The Ideas Machine: How to Make Innovation Part of the Corporate DNA

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Businesses survive through the ideas they generate. But how do you generate more of them and keep ahead of the competition? Tim Ford, general manager EMEA and global customer service at Unipart Logistics sets out how to embed innovation into the very culture of the business.

The long-term success of any business depends upon its ability to innovate. Money helps set a good idea in motion, but how do you get the idea in the first place? What do you need to do to encourage creative thinking within an organisation?

There are two principle types of innovation – incremental and radical.

Incremental improvements to products, processes and services offer welcome refinements that may increase customer value or increase margin, but what about those revolutionary ideas that disrupt the market? Unfettered creativity has the potential to deliver game-changing products or solutions that set a business apart. So just how do you tap into the creativity which exists within every individual in the organisation?

Within the supply chain the potential to innovate is vast. Availability, reliability and speed of delivery are core focus points, tempered by cost and resources. However, there are many ways to innovate, from incremental operational improvements to more strategic ‘eureka’ events where networks, collaboration and suppliers come into play. Supply chain practitioners need to adopt a structured approach that engages every individual in a collective creative endeavour suited to both forms of innovation.

But can innovative thinking be built into the living DNA of the business? At Unipart Logistics we believe it can.

For the last thirty years the company has developed and embraced a unique philosophy of working called The Unipart Way, where employees at every level of the organisation are encouraged, engaged and empowered to continually look for ways of improving working processes and introduce changes that remove waste. This creative problem solving approach has delivered a continuous stream of innovation, resulting in savings, service enhancements and productivity gains for our clients.

A recent example would be at our Baginton operation, where creative thinking by the packing team resulted in a £23,000 per year saving on carrier charges – the result of consolidating contracts for two separate sites.

Over the years we have also tapped into the creative resources of our team of supply chain experts to undertake network analysis and provide innovative strategic solutions for clients. Importantly, our expertise crosses industry boundaries, which leads to innovation, cost savings and a step-change in efficiency.

However, Unipart Logistics is now applying the same embedded structured approach used for incremental innovation for generating radical ideas. A team of ‘innovation specialists’ are being deployed across the business to work with team leaders on creating an environment that maximises the opportunity for radical thinking. But key to disruptive innovation is in understanding the client’s business. Through set processes, tools and forums, engaging individuals at all levels, ideas can blossom and radical innovation becomes part of the culture of the organisation.

Of course, not all ideas may be viable and for this purpose there is a set sequence of analysis, assessment, piloting and development. Through this systematic approach to generating ideas and appraising them, a pipeline of game-changing ideas can be introduced that brings fundamental and significant competitive advantage to the business.

More on disruptive innovation here.

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