercialise their intellectual property internationally often partner with overseas companies to create the necessary scale and distribution reach. To do this successfully, Dillon says, it is important to have the governance, risk management and financial systems in place.

“To partner with world-class organisations you need to have world-class processes,” she says. “In many cases my role has been to ensure that robust platforms are in place for the commercialisation of Australian R&D and innovation.”

This includes undertaking due diligence of potential partners, setting performance benchmarks, developing risk management protocols, creating reporting systems, and managing tax and regulatory compliance.

Dillon says innovation, research and development geared towards national and international growth must be underpinned by financial, risk and scenario models.

“Modelling plays a critical role when pursuing growth strategies so that everyone knows what the possible outcomes and potential risks are,” Dillon says. “Nobody wants to be caught half-way through a major rollout without sufficient capital or with the organisation under great stress.”

 

Idea in brief

  • Innovation is more than new products, it includes new business models
  • Rapid pace of change requires business leaders to strike a balance between delivering operating profits today and investing in transforming their business models to enable sustainable growth and profitability in the future
  • Innovation must be viable and sustainable, include reward mechanisms, and be measurable against performance indicators
  • R&D geared towards international growth must be underpinned by strong risk management

Telstra Collaboration technology can offer approaches which ensure your innovation teams deliver outcomes.

 

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4 min

Innovation from within: The power of teamwork

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Innovation from within: The power of teamwork

The most unique and innovative ideas often come from within.

“We have to overcome this sense that creativity and innovation is the preserve of a few, that it’s a gift that only a few have; it’s simply not true,” says US management thinker Gary Hamel.

Hamel laments that business leaders often treat innovation as a special talent to be entrusted to a select elite, with the result that their organisations miss out on the “creativity and capability” that each employee brings to work every day. He describes it as “a kind of creative apartheid”.

“Human beings were born to create, we can’t help but create. So the challenge is to train [all employees] to think like innovators, to give them the chance to experiment and try new things and really take advantage of their creative capital.”

Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) couldn’t agree more.

It recently embarked on a “Think Shake” innovation challenge in which DELWP’s 3200 employees were asked: “What can we do to improve what we do or how we do it as a department?” – the question generated 230 ideas. The next task was to identify which were best suited to a technology-based solution. The responses were narrowed to 50 “potentially digitally-enabled ideas”.

A workshop comprising DELWP’s innovation team and mobile technology specialists from Tigerspike and Telstra decided on five ideas to be “brought to life” as mobile apps.

An intensive two-day “Hackathon” held at Telstra’s Gurrowa Innovation Labs in Melbourne – attended by software developers, programmers, mobile app specialists and five teams comprising “idea authors” and subject-matter experts from DELWP – was charged with fast-tracking five app prototypes.

 

Digitising development

DELWP project coordinator Geoffrey Caine was involved in the creation of an app that streamlines Crown land information that is currently paper-based and often spread across several agencies into a single digital hub.

Depending on the query or proposal – camping permission, an application to build a surf club, hosting a wedding on a particular site or enquiring about purchasing land – DELWP employees might find themselves delving into boxes of documents dating back to the 1820s to establish approved usages for the Crown land. For customers, a complex query might result in having to deal with several authorities that may have an interest in the one piece of land.

The app digitises this often cumbersome process, making it easier for staff to answer questions from customers and easier for customers to access information about Crown land usage.

“It was just incredible having coders there with us who were able to take really complex problems and narrow them down based on our collective experience of working with different user groups,” Caine says of the Hackathon experience.

“They were able to build something that provides staff with the confidence that they have the factual information to make a decision, knowing that all the issues and values of the site have been considered.”

Public enquiries that might take “months” to settle or Crown land sales that can take several years to finalise and involve multiple agencies can be reduced to a simplified decision-making process.

“That’s one of the core outcomes that we were looking for: clear-cut, transparent decision-making and a better experience for the public. Happy members of the public make for happy DELWP employees,” Caine says.

 

Scaling solutions

Another app is for DELWP officers responsible for mapping campsites and setting up base camps for use in emergencies such as bushfires, and search and rescue missions.

Currently, base camp managers do this planning manually. Not unusually they will use paper maps for potential campsites and phone books to track down local tradespeople to construct camp infrastructure. The app will digitise the entire process and even incorporates the knowledge and experience of veteran base camp managers such as Stefan Kaiser.

“It was really exciting to participate in a process that, in the space of two days, created a digital format of the work we do,” Kaiser says.

“It’s been a wonderful opportunity to join with people who have the technological skills to download from us our knowledge, experience and ideas and build it into something that is operational and scalable.”

DELWP Senior Innovation Manager Claire Tomlinson says the mobile apps will “improve our services to customers, but also the productivity and wellbeing of our staff”.

Equally important is the underpinning message that everyone can play a role in innovation.

“Hackathon has been about uplifting the capability of our staff to innovate, unblocking the barriers to innovation and creating pathways for people to innovate,” Tomlinson says.

Tomlinson plans to implement 101 of the 230 staff ideas over the next 12 months.

 

“We have to overcome this sense that creativity and innovation is the preserve of a few, that it’s a gift that only a few have; it’s simply not true.”
– Gary Hamel, US management expert

 

[Transcript]

Claire Tomlinson: Hey everyone. We’re going to have a Hackathon. Who’s keen?”

It’s never been done before, to my knowledge, in Victorian government, so we’re the first department to do such an event. We’re also the first department to elicit the ideas of our staff through a crowd sourcing challenge.

We went out and asked all of our staff, “What can we do to improve what we do or how we do it as a department?” We had aimed to get 50 ideas through our challenge and we ended up with 230.

Ian Morland: Through the help of Telstra and the Tigerspike team, they were actually able to take all of our ideas and concepts and actually build it into something that was operational.

Geoffrey Caine: Technology is an interesting term for us because at the moment the technology that we use is pen and paper still.

I guess we never really have the opportunity to have coders in the room with service designers, and – and with the expertise in hand.

Troy Smithells: We knew we could apply our technology expertise to these ideas to really accelerate the idea and bring it to life. So that’s what excited us was being able to create these tangible outcomes that were scale across – scalable across the business and really transform the way DELWP operates internally and also facing into the public domain.

Ian Morland: Our process would have been to develop a business case for a project, create a working group around the project, spend weeks and months trying to produce something at the end of it.

Erika Lind: I was excited by it in seeing the functionality. There’s also the higher aspect of that fast track collaboration and innovation and coming up with an end-use product as opposed to a business case.

Ian Morland: We’ve gone from concept to product in the space of two days. Where historically, that would have taken months using a traditional project management model.

Claire Tomlinson: It’s really about providing them with the opportunities to innovate and creating the pathways for people to do so.

Ask your AE how Telstra can help supercharge your creative process today.

 

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