Without innovation, operators run the risk of becoming irrelevant, trampled by their diverse enterprise partners

“Connected Britain. The digital economy. Smart cities. Creating a digital infrastructure… All of this will require innovation from our largest enterprises,” said Ismail Amla, Chief Growth Officer at Capita, opening his presentation at Connected Britain 2020.

Innovation is something very difficult to define, particularly in the telecoms space. Telcos and vendors are only too happy to pronounce their latest offerings as ‘innovative’, but such moves generally pale in comparison to real industry-shaping revelations, like Facebook and the rise of social media or Amazon and e-commerce. Especially during the coronavirus pandemic, when everyone has been forced to shift their business models so rapidly, it can be hard to identify true innovation. 

“From adversity potentially comes innovation and this is precisely our experience with COVID,” said Amla, noting that the rapid transition forced upon businesses was here to stay. 

“That change isn’t going anywhere,” he said. “This is probably the slowest rate at which any of us will experience change ever again.”



But with the pandemic beginning to subside in some areas, can we be innovative without crisis?

Major companies that drive innovation – Amla cites Facebook, Tesla, Google, for example – share a number of fascinating attributes. They make decisions faster than their peers, and those decisions are not trivial, instead entailing bold and disruptive changes to their business. Neither are these decisions rash or whimsical, but are instead underpinned by significant analytics and robust data. Unsurprisingly, a strong customer focus completes the puzzle at the heart of innovation’s ultimate success.   

“Sustained customer focus, backed by appropriate operational efficiency, has been shown to yield massive economic gains, ranging from 20–50% of the cost base. That could be profound,” said Amla.

But if that process of innovation were so simple, why do we not see innovation happening all the time? Why do we not see major legacy companies innovating like start-ups, when they have such major advantages in terms of scale and experience?

Part of the issue, it seems, is due to culture and a sense of monotony or stagnation. In many major corporations, teams are large and strongly segmented, with standardised routines and goals.

“Innovation needs unpredictability to thrive,” argues Amla. “Central to this is the new notion that a great idea can come from anywhere and anyone in your organisation. In the purest sense there is a big culture shift here: we need to genuinely assume that everyone is an innovator.” 

For telcos to truly innovate, they need to forgo the fear of failure and replace it with a fear of irrelevance, of being outpaced by their more agile enterprise partners. With the demand for connectivity higher than ever, now is the time for telcos to take these risks. As a panelist in a previous Connected Britain session stated, when it comes to the telecoms industry, telcos must ask themself: if not now, then when? 


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