Bringing innovation into reality is easier said than done. To achieve the success you’re looking for, you need to select the right innovation interface model. We’re here to help you find the best option for your business.  

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Successful innovation

To address today’s pace of change, large organizations invest heavily in innovation, as they open innovation labs that are separated from their core business. The Fortune 1000 organizations increased their innovation investment to over $450 billion in 2017, with an increased focus on radical innovation.  

However, some people say that between 80 and 90 percent of the innovation labs fail to deliver the promised value. What's more, 57 percent of respondents, who increased their investments in innovation by more than 25 percent, still underperformed their industry peers. Although you can also find success stories, organizations largely fail to integrate initiatives from innovation labs or fail to differentiate as they struggle to develop initiatives in areas that go beyond their core business. 

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80 TO 90 PERCENT

of innovation labs fail to deliver the promised value.

57 PERCENT

of respondents, who increased their investments in innovation by more than 25 percent, still underperformed their industry peers.

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A large part of this problem relates to the interface between the innovation lab and a company’s ongoing business. While some organizations purposely separate innovation labs from their existing organization to ensure innovation can foster freely, others tend to opt for a more integrated approach to ensure innovations can easily be integrated into their ongoing business activities operations. Understanding the critical role and design of this interface may help you to make better use of your innovation investments. 

Based on our experience and research, we’ve defined three interface models and a framework that allows organizations to better align the innovation interface to their innovation strategy. 

Before we dive into the different interface models, it‘s important for you to understand how these interfaces are constructed. For that, we need to take a look at the different interface dimensions. 

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We've developed a framework that allows organizations to better align the innovation interface to their innovation strategy.

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Interface dimensions 

We can distinguish three different dimensions when defining the interface models: connectedness, commitment, and control.  

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The three interface dimensions: control, connectedness, and commitment.

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Connectedness explains how the innovation lab is ‘connected’ with—and in some cases, ‘disconnected’ from—the ongoing business activities through the organizational structure, team structure, and strategy. 

Commitment explains if and how the ongoing business is willing to make investments in the initiatives developed. You may commit talent to the innovation initiatives, but you also need support through executive management sponsorship and/or additional funding. 

Control explains the power or influence of the parent organization regarding the decision-making, financials, and resources of the innovation lab. Parent organization control—or innovation lab autonomy—is an essential factor for the success of the interface.

The high autonomy of innovation labs allows for an outward focus, exploring diverging themes and initiatives. These have the potential to become entirely new sources of value and form new businesses, rather than being directed and controlled by the desires of the business lines to serve existing customers. 

The 3 innovation interfaces

With these dimensions, we can construct the three higher-level interface models between an innovation lab and the ongoing business activities: an intertwined interface, an insulated interface, and lastly a dynamic interface. 

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The three higher-level interfaces between an innovation lab and ongoing business activities.

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Intertwined interface 

The intertwined interface is characterized by high degrees of connectedness, commitment, and control. This interface is rather connected, as the innovation lab relies on existing company knowledge and expertise.

The innovation lab operates with a process, culture, and structure that remains tightly coupled with that of the ongoing business. It creates the capability to develop more incremental types of innovation and easily integrate these initiatives into the core business.  

Insulated interface 

The insulated interface is characterized by low degrees of connectedness, commitment, and control. With this interface, the innovation labs have a high autonomy to explore, select, and incubate initiatives independently.

You can achieve such autonomy by centralizing the innovation lab and pursuing initiatives that are strategically less aligned with specific business lines. It operates financially independent as it receives separate funds from executive management with enough resources to develop innovation initiatives.

This financial independence ensures that your innovation lab controls its own decision-making, paving the way for more radical types of innovation. However, because of this autonomy, integrating these types of initiatives into the core business of your organization becomes significantly more challenging. 

Dynamic interface 

The dynamic interface varies its degrees of connectedness, commitment, and control, depending on the innovation maturity and the context of the initiative. Contrary to the other—more static—interfaces, this interface creates the ability to develop radical innovation and successfully transfer those initiatives into the ongoing business activities. You can do this by constantly adapting the interface to best fit the value proposition of the initiative. 

We've observed that organizations use various types of innovation labs throughout their organization, both centralized and decentralized. With multiple forms in place, those organizations can link the initiative to the interface best suited to foster that particular innovation type.

Starting from a central innovation lab, initiatives that show a great fit with one of the business lines can move toward a decentralized innovation lab, shifting from a more insulated interface toward an intertwined interface. Initiatives with little alignment but with a high potential to become a new business are further incubated in a venture program and remain insulated. This allows the interface to be more flexible as it evolves, depending on how the initiative matures.  

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Aligning the innovation interface to your innovation strategy 

Selecting the right interface model is a fundamental part of your innovation strategy. Choosing an interface model that does not match the needed innovation context may lead to resource starvation and cherry-picking of solely incremental innovations that directly contribute to the existing operations.

In turn, an unaligned interface model results in potentially killing off promising radical innovation initiatives due to the inability to effectively transition them back into ongoing business activities.

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Selecting the right interface model is a fundamental part of your innovation strategy [...] Failure because of applying the inappropriate interface can and should be prevented. 

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Though there are countless of reasons why innovation fails, you can and should prevent failure because of applying the inappropriate interface.  The findings of this study highlight the need to understand innovation interfaces and their impact on the relationship between your innovation lab and your ongoing operations. 

Do you recognize these challenges, and do you want to find out how both the interface choice and other factors influence innovation within your organization? We are here to help and enable you to innovate better. Don’t hesitate to contact us.

Rick van der Meer

Technology Consulting Analyst – Accenture Strategy & Consulting, Communication, Media & Technology


Joerie Nijhuis

Technology Strategy & Advisory Manager – Accenture Strategy & Consulting

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