How the pandemic created virtual innovation labs?

The Covid-19 pandemic has reshaped almost every socio-economic activity worldwide, including science, technology and innovation (STI). Innovation must be continuous and to support that, many organisations have launched digital spaces where participants can collaborate remotely and create new value. These are the virtual innovations labs where new ideas and new solutions can be generated, reviewed, developed further, tested, and promoted. True, the necessity to build virtual spaces was triggered by the pandemic but the concept continues to thrive since it allows collaboration at a global level.

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) Science, Technology and Innovation Outlook 2021 highlighted how the pandemic could dampen innovation at a time when innovations in science are most needed to digital transformation business process, to manage the perils of climate emergency and to meet sustainable development goals. The report stressed on the importance of countries to protect their innovation systems while trying to recover from the pandemic and move forward towards a ‘new normal’.

Like almost everything else, STI too will feel the cascading effects of the pandemic for years to come. It is important to design and develop adaptive and innovative STI policies and systems that would be hyper-productive* and resilient under a variety of future challenges.

The pandemic triggered the increased use of virtual conferencing and communication tools, and that enabled new ways to exchange knowledge, collaborate on research and also provide training. These communication tools continue to be used across the world in many organisations. In fact, many organisations are driving collaboration across the organisation and even beyond to get as many creative minds as possible to work on ideas. The results have been productive and innovative and virtual innovation labs are a perfect example. 

What happens in a virtual innovation lab?

Idea generation:

Authorised members can share opportunities for innovation, respond to challenges posed by stakeholders and also respond to real-time calls to action. According to corporate innovators, employees and customers are the two primary sources of creative ideas.

Idea review:

Captured ideas can be reviewed, and next steps can be planned. An expert team could manage a portfolio of ideas.

Idea development:

Innovation lab ideas that are posted already can be developed further. Members can study the ideas and decide whether they are feasible enough to lead to processes, projects and products.

Idea piloting:

Prototypes of feasible products can be built and tested, and the results can be shared among stakeholders. Further implementation plans can be discussed and firmed up.

Idea launching:

Feedback on viable projects can be shared and plans for large scale rollout of innovative products can be planned.  

Virtual practices that support innovation

  • Working from home/remote locations helped organisations save on many costs and those savings can be used to fund innovation. It would be money well spent.
  • Virtual meetings allowed larger and more diverse audiences to collaborate at lower costs. Creativity was encouraged and thrived. As a positive side effect, travel-incurred carbon footprint was also reduced.
  • Virtual training tools allowed larger audiences to access training programmes. Virtual training enhances the outlook of the participants too as they get an opportunity to exchange thoughts with a wider audience on the same platform.
  • To prepare for future disruptions, organisations are gradually adopting practices and technologies that promote automation. This step is also a protection against possible trade barriers and labour shortage because of political or economic reasons.
  • The pandemic has stimulated investment in blockchain technologies and Internet of Things (IoT) to boost trust and transparency in supply chain management.
  • In the virtual world, the importance of privacy and digital security cannot be stressed enough. Cyberattacks in the form of online scams, phishing emails, identity theft, data breaches have thrived. Cybercriminals have often been a step ahead of cybersecurity tools and techniques.
  • However, it cannot be denied that adoption of digital technologies has not been symmetric globally. Access to skills and infrastructure and sufficient finances are all real limitations, especially among small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

True, innovation is considered as a primary ingredient for success, but business leaders must also be clear about how employers would become innovative. Free lunches, tickets to the best shows and other perks do not nurture innovation, there are other factors at play.

  • Innovation must begin at the top:

    Leaders must have a vision and be able to create an innovative space for creativity. When every employee is held accountable and responsible for his/her work, it nurtures an atmosphere of empowerment. And that triggers innovation. 
  • Digital and physical spaces must be integrated for collaboration:

    People must spend time together to understand the challenges and opportunities within an organisation. Given the current times, that could be virtual too. Collaboration can be a natural progression, given the right tools and resources.
  • Creativity and risk taking must be nurtured:

    Organisations must hire and retain creative and innovative talent. Both creativity and risk taking must be projected as essential values of the organisation during the recruitment process.
  • Success must be celebrated but failures must be recognised too:

    Both success and failure must be accepted. Attempts to correct a failure must be made but if it proves to be impossible, the organisation must recognise that and move on to the next challenge.  

*For organizations on the digital transformation journey, agility is key in responding to a rapidly changing technology and business landscape. Now more than ever, it is crucial to deliver and exceed on organizational expectations with a robust digital mindset backed by innovation. Enabling businesses to sense, learn, respond, and evolve like a living organism, will be imperative for business excellence going forward. A comprehensive, yet modular suite of services is doing exactly that. Equipping organizations with intuitive decision-making automatically at scale, actionable insights based on real-time solutions, anytime/anywhere experience, and in-depth data visibility across functions leading to hyper-productivity, Live Enterprise is building connected organizations that are innovating collaboratively for the future.

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