Creating structured innovation

I will handle a Discussion Group on Sept 22nd in London at Service Delivery Innovation Summit, and it is about Creating Structured Innovation, How can you lead a successful programme? In perspective to this event, I gave an interview to the team setting-up the Service Innovation event. It is related to the topic of creating an innovation culture at Telcos, and I thought it was worth sharing it!

Harry Chapman (head of production at Informa): what do you think Telcos 3 core strategies should be for creating an innovative culture, and make the transition to digital services?

Nicolas Bry: Telcos don’t have to ‘create’ an innovative culture: they have technological innovation in their DNA, from telephone, to mobile, ADSL, fibrer, IPTV, and so on.

They have to ‘adjust’ their innovation culture to the broader industry to which they belong now: Digital. I see 3 main paths:

  • Firstly, they have to combine their technological skills with user-centric design to build usable, and desirable innovations; moreover, the scope of innovation has to be extended from product & services to multiple angles: marketing, commercial, and distribution innovation, business model innovation (including collaborative economy), process innovation, and social innovation;

Orange user centric

  • Secondly, they have to become agile: digital is moving at high-speed, and the first innovation release often needs rapid iteration to hit the nail; APIs are great way to support agility and build innovation capital;
  • Thirdly, while historically they are nation-based, Telcos must become globalOrange Mobile Money is a fantastic illustration of how a local initiative can have a global impact; starting in Kenya, it now covers 14 countries in Africa, and is currently crossing the Mediterranean; to help ideas circulate across all countries, we have initiated Imagine with Orange, a crowdsourcing platform, and a launchpad for entrepreneurs, to give local innovations a global reach.


How can Telcos change their internal processes and culture to make themselves much more agile and innovation?

The cornerstone for an innovation culture is motivation. Where does the motivation come from? Why should I unleash my creativity? Because I see meaning in it, I understand it will make an impact for my company, I will have enough autonomy to turn the idea into a project, and act in an environment of trust:  I will not be sanctioned if it fails, and my risk-taking spirit will be rewarded.

You have then to adapt your processes accordingly, and select the methodologies that fits with your context: whether it is ‘design-thinking’, ‘lean start-up’, ‘open innovation’, ‘disruptive innovation’ approach, ‘business model canvas’, ‘agile’, you have to combine the tools that will support the best the change of paradigm from optimization to audacity. In parallel to culture and methodologies, set-up your innovation portfolio, leveraging various calls to creativity (innovation awards, idea competition, innovation tournaments, participative innovation, incubation-outcubation), and aligning with business strategy.

Often innovation is connected to its starting idea, and ‘ah ah’ moment. When we dig in some more, we realize that innovation is all about execution, tenacity, and collective adventure. Innovation is creating a change: you have to engage softly your surroundings (management, colleagues, partners, consumers) in the change brought by innovation, turning resistance into a desire to change. These principles are the pillars of the Rapid Innovation platform.

Time For Innovation Showing Creative Development And Ingenuity

Orange has embraced Open Innovation mindset. We’ve adapted our way to innovate according to the environmental trends in the past 5 years. When I look at the different shifts, I’m amazed by how fast this industry and our company has switched:

  • User centric design: derived from User-Lead approach (Van Hippel) and Design-Thinking, we balance technology push with user insights, and handle powerful tools to listen to the voice of the customer: Lab Orange for polling and testing new concepts, Dream Orange for digital conversations, and Imagine with Orange, a cocreation platform for ideation, are open innovation approaches with customers;
  • Open Innovation with start-ups and users: beyond traditional R&D partnerships with universities and corporate labs, Orange has initiated Orange Partner (to expose internal resources to external partners), Orange Fab (to foster start-ups collaboration with Orange business units), Orange for Development (to develop local ICT markets with start-up incubation and funding), and once more Imagine with Orange, whose platform is open to any user, customers and non customers, external users as well as Orange employees, and a launchpad for entrepreneurs;
  • Multifunctional project team: fast-track innovation teams are working in the same open space, handling quick prototyping and fast iterating, going to the streets to meet real, live potential customers and observe, based on the lessons from Lean Start-up book (like MVP), and the New Product Development Game & Rugby approach published by Professor Nonaka. Innovation teams are named ‘one-roof’ projects’ by Luc Bretones, head of Orange Technocenter & Orange vallée, and seek to be ‘agile’ throughout the innovation process. This cross functionality seems to me a kind of ‘open innovation’ within the team!

What do you think telcos can learn from major innovation experts like Google and Amazon?

What I keep in mind from Google is how Larry Page and Sergei Brink have managed for  a long time to be present at the steering committee in charge of validating bi-monthly new projects initiatives. Management accessibility is very encouraging to boost employees’ self-starter spirit.

Google [X] ambition to tackle ‘Moonshot’ innovations is a tremendous bet on innovation. It’s  also a very insightful experience: how will they combine their sharp autonomy with the core company strengths, how will they make their forward thinking explorations land into a favorable ecosystem, and engage seamlessly  users on their innovations? Bringing the innovation value to the core co is the traditional challenge of autonomous Skunkworks entities, like the one we created at Orange, named Orange Vallée. Autonomy is not isolation, and sometimes more haste means less speed.

Amazon is a master in reinventing continuously bold business models. I also like the definition of an innovator by Jeff Bezos: ‘someone who’s being both stubborn and flexible’.

Can you tell us what you think an innovative telco will look like in 5 years’ time?

I see Telcos turning into platforms, letting others create value on top of our platforms, bringing additional creativity, and agility. APIs will be the building blocks of this platform business model. APIs are not limited to code: they require what I call API-design-thinking and ecosystem management. The outcome is: when every business is an API, new businesses can be formed almost instantly by linking.

Orange Datavenue platform for IoT and Orange range of APIs available on Orange Partner, illustrate this move. Concurrently, I expect Telcos to build on the relationship they have with their customers, a relationship made of reliability and proximity. I’m convinced Telcos can use the mobile channel to bring to their end-users a wider range of services which require that kind of close link. From mobile banking, to smart city, smart car, m-health, smart home, smart retail:  there are many opportunities to build in partnership creative services that will reenchant the life of our users worldwide.


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