Why do so many innovation programmes fail?

Educational 13 Oct 2021 by Gemma Beard

A recent report from Capgemini, confirmed that up to 90% of testbeds fail to deliver on their promise. So why do innovation initiatives fail and how can you ensure that your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) becomes Business As Usual (BAU).

The endless circle of innovation without changing core business processes

Securing a budget for innovation is rarely simple, but the easiest way to get, and keep, an innovation budget is by making a meaningful impact on core business challenges. Understandably, there are very real fears about innovation that promised to be groundbreaking in some industries, instead disrupting business as usual. The change to the risk profile of organisations was foreseen, even before companies had to face a global pandemic.  

Mitigating the risk of disruption has led to a pattern of focusing on challenge statements in isolation and then building more silos to combat silos. The approach of innovating at the fringe and integrating once value is realised is doomed to fail. It is too hard and risky to embed our projects into real business processes so the effort to do so is only worth it if we can show real value. However, if the innovation isn’t embedded in the real business process we can’t demonstrate real value.

We recognise the fallout of this dilemma, the innovation budget is allocated, a great Proof of value is created, and then it languishes in a testbed or living lab and doesn’t go any further – this happens even when we innovate with technology that’s meant to bring data together.  Everyone is excited at the presentation and demonstration, but we’ve focused too much on the ‘what could be’ we haven’t focused enough on ‘how could this help’ right now.  

Improve on what already exists

We treat innovation as invention. So long as there is a new shiny sensor, product or platform that we swear is going to be the next big thing, we will continue to be captivated by ‘toys’ deepening the problems in our back end. To test some of these devices in a cost-effective way we look at them again, in isolation. We go to small businesses that have point to point solutions at a lower cost point and bring them in to try them out – we love this because it means we work well with the community. We give them some of our data, where we can, but we very rarely give it in the way it would help.

In far too many organisations, innovation sits in a box. When we focus on creating brand new things that are hitting the market we often start a new stream of work or open up a new business model. If we first looked internally at how it could improve our existing challenges would we have a different outcome? When our innovation team’s sit in a specific area or department, and are tasked with becoming ‘future ready’ do we miss out on the value of innovating on real challenges? As Clayton Christensen once said,

“Some sustaining innovations are the incremental year-by-year improvements that all good companies grind out.” 

Future-ready requires us to aspire to a distant, unrealistic world to come, our goal should instead be ‘future-flexible’. Sustaining innovation, so that whatever the future brings, we are able to adapt, survive and excel amongst the unforeseeable.  

How do we collaborate digitally?

We throw some of our data at academics, universities, students, hackathons, consultancies in order to see what fancy new things can be done. Even better, sometimes we create consortiums of these forward thinkers and give them some budget to fix a future problem.  The formation of consortiums is fantastic because it promotes collaboration, which is critical to success. The issue many times is that innovation doesn’t always speak the same language – and integrating systems across organisations can be complex if done in an enterprise/scalable way. It’s getting easier to walk into a room and write on a whiteboard – but can be complicated to get our systems to do the same thing. What would be possible if the way we’d like our concepts and ideas to interoperate on paper would be easily transferable into the virtual world?

What if we could play with business-critical systems, securely without touching them.  What if we could truly understand the data, with all its context and interact with it, without harming it or copying it – would that create a more compelling conversation?

Would we be able to properly scale our innovation projects, prove our ROI and really hit the investment line?

Data for good

Have you got a stalled innovation project or a consortium that’s struggling to collaborate? IOTICS are running a Data for Public Good sponsorship programme where we sponsor your IOTICSpace to help your innovation project hit the road to success. Learn more about the programme here and see if IOTICS can help you break down the barriers of secure data sharing and digital collaboration.


I often wonder how regularly people ponder the question – if I could start this again, how would I do it differently?


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