I could tell you all about it . . . but I’d have to kill you!
Yesterday, I headed down to London for the Disruptive Innovators Network spring gathering. This time the network was meeting at possibly the most obvious ‘top secret’ location in the country. Before the Shard, Gherkin, Tower 52 and all the rest of them, the BT Tower was the tallest building to have been built in central London for 250 years. When the 177 metre tower was constructed in 1962, only St. Paul’s Cathedral stood taller. Yet despite it being visible to all, the location of the tower was designated an official secret. In fact in 1978 a judge ordered that rather than being identified by it’s real name, the tower should be referred to as 'Location 23'. Now, if that doesn’t put the ‘British’ in the Telecom Tower, then I don't know what does. What a great location number 23 is though!
Leaving my potted history of London’s original communications hub aside, I really enjoyed my first gathering with Ian Wright’s network, which this time was hosted by BT; here’s some of my takeaways:
Can your people code?
It probably won't come as a surprise to readers of this post that technology is advancing at a fantastic rate. But how much is that new technology really benefiting large, well established organisations, locked down by legacy systems which have been slowly mutating for years?
As Adam Auty described, it’s often legacy systems which hold organisations back; forcing them to focus on maintaining rather than innovating. It’s this ‘technical debt’ held by organisations that puts all at risk of disruption and many at risk of being torn apart entirely.
Arguably, new technology is most effective in organisations that have stripped out their legacy systems and replaced them with a platform flexible enough to integrate tech which is able to work cohesively with, but also develop independently of, other tech also on the same platform.
Organisations are increasingly ripping the plaster off and moving to platform topologies which allow them to exploit new technology through the use of microservice architectures, which connect both bespoke and off the shelf applications and allows them to scale independently.
Through low-code development solutions, organisational resources are also being given a little respite as existing tech savvy employees, not necessarily from an IT development background, are gaining access to visual drag and drop tools which can help them develop their own software solutions much easier, much faster, and less expensively than ever before. Perhaps the biggest challenge to organisations therefore, is how to both coordinate this activity and adapt existing ways of working to nurture the development of the new skill sets required.
We’ve been looking at low-code solutions ourselves recently to better understand how they might work for us at Bromford. You can find out more by checking out our Exploration Pipeline or by taking a look at Michelle Butler’s recent blog post.
Be design led not led by technology
For me, a key theme of day was that of technology as tool. Whilst we may all get a bit dazzled at times by the latest gadget, our focus should always be first and foremost on the outcomes we are trying to achieve. The tools to get there come later. These sentiments were echoed by both Jonathan Creaser and Andy Bridden in their presentations.
Dominic Campbell went on to suggest that digital, however ambiguous the term might be, is really just a Trojan horse for design. It gives us the opportunity to open up the human centred designer’s toolkit to really understand people in greater levels of detail than ever before; turning that knowledge into narratives which have the power to force change within organisations. Moving to digital is just a way of getting the buy-in to do that work.
Technology is important, but you have to do the groundwork first. If you don’t understand the problem you are trying to fix you’re probably fixing the wrong thing. Which brings me neatly to my next takeaway.
Bring the people with you
Central to everything is having the ability to achieve impact. Dominic quoted the former head of the Government Digital Service, Mike Bracken in his presentation - “Be radical in changing how an organisation works; Be incremental in changing what it delivers”. But within organisations, whilst it might seem paradoxical, it’s hard to be radical without the backing of the senior team. It might be a bumpy ride and it will always appear more planned and thought through when the dust settles in retrospect than it feels at the time, but ultimately, through persuasion and small gains, you simply have to get people on board with your ideas and bring them along with you.
At Bromford, we’re about to launch our new strategy, the first major statement of where our new organisation is going, why we do what we do, what we want to achieve and how we're looking to get there. It’s an exciting time for Bromford Lab as it provides a solid platform for us to work from. Working inline with the strategy ensures that what we are working on has the potential to have a major impact on our business, colleagues and customers. Keep your eye on the blog as Michelle Butler will be writing more about this soon.
But whilst it’s important to bring the people within your organisations along with you, as Ian Woosey reminded us in his cycling analogy, it’s also important to consider that if our organisations are often working on the same problems in isolation, think of what could be achieved if we all worked together. I couldn't agree more. As I wrote in my long view on innovation labs post, as social sector innovators, if we get hung up on IP, we’re probably in the wrong game.
I’ve enjoyed writing this post and reflecting on an inspirational day. But as I journey back up to Shropshire, the thing that is still resonating with me is something that I’ve also believed for a long time:
Innovation isn’t about the technology. Technology is just a tool. So, don’t start with technology, start with people.