The Innovation Roundtable comes to Rome with Enel

Published on Wednesday, 6 June 2018

“We must be ready to change quickly and often, because digitalisation introduces unpredictable innovation factors. To plug the skills gaps we have to adopt new business models, collaborating with the startups while creating the right conditions for attracting new talent”

– Francesco Venturini, CEO of Enel X

Business sustainability for a better world

Innovation depends more on people and their dreams than on technology alone. To provide inspiration Enel intends to provide access to electricity for all. In actual fact we have made a formal commitment to the seventh of the UN’s Agenda 2030 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): access to “affordable and clean energy” (SDG7). This is together with the implementation of measures promoting “climate action” (SDG13), “decent work and economic growth” (SDG8) and “quality education” (SGD4). As our Chief Innovability Officer, Ernesto Ciorra, explained, nowadays innovation is impossible without sustainability, but it is impossible to achieve sustainability without innovation. Only by acknowledging this relationship is it possible to create value and bring about improvements in society. For Enel, Crowdsourcing, Innovation Hubs and Innovation Communities are development resources that can take us beyond traditional business models because they place people at the centre of things. As well as partnerships with startups, companies, universities and research centres, the list of effective initiatives includes the Enel Innovation World Cup. This is a competition that our Group holds in order to stimulate employees in all countries to transform their ideas into projects to be launched onto the market, while the My Best Failure platform encourages staff to learn quickly from their mistakes. Diversifying innovation instruments has enabled our Group to overcome challenges that seemed impossible. Examples include the Stillwater plant in the USA, which combines technology based on geothermal, thermodynamic solar and photovoltaic energy on the same site, and Cerro Pabellón in Chile, South America’s first geothermal plant, which operates at 4,500 metres above sea level. Enel has also changed the conventional perception of electric cars, transforming them into batteries that can stabilise the grid through bidirectional charging on V2G technology. Changing your point of view is the first step towards innovation. 

“Innovability is the term we use to describe Enel’s business model, linking innovation to sustainability. Our new technological solutions help improve the planet, because they are based on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the UN’s Agenda 2030”

– Ernesto Ciorra, Chief Innovability Officer at Enel

Comparing methods

In a series of presentations and group activities, the Rome event enabled company managers and university professors to share their ideas for finding new development models. As Axel Rosenø, founder and CEO of Innovation Roundtable, explained, the speakers involved did not simply offer inspiring contributions, they also guided participants into putting methods and individual knowledge into practice. 

Stephan Altmann, Senior Manager in Strategic Innovation Management for BASF and professor of Engineering & Management at the Mannheim University of Applied Sciences, showed how a competitive value chain can be transformed into a collaborative business network. Five elements should be taken into consideration – a systematic design of future growth options can easily be achieved through a strategic portfolio; understanding how innovation occurs today must precede the development of future innovations; tomorrow’s innovation will no longer be based mainly on a company’s individual excellence or from a point of view of dominance; the spirit of innovation depends on integrating the client and the collaboration of partners; the ability to develop new competitive business models will become a key factor in creating new value.

“We’re grateful to Enel for hosting the Innovation Roundtable for the first time in Italy. It’s one of the benchmark countries for innovation, drawing energy and inspiration from the opportunity to expand its horizons. Since 2008 our network has helped make it possible to share ideas and best practice, involving over 4,000 innovation managers every year”

– Axel Rosenø, founder and CEO of Innovation Roundtable

Sebastian Budischin, Head of Corporate Business Model Innovation for Bosch, explained the best ways to identify innovative projects. As well as selection based on experience and strategic suitability, repeated self-selection according to market responses can also be effective. So can an assessment which, on defined criteria, helps improve the positioning obtained by a project. These measures help large companies to protect themselves from startup failures. Startups are one of the major channels for innovation, but they are also exposed to high risks. Clients don’t always pay, poor products and services have low take-up, the wrong moment may be chosen for launch, and sometimes the team make-up or the qualifications of its members may not be suitable. As a result, acceleration programmes are crucial in spotting errors or inefficiencies as soon as possible, because the gains made on the market – when there is as yet no competition – are proportional to the speed the most innovative product or service is identified. 

For Reza Moussavian, Head of HR Digital and the Innovation Department at Deutsche Telekom, an innovation lab at the service of human resources could be the ideal space to develop a new approach combining design thinking, prototyping, Most Valuable Player and agile development. Within Deutsche Telekom, in fact, the presence of a lab like this has made it possible to support over 400 projects. This has led to a clearer understanding of the effects of the digital transformation on business, in addition to promoting the spread of skills and methods among its staff. A digital learning platform called Magenta MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) has also made it possible to use software to simulate human behaviour through AI (chatbots), identifying new question/answer modes.  

Looking beyond the methods

Many other contributions helped shape the content of the Innovation Roundtable in Rome, and they were all based on defining a new model as a fundamental step towards opening new paths for innovation. Taking part in this way were the IESE Business School of the University of Navarra, Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology and the Aalto University & Hanken School of Economics of Helsinki.

Researching processes using an operational model that develops by seeking the areas where theory and practice overlap is a process our culture evolved centuries ago, but it is now being called into question in its turn. Digitalisation is also revolutionising our thought paradigms, which regard the mechanistic cause and effect principle as a foundation of the heuristic (i.e. self-learning) method. In future, innovation will no longer have a definite centre or single direction, but it will be the product of interconnection and sharing. This more closely resembles the plant world than animal individuality, a concept expressed by Christoph Zott, professor of Entrepreneurship at the IESE Business School, under the slogan “Think Forest, not Trees.”

An innovative “green” attitude for a totally sustainable world. A world of renewable energy, circular development and Open Innovability - an Enel world, in actual fact!