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Why the best way to encourage digital innovation is not to fund it

Bill Goodwin | Computer Weekly | 11 September 2017 

Read the full article online at Computer Weekly here.

Frazer Bennett, chief innovation officer at PA Consulting Group shares his insights with Bill Goodwin, Content Editor at Computer Weekly on how firms can be more innovative.

In the article, Frazer notes that people need to be given the space to grow and they need to be rewarded for their ideas rather than their output and innovation will come. It states that CIO’s face growing pressure and competition to maintain the technology that will keep the business running. 

Frazer says: “Here are the two roles: keep everything going; and, at the same time, disrupt. It is fundamentally impossible.”

The article goes on to look at how technologies are developed in the PA site in Cambridge. Frazer says: “I don’t fund them.”

He believes: “That funding good ideas causes more harm than good.

“Everything about PA is designed to encourage innovation. Its top managers encourage people to “rock the boat” and reward ideas, as well as people’s performance."

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“Innovation is not a department. You can’t just put a name on a door or have a bunch of hackathons and expect it to happen. Innovation is in the culture.

“It starts at the top, when leaders show – not say – that innovation is important. They celebrate innovation because it is the culture they want to achieve.”

It notes that PA takes on interns during the summer and that they are given the freedom to pursue projects that do not have a commercial deadline.

“We had interns flying drones over the crops that were due to be harvested, using artificial intelligence to calculate crop yields, identify whether they were ready for harvest and where the weeds were.”

Frazer goes on to examine funding. He says: “It is surprising how little funding innovation needs. Startups, for example, can make a big impact with very little cash.

“I don’t have a Dragon’s Den-style committee. I just make sure people have enough latitude to grow. If they believe in the idea, they will spend their own time and energy on it.

“There is a limit to how far one person can take an idea, and when they reach this limit, funding is not the solution. Their next job is to persuade their mates they have a good idea.”

It says that PA’s latest idea is to use 3D printing technology to produce personalised products. 

Frazer concludes that: “We are printing flavours, so you can have a production line producing cookies, crisps or potato chips which can individually coat the products with a customised flavour.”

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