In times of digital transformation, when disruptive newcomers reshape industries – from banking through tourism to media and car manufacturing – every business (or political) leader will agree that innovation is the key to success. Awareness of the need to transform and innovate is not the issue. The issue is about embedding innovation into your organization so that it generates business outcomes and makes a lasting difference. Current research estimates that up to 80% of innovation projects never see the light of day. They do not deliver anything to learn from, positive or negative.
We all know that innovation is not a magical incantation. There are several barriers to innovation that feed ‛immobilism’, i.e. extreme conservatism and opposition to change. In SMEs, the biggest obstacles are lack of skills or resources or simply a lack of time. In bigger corporations, lack of internal alignment (or less politically correct, internal politics) is cited as obstacle number one: and indeed, with any innovation, there is a risk of some people feeling like you are in their backyard.
At delaware, we want to help customers give innovation a fighting chance. And to generate a true learning curve, by overcoming some of the obstacles that we've just mentioned, lack of time and technical skills being the most obvious ones.
This is why, two years ago, we launched, together with some of our key customers, DEL20 – our ecosystem of innovation.
The principles of this ‘innovation club’ are very straightforward. To offer our customers a space where they can try out innovative ideas and share knowledge with each other. There are no competitors in the club. This is a space where CIOs, together with their business alter-egos, are encouraged to experiment, try out new technologies and explore new boundaries instead of using proven technologies like they usually do to mitigate risk.
We regard DEL20 as a win-win: delaware brings its technical skills and time (25 man-days of free consultancy) to the selected innovative projects. And our customers bring us real-life cases so that delaware can deepen its business expertise. Co-creation is not a buzzword here. We are at the crossroads of business and technology.
After the successful start of the DEL20 in 2017, we continued the positive momentum in 2018 and grew from 20 to 45 interested customers in this year’s second edition. Key in our approach is that the tech-ecosystem itself, votes on the selected projects. And so three projects went into the implementation stage from April onwards. It typically takes 6 months to get a proof of concept or prototype to learn the first lessons from.
These are the three companies (and technologies) with whom we were happy to turn ideas into actionable innovations:
De Watergroep (advanced analytics): Active in 180 municipalities in Belgium (Flanders), De Watergroep provides drinking water to millions of citizens. In the DEL20, De Watergroep trialed advanced analytics to solve one of its main operational challenges: water leaks on the distribution network. 20% of drinking water cannot be invoiced as it never reaches the consumer. The company tested and elaborated an algorithm on loads of data from past leaks. Based on the insights generated by this algorithm, notifications are sent to the right people, at the right time so that appropriate action is taken to reduce water waste, with immediate benefits, both economically and ecologically.
Cartamundi (artificial intelligence): the world leader in playing cards and board games experimented with artificial intelligence (AI) in order to maximize SAP usage and efficiency by proposing new functionalities to guide its customers. The core deliverable was a recommendation engine that uses the ‘collaborative filtering technique’ to extract industry insights from data contained in SAP systems. To build the algorithms to drive this engine, Cartamundi used datasets provided by peers from among the DEL20 members.
Bekaert (robotic process automation): As a world-leading company in steel wire transformation and coating technologies, Bekaert works with numerous suppliers around the globe, renewing no fewer than 3,500 supplier contracts every year. To shorten lengthy administrative procedures, the company explored how robotic process automation (RPA) might handle routine tasks in its procurement chain. While bots take care of contract lifecycle management, buyers can focus on value-added activities like strategic sourcing, with cost savings and efficiency gains as a result.
Besides these three companies, two other DEL20 members, as runners-up, launched experiments in co-creation with delaware:
Securex (Blockchain): Securex is a trusted provider of personnel services (ranging from prevention to payroll, leadership, career development and insurance) to thousands of companies. Its DEL20 experiment aims at reducing the administrative burden on its relations with subcontractors by using Blockchain technology to forge trust. A new distributed ledger will act as a central repository holding the billable hours, entered by the supplier and approved by the customer. No longer will invoices require human intervention to verify number-matching, as the system will guarantee consistency, right from the start.
La Lorraine Bakery Group (IoT and artificial intelligence): All Belgians can find bakery products from La Lorraine at a supermarket near them. To ensure that there are always enough loaves on the shelves, the company is trialing IoT technology through sensors installed on the bread’s slicing machines. Data is sent via mobile phone communication to an analytical app which provides the retail stores with insights on bread consumption patterns so that they can optimize provisioning in real time.
All these projects are now moving forward, proving that DEL20 creates fertile ground for fruitful innovation: “The cooperation between delaware and Bekaert is boosting the usage of robotics in our source-to-pay process. After only half a year's initiation and piloting within DEL20, the rollout over the regions of Bekaert is now scheduled and has been started in China,” says Ton Geurts, Senior Vice President Supply Chain Excellence from Bekaert.
“DEL20 is a very good initiative that has broadened our horizons and enriched our network. It is also a very inspiring circle: gathering different skills, putting them into practice on the shop-floor through short innovation cycles and then sharing the lessons learnt,” says Cristina Orodel, project manager ICT from De Watergroep.
The quality of the innovations that were triggered within the DEL20 ecosystem are also recognized by the outside world. De Watergroep has been recently awarded with a SAP Quality Award in the category ‛Business Transformation Projects' for what it is doing with artificial intelligence to reduce water leakage.
And AVR, a participant from the first edition of 2017, has won an ICT/Digital project of the year award from Data News for its ‛AVR Connect IoT project', to optimize the planting and harvesting of potatoes.
Another selection of great companies are preparing to boost their innovation potential during the 2019 DEL20 edition, where the tech-ecosystem will also open its doors to universities through a Hackathon in February. Originally focused on Flanders, DEL20 will also extend to the French-speaking part of Belgium with a call for innovative projects in Wallonia.
Who said innovation could not lead to beneficial outcomes?