The Government has placed innovation at the heart of its industrial strategy for the UK. But it sets precious few goals for specific innovation in either the public or private sectors. This could jeopardize the potential for it to deliver on its promise of innovation.
Through our recent research on innovation and many years of experience creating innovative technologies we’ve found little practical benefit is delivered from innovation that isn’t linked to specific goals. For one, in the absence of such linkages, it’s hard to measure the value of innovation.
In order to establish a key role for innovative thinking in the Strategy, the UK government should establish and then link specific goals for technology-enabled innovation to each pillar of the industrial strategy.
The pillar on upgrading infrastructure, and in particular, rail networks, is an instructive example of what this goal-setting could look like.
There are two immediate opportunities to provide faster, better transport to even out the North/South divide, drive productivity improvements and help with the transition to a low-carbon economy.
The first is to embrace completely disruptive technologies, such as Hyperloop, and to deploy them across the UK to deliver high speed transport and, importantly, build skills and capabilities in the UK in this new transport technology.
The second is to make transport users more productive on their journeys; perhaps by subsidising the development of more wireless coverage on railway infrastructure. Adding more rural 4G coverage in those areas through which the railway passes would give the country excellent connectivity on existing trains and, as a consequence, improve productivity.
Yet the benefits extend beyond just the specific pillar. In fact, both of these goals – one completely disruptive, one more prosaic – are examples of technological innovation delivering across multiple pillars, including supporting and growing start-ups, encouraging trade and inward investment and driving growth across the whole country.
We work across government and the public sector to transform and improve public services
Could Procurement Drive Innovation?
Another pillar of the strategy is to use government procurement to drive innovation. Again, our experience and research show the need for specific objectives, particularly where innovation is likely to spur improvements across government departments.
The demographic time-bomb of adult vulnerable care can, for example, be solved with innovative technological approaches. Internet of Things (IoT) enabled technology can monitor and support the elderly, help direct domiciliary care efficiently, and respond to prioritised need.
Yet this requires a combination of technologies procured by multiple departments. For example, making fibre infrastructure more widely available will need to be driven by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS). Integrating consumer devices in elderly homes will have to be led by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). And integrating with medical facilities requires working with the National Health Service (NHS).
This kind of integration would reduce the cost of social care provision by facilitating telecare and other technology-driven care models. Of course, the challenge at present is that procurement processes are not established to work in this fashion.
Delivering the central innovation that will drive growth and prosperity across the country will require a commitment to adhering to the goals from early finalisation through the inevitable false starts. If that commitment is maintained then the UK will get a “double-whammy”: great government services and technology leadership that will drive inward investment.