Singapore, with its strong and effective laws and procedures relating to the business landscape, has no doubt achieved great feats in driving both domestic and international businesses to grow and excel. However, how long this enterprise ecosystem can be sustained remains a concern, especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
In an email interview with The IAS Gazette, Innovation Partner for Impact (IPI) CEO Mr Wong Lup Wai shared that there is one key aspect that potentially allows businesses to solve the issues they face from this concern: the need for open innovation.
But even before considering that, there must first be an understanding of how the business landscape has changed over the years, and where it is currently heading towards.
Changes in the Business Mindset
There is no surprise in hearing that “the need to accelerate time to market is crucial in today’s fast-paced business environment”, as Mr Wong, who turns 61 this year, pointed out. To remain competitive in this environment, businesses from all over the world appear to constantly review their value chain networks. As such, the recent years have shown a clear “mindset shift towards collaboration”, which Mr Wong believes is encouraging as it allows for the growth of a healthier, more vibrant innovation ecosystem.
Many businesses and even business leaders are increasingly embracing the concept of open innovation and inculcating it in businesses. Globalisation is the most likely the propellor of this change, as collaboration and cooperation among businesses prove to help them gain a competitive advantage.
Though there has been a shift — the increased need for businesses to collaborate openly, and evident efforts made by businesses in response to the shift, the Covid-19 pandemic has unfortunately posed a hindrance, and nearly a halt, to such processes.
Mr Wong acknowledged how detrimental the effects of the pandemic have been on some businesses, including job losses and in some cases, closures of the business as a whole.
With that being said, businesses are now even more eager to find ways to continue or strengthen their partnerships and collaborations with other businesses to sustain themselves during these tough times. Some businesses that relied on single partners or sources are also now looking to work with more of them to ensure this, according to Mr Wong.
Businesses, therefore, venture and explore alternative ways of doing business to adapt to the new norms brought about by the pandemic, such as working from home, which establishes the need for businesses to ensure that they employ efficient and reliable technological systems.
This is where open innovation comes in.
The Antidote: Open Innovation
Mr Wong highlighted: “Open Innovation means embracing ideas from external parties to fuel or accelerate internal innovation, and letting internal ideas flow out to create new opportunities.”
This means that businesses that face difficulties amid upgrading their technological and innovation capabilities in a pandemic-stricken world should consult external parties such as Centres of Innovation, accelerators and even academia, and source the right technology solution providers and talent with the right competencies through open innovation.
Moreover, what makes the pursuit for open innovation an attractive way of boosting business is its applicability for both large and small companies. Mr Wong emphasised that no matter their size, businesses can stand to gain from forging external partnerships to accelerate innovation.
“Companies with innovation in their DNA will have the ability to quickly harness their internal know-how to create new products that serve the new needs of consumers that have come up as a result of Covid-19,” added Mr Wong.
Not pursuing open innovation could cause businesses to lose out in the long run, as firms may not be able to achieve their innovation goals such as improving their products and services. Mr Wong elaborated: “…firms tend to face challenges such as the lack of budgets, expertise or connections.”
Some businesses may choose to adopt solely internal and exclusive innovation. This means that they develop a culture of innovation and ingenuity within themselves and use improved services or products (for example, re-evaluating their value chains). Though this may help to solve some problems the businesses face, solely relying on internal improvements may result in businesses hitting “a brick wall” in their quest for innovation. Mr Wong said that this is because they have to at times, “build solutions from scratch rather than purchasing ready-made solutions that may be cheaper”.
“For companies that want to do it by themselves, they may find that the length of time required to build out capabilities internally could far exceed the timelines of firms who choose to partner externally.”
Cultivating a Culture of Innovation
To engage in the continuous quest for open innovation, businesses can start the ball rolling by “encouraging a culture that is open to external ideas.”
Mr Wong suggested using a top-down approach, by having managers themselves leading by example and advocating cultural change. They must be seen to support this change and the risks that come along with open innovation in order to drive tangible outcomes.
As the CEO of IPI, Mr Wong ensures that IPI’s set of corporate values are operationalised through the employees’ behaviour.
“They are incorporated into our performance appraisal system so that everyone in IPI lives the values.”
Once an open mindset is inculcated, businesses can then move on to take concrete steps to understand and identify internal needs and gaps and work with external partners to fill the opportunity gaps.
An innovation catalyst such as IPI that creates opportunities for enterprises to grow beyond boundaries would be an apt external partner to work with. Set up in 2011, IPI is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Enterprise Singapore (ESG) supported by Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE).
Enterprises that work with IPI can expect to improve on their current situation by learning and benefitting from a plethora of innovation services and solutions provided. Some of these services include end-to-end support from ideation to commercialisation, matching [of] technical needs with technical offers, conducting [of] technology landscape studies and the provision [of] business and innovation advisory.
Mr Wong highlighted how far IPI has come in terms of reaching its objectives in aiding businesses in their innovation journey: “In the last financial year alone, for instance, IPI organised five innovation challenges—rallying the international innovation community to solve 105 problem statements from over 35 corporate partners. IPI’s efforts garnered more than 400 proposals from over 290 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups.”
IPI has also been a part of TechInnovation — a conference that pools international and domestic technology seekers and providers to explore technology and business collaboration opportunities through open innovation.
In addressing challenges pertaining to sustainability issues, Mr Wong said a range of solutions coming from multiple solution providers is required, and open innovation and open collaboration should ever more so be employed. IPI, for example, is currently collaborating with ESG in the Sustainability Open Innovation Challenge to solve some of these issues relating to green packaging, transport and resource efficiency to name a few.
He reassured: “Singapore enterprises can reach out to IPI to seek support for their innovation needs and if they are looking for new ideas to accelerate their innovation process. Not only will they be able to tap into our global innovation ecosystem, but also our multidisciplinary team of innovation and technology managers, tech experts and innovation advisors.”
Improving an Enterprise that Improves Others
Mr Wong, who has been with IPI since 2019, took up the role of CEO for the reason: “IPI’s mission to help create opportunities for enterprises to grow beyond boundaries was a meaningful one.
“Additionally, I felt strongly that I could contribute to not just IPI but also the industry at large while also expanding my own horizons.”
He constantly strived to improve their value propositions and surpass goals. When asked how exactly value is added to IPI, he shared that digital enhancements were made to better cater to users, such as revamping IPI’s website and online Innovation Marketplace. Through the enhancement of internal work processes, IPI not only improved customer experience but also gained better organisational effectiveness and efficiency, he added. These actions that have been taken to improve its internal innovation services serve to better facilitate open innovation and exchange with partners.
As for his future projections for IPI, Mr Wong revealed: “My goal is to build on IPI’s strengths and to develop a high-performance team and a learning organisation. As part of the rebranding, we aim to be more outcome-focused and to create better value and impact for our enterprises.”
Two Hands to Clap
Mr Wong emphasised that businesses must work together with the government and make full use of the measures to sustain themselves. The Singapore government has done a credible job in implementing economic measures for businesses to aid in their coping and adapting to the affected global business landscape from the Covid-19 pandemic.
In short, there are many ways for businesses to reach out for help, whether they are schemes implemented by the government, or enterprises like IPI that are ready to help businesses with innovation through their services and the pursuit for open innovation, to name a few.
However, no matter how much support is provided for businesses, they would all deem purposeless if businesses remain exclusive. Here, what matters most is the willingness to make that leap to openly collaborate and innovate with others. Only then, can businesses truly move forward.