Comment: Innovation goes beyond investment

True innovation only comes from companies that allow employees the freedom to innovate. By Tim Russell, managing director of Travolution Innovation Report sponsor Amadeus UK

Tim Russell, managing director, Amadeus UKClaims of ‘innovation’ have become ubiquitous. Everywhere you look from high-end technology providers to petrol station forecourts, it seems everyone is championing innovation and falling over themselves to demonstrate just how much smarter they are than the company next door. A desire to innovate, it seems, is integral to how companies want to be seen by their adoring public. 

Nowhere is it more important to show adherence to the cult of innovation than in technology. Clearly, the place to be in the world of technology is at the ‘cutting edge’ of IT development and application. If you’re not on the innovation map, quite frankly, as a technology company you are as good as lost. But with technology improving exponentially day by day, some find it difficult enough just keeping pace, let alone leading the field.

Innovation itself is nothing new. It’s what drives us forward and is unquestionably a force for good. If it wasn’t for our constant desire to better ourselves it’s likely that we’d still be dragging our knuckles along the forest floor. It’s in our nature to constantly look for ways to improve upon and challenge the status quo. A failure to innovate is in essence a folding of arms and an acceptance that this is as good as it gets. In other words, it smacks of short-termism and apathy. 

The travel industry is no stranger to innovation, although it is more of an adopter than a leader in the quest for new ways of working. From top to bottom the industry has changed beyond all recognition over the past 20 years. Operations have become slicker and technology has opened up a whole new world of choice and information for both business and leisure travellers.

But how does the travel industry fare in terms of IT investment and innovation compared to other areas of UK plc? Is the travel industry investing in IT at a level that is required to foster a culture of innovation to rival that of other industries?

To my knowledge, the recent Travolution Innovation Report was the first-ever attempt to benchmark IT spend in the UK travel industry looking both at specific sectors within the industry and types of technology expenditure. In terms of perception, the report found that travel came fourth behind media, music and financial services.

Growth in IT spend in 2011 is predicted to be highest in the travel sector since 2008, but does IT spend necessarily equate to a more innovative environment? Simply throwing money at a problem does not always deliver a ground-breaking or even workable solution. As important as investment undoubtedly is, of equal importance is establishing an environment in which ideas are actively encouraged and given time to develop and grow. 

As a finite commodity, time is undoubtedly one of the most valued. Ask any employee at any company across the world what they would like more of and I think I can say with some certainty that ranking in everyone’s top three would be time. 

By automating processes, companies can reduce costs and improve productivity as we know. But increased automation also provides staff with the freedom to engage in problem-solving. What issues are your customers facing? What gets in the way of employees delivering the kind of service or knowledge that keeps customers coming back for more?

The travel industry must never lose sight of the fact that people are the driving force behind innovation, and when we automate processes we should do so with a view to improving the productivity of staff so that they can come up with new ways of solving old (and sometimes intractable) problems. In other words, we need to give our people the mandate to innovate by equipping them with the tools, training and rewards for championing change for the better.

Genuine innovation is challenging. You don’t get to be known as an innovative company by playing it safe and doing things the same way they’ve always been done. Innovation requires getting under the skin of your customers and employees and challenging the way things are done, even if that means moving into your discomfort zone.

Sometimes innovation is more about a leap of faith than a perfectly formulated game plan. And the most successful innovations are often a by-product of the right idea, in the right place and at the right time.

That doesn’t mean to say innovation is an accident. It only comes about when people and companies are committed to doing things better.And if you’re not in the technology sector you can still be innovative – as long as you chose a technology partner that supports an evolving business strategy and is a champion of change.

Famously, Newton was sat beneath an apple tree when he had his moment of clarity. I’m not advocating two-hour lunch breaks or saying that you should invest in an orchard. But by creating the right atmosphere in which ideas can thrive and have the time to develop, you may be surprised at what fresh thinking comes to light. It might just be the idea that crowns your company as genuinely innovative.  

Sponsored by Amadeus UK


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