MD of Products & Services Research & Open Innovation
BT’s ‘open innovation’ model consistently delivers world-class results for our business and for our customers across the globe.
It’s an approach that involves us working in close collaboration with our customers. Together, we explore the possibilities that new technologies can bring.
Of course, many of those technologies are created here at BT. Others will among the latest and most exciting developments from the world’s leading innovation hotspots.
Often the collaboration is extended. We regularly bring in strategic partners or specialist innovators such as universities, government organisations, standards bodies and technology companies to help us achieve our goals.
Over the years our whole open innovation philosophy has matured. The model has become a fine-tuned, well-oiled workflow with a proven track record in accelerating the pace of transformation across our customers’ businesses and fast-tracking their commercial success.
There’s no doubt in my mind that being ‘open’ allows BT to innovate in the most progressive way possible. It has made us a world leader in developing and exploiting innovation globally.
BT’s innovation scouting team scans for ideas and expertise generated by third party organisations including venture capitalists, start-up companies, traditional and new-style telcos located around the globe.
In fact, we now have a presence in all the world’s innovation hot-spots including Silicon Valley, Israel, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, India, China and throughout Europe.
And in the heart of ‘tech-city’ in London, the BT Infinity Lab allows us to co-innovate with start-ups.
Our scouting teams are perpetually busy seeking out and evaluating everything from brand new technologies, trends in the market, and game-changing business propositions.
This dedicated scouting capability magnifies the innovation-generating capabilities of our organisation by an astonishing x1000.
A key part of our open innovation model is our long-standing research partnerships with over 40 leading universities and business schools around the world, giving us unique access to the brightest minds in academia; multiplying the benefit of our research.
Our researchers, scientists and engineers collaborate with their peers at leading centres including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge University, Tsinghua University in Beijing, and our joint research centre in the UAE (EBTIC). Our academic partnerships help us solve today’s challenges and shape the future for us, our customers and our partners.
“Innovation is a contact sport. Our vibrant and diverse network of partnerships enables us to apply leading edge research and fresh thinking to the opportunities that the future offers us.”
Steve Whittaker, Head of Strategic US Academic, Research Partnerships, BT
BT’s hothousing events have been helping business achieve their potential since 2004. They bring people together to discuss and overcome common challenges and identify opportunities. This gives them the chance to collaborate, debate and develop their ideas.
Teams of people with different skills and knowledge compete to produce the best solutions to particular business problems over the course of a few days. A panel of expert judges interrogate the teams and give feedback.
Our customers tell us they find hothousing to be a brilliant way of accelerating innovation. In fact, it has revolutionised the way in which we progress our projects and meet customer needs. In a number of cases we have seen a 75% improvement in new product (concept to market) delivery time.
“Getting everyone away from the office, away from their normal environment and all working together at the BT Hothouse has brought some amazing ideas that I don’t think we could have ever got out of them if they had just been in the business, day to day, doing their jobs and given the task of finding these new ideas. It would have taken us months, maybe even years, to do it.”
Jane Porter, Executive Director, Optivo
BT’s New Ideas Scheme plays a major role in the company’s open innovation drive. It recognises and harnesses the incredible creative flair of BT’s global workforce.
Our 90,000+ employees can use the scheme to submit ideas they have that could help refine the way we work as an organisation, enhance the experience of our customers or improve our products and services.
BT people can submit informal ‘Eureka moment’ ideas, or perhaps more carefully crafted concepts.
Ideas are then discussed and reviewed by experts from around our business.
New ideas judged to have the biggest potential to support business or customer requirements are taken further along the process.
The scheme attracts approximately 2,000 ideas every year with around 50 making it to implementation.
BT’s New Ideas scheme generated the introduction of cable threading needle which makes it easier for engineers to add new circuits in a roadside cabinet without introducing new faults by snagging one of the multitude of wires. Shaped like a sabre tooth, it allows the engineer to simply curl round any obstructing wires, reducing faults.
Also coming from the scheme is an innovative drilling technique developed to clear blockages in the underground duct network (network of underground pipes that are used to feed cables through to customer premises) and create a clear path to install new fibre cables to residential and business premises.
Creating demonstrable prototypes that help to articulate new technology solutions in a way that’s easy to understand - that’s the mission of BT’s Applied Technology Centre, another critical component of the company’s open innovation strategy.
The Applied Technology team builds tangible solutions - software or hardware - for people to see, touch and test out and get a real feel for.
Darren Lewis, Head of Applied Innovation, explains: “Innovating around the customer experience is our team’s primary driver. We are therefore closely aligned to BT’s customer-facing teams so that we understand what the hot topics are.”
“We take ideas, often they’ll come from our global scouting teams, for example. Then we’ll build prototypes or solutions demonstrators for others in BT. Rather than wading through a 99-page market requirements document, people get the chance to test out and interact with a proper working prototype that we’ve created for them.”
Adds Darren: They get a much better feel for potential in this way and it allows them to make a judgement call on whether they want to follow up or take it to trial.”
Many of the demonstrators are housed in BT’s Showcases at Adastral Park. This gives visiting corporate customers an opportunity to test out new technology solutions for themselves and helps BT identify where there’s real interest.
Innovation Central is a team that work’s hand-in-hand with BT’s Applied Technology Centre. But instead of creating prototypes, this unit builds business cases. It takes on ideas, for example from BT’s scouting teams or the New Ideas Scheme, and then carries out all the necessary consulting and analysis around the viability of that idea.