Innovation Jumpstart: making innovation second nature

03 June 2016

The challenges faced by utilities firms continue to multiply: climate change and population growth are putting pressure on natural resources; increased competition and regulatory change are forcing organisations to become more customer-focused; while new technologies are challenging traditional ways of doing things in every part of their business. Across the industry, there is an increasing recognition of the need to successfully embrace innovation in order to help meet these challenges sustainably.

Reflecting this trend, innovation was a major focus at the recently concluded Institute of Water’s Annual Conference, and also at the Innovating to Win breakfast, co-hosted by Energy UK. Speaking at both events, we highlighted how companies can benefit from deliberately disrupting traditional thinking, adopting a digital mind-set and developing actionable insight from their data.

PwC's Innovation Jumpstart approach is designed to do exactly this, through the introduction of a small, expert team to catalyse and embed innovation in the organisation. The team brings a structured, holistic approach, designed to rapidly generate and realise ideas, challenge traditional approaches, and embed and sustain a culture of innovation. The aim is to do so in such a way that innovation becomes part of everyone's job and results in a legacy of lasting change.


Case study: transforming a leading utility

A leading UK utility company approached PwC to help it with its transformation programme, through the establishment of an ‘innovation’ team to work alongside its existing IT organisation, reporting to the Executive Committee.

Like many utilities firms, the business is heavily engineering-focused and spends much of its time managing operational processes and maintaining legacy systems. With this overwhelming focus on 'keeping the lights on', it's not surprising that there is little time or capability available to consider new technologies or ways of working. In the absence of a focused digital strategy, the gap in expectations between the business and IT continued to widen, resulting in mutual frustration and a proliferation of one-off apps and technology projects looking for business problems to solve.

Using the Innovation Jumpstart approach, we deployed a Head of Innovation to act as the driver and focal point for the innovation effort, supported by a team of domain experts, and a wider eco-system of specialists and business partners, including start-ups and leading tech firms.

The team looked for meaningful opportunities to intervene to rapidly resolve real business problems inside six months, while in parallel assessing longer term strategic opportunities. We continually challenged ourselves to deliver solutions more quickly, more cheaply, with greater business benefit and at lower risk than traditional methods. To create belief and momentum, it was critical that we rapidly showed results - in weeks, not months - which meant making decisions fast with executive level support.

Fortunately, we were able to identify a number of such opportunities and the approach was soon able to demonstrate a positive impact, helping the business achieve a number of successes, including:

  • Conceiving and delivering a mobile, cloud-based, employee productivity platform, from idea to pilot in six weeks. Subsequently productionising and rolling out the platform to 5000+ users in a little over three months. This platform now sits at the core of a programme to deliver ongoing improvements in employee engagement, efficiency and effectiveness, and has identified significant cost savings.
  • Expanding and consolidating existing social media efforts via a new social customer service and reputation management team, to proactively manage customer and external stakeholder issues. By introducing more full-time staff and extending daily coverage hours, providing better tools and training, and putting in place a detailed, operational, social media playbook, we have seen increased levels of customer engagement and a significant reduction in unwanted calls related to critical events.  
  • Defining and implementing a new operating model for new digital and analytics capabilities, as well as recruiting the staff to establish a lasting, in-house innovation capability.
  • Creating an innovation strategy for a major business unit, with use of immersion events to engage everyone from executive leaders to front-line staff in the process. Over 150 ideas were identified, grouped into five innovation themes, mapped back to core strategic objectives, with the top ideas prototyped in readiness for a pilot which has now been commissioned.
  • Piloting agile ways of working across business and technology change teams, to encourage business leadership of change and shared responsibility for business outcomes with the IT organisation.
  • Introducing innovative start-up organisations to bring new ideas and experience, and to help accelerate delivery. This has enabled projects to more confidently introduce and deliver emerging technologies, such as cloud, mobile, augmented reality, gamification and collaboration tools.


Six steps to moving forward fast with innovation

Innovation Jumpstart works through six dimensions – discover, inspire, create, enable, accelerate and sustain. We use a variety of creative, analytical and collaborative approaches to help transform a business for the better, as quickly and efficiently as possible, including:

  • A Digital Fitness Assessment, to assess an organisation’s digital maturity in relation to its size and industry, identifying gaps and opportunities for improvement.
  • Immersion Workshops, to engage and inspire executives, managers and front-line staff in the innovation process and focus them as a team on understanding and addressing the key business problems faced by customers and employees.
  • ‘Protothon' events, to rapidly identify solutions to specific design challenges, through a joint, cross-disciplinary team and a "dragon's den" panel, rapidly prototype solutions within 48 hours.
  • An innovation process, from discovery to delivery, mapped to existing change milestones and funding gates.
  • Introductions to digital leaders, innovators and start-ups that work with PwC, such as industry leaders, academic institutions and technology innovators such as Google, SAP and Microsoft.

Critical success factors include the active support of executive leadership to provide a mandate and deal with the objections that will inevitably arise; working as a joint team to help connect with and embed into the existing organisation; engaging with those business and technology leaders who need results and are prepared to embrace new ideas.


Why utilities need an Innovation Jumpstart

While many utilities companies recognise the need to get better at innovation, it can be difficult to know how to get started. Often lacking the skills, structures and culture to enable innovation success, utilities are not alone in finding it hard to recruit the talent or make the changes required - perhaps not surprising when their priority is to maintain the infrastructure that plays such a vital role in the running of a modern economy. Nevertheless, given the extent of the disruption taking place, new ways of solving the industry's challenges are needed. 

The Innovation Jumpstart supplies the means to sidestep traditional approaches and timeframes, providing the injection of positive, disruptive energy that helps organisations quickly and more effectively exploit the opportunities of new technologies and ways of working. As our case study shows, despite a naturally risk averse culture, it is possible for utilities to become more innovative and to reap the benefits of doing so.



Sean Mahdi | Digital & Emerging Technologies Leader
Email | 44 (0)20 721 35564


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