Rachel Eade MBE, FRSA, Supply Chain Lead for BCRRE and Senior Technical Officer with the Digi-Rail project, finishes off her week sharing her thoughts on some of the effects of the Covid-19 lockdown on the SME community.
Innovation as part of business recovery
Developing new products and processes is the lifeblood of many businesses: adapt, improve to stay ahead of the competition. Innovation includes new ideas, new applications and creative and better solutions for both existing needs and new market needs.
A crisis and down period is an opportunity for offline and creative thinking. It allows space for imagination and problem-solving for the development of both improved and new solutions. During this lockdown period we are all beginning to realise the world will be different when normality returns – different in the way we do business, the way we buy and sell and the way we use technology to trade.
Businesses providing their products and services through traditional channels, are scrambling to develop websites and e-commerce functionality so they can take orders, plan deliveries and receive payments.
Online trading is here to stay, as is the use of digital communications which will impact on business travel and hopefully contribute to increased productivity. The opportunity presented by digitalisation isn’t just about online trading, however. It means much more: it’s about using digital technologies; solutions based on mobile communications; 5G interconnectivity; new and smart sensors; applied electronics; app-based decision-support and problem-solving; simulation tools; visualisation technologies; data-driven knowledge; Internet of Things applications; optimisation; information systems… to real situations to solve real issues. Issues we are currently experiencing and those we may not know about yet! Digitalisation means so much opportunity to almost any organisation providing products and services into Industry.
At BCRRE (incorporating the Rail Alliance and the Digi-Rail project) we have long talked about Digitalisation and the impact and opportunities in the rail sector. We recently hosted Destination Digitalisation, an event which opened the door for a wide range of companies looking at what this might mean, and helping to break down the barriers to embracing digital solutions.
Things you can do now:
- Don’t rush into anything Lots of plans to innovate and change require investment: treat any opportunity to generate revenue just as you would any other investment case. Is this a short term idea or a longer term proposition? Talk through your idea with people you trust; consider how you could run a small trial. If your company is an eligible SME you can access this help from the Digi-Rail project.
- Think Digital. The sudden shift to working from home, along with reduced social contact, has seen a huge rise in the demand for on-line services. Whilst this won’t work for every business, if you don’t have a strong and robust digital presence for promoting your company offer, now is the time to do so. There are many ways to do this, from updating your website, creating new online channels and content to spread your message and maintain your presence in your marketplace. You may also consider product and service development using digital technologies and use this time to look at how you could do this: what new processes, applications and business opportunities are available to you
- Get creative with what you’ve already got, look at diversification opportunities in sectors of the economy that are doing well during the Covid-19 outbreak. Check out the business press (local and national), the trade press and innovation forums. Dig deep to identify the fundamental products and services you offer, not your headline wares (e.g. if you’re manufacturing plastic components, you know how to design a process around a requirement). How could you deploy the skills, talents and knowledge embedded in your organisation to meet different needs?
- Think whether your innovation could help the national cause.
- Recognise that innovation is normal and not just reserved for a crisis. Think about how you can create a culture of continuous improvement and innovation across your workforce.
- Think now, at the beginning of the process, about how you can protect your innovation. Intellectual Property is important at any time!
Talk to us at BCRRE about how we can help with your new product and process ideas. If we can’t help we will be able to connect you with other expertise. Contact us at email@example.com, outlining your ideas and we’ll get back to you with practical next-steps.