By Chris Boorman, Chief Marketing Officer, Automic

While reading up on the news coming out of the recent Web Summit in Dublin, I came across an interesting piece on TechCrunch about how digital transformation must begin with pockets of innovation in enterprises. This got me thinking, as we’re seeing many businesses striving to change the world and be better than their competitors, and successful innovation is one means of achieving these aspirations. Companies such as Apple and Google have gained huge commercial success through innovation, and many other businesses also use innovative methods to overcome problems or to improve the way they operate.

Start-ups are often the biggest drivers of innovation - they do it quickly and modify old business models at a pace that frightens many established companies. Most forward-looking CEOs in large organisations are turning towards innovation, but most are struggling to truly embrace it. Although most companies talk a good innovation story, in reality most are simply tweaking, fine tuning, and optimising for micro-gains and sweating assets to keep stakeholders happy.

To better equip themselves for successful innovation, CEOs need to drive a proactive approach to making improvements and changes to drive agility and speed. As the consumerisation of IT accelerates, organisations are under increasing pressure to integrate new services to support their key business imperatives. These may leverage the Cloud and Big Data. I believe that automation is a key part of driving success here.

Our research among a number of leading start-ups highlighted three key factors that underpin this process of innovation and foster a culture of change: product, process and people. Each one of these links into automaton, and if these three elements are successfully integrated together into a business, the foundations can be laid for a truly innovative business to thrive.

According to our research, 75% of businesses have a process and methodology around product innovation. The perception of chaos often associated with start-ups is now largely redundant as most highlight the priority of having a focused, structured approach, especially regarding innovation.

The ‘big break’ innovation is often thought to be product-focused and this is certainly where start-ups seem to flourish. The willingness of entrepreneurs and start-ups to take risks means that they are much more likely to focus on looking for a big product breakthrough, in return for the perceived large rewards this can bring in revenue and popularity. Furthermore, with their agile structures and closer interaction with customers, start-ups are better positioned to take advantage of changing market conditions, consumer trends and recommendations from both consumers and employees.

For enterprises to match the new and disruptive ideas that often come out of start-ups, they must install their own agile processes when it comes to product development – undertaking a sequence of build, deploy, research and repeat. Automation is a critical enabler for driving innovation in two ways – firstly it enables core business processes to be automated thereby freeing up resources for agile development, and secondly it can be used to drive the innovation lifecycle.

If enterprises do not automate to innovate, then they risk disruption from the smaller and more nimble start-ups that can pivot quickly, drive to market efficiently and take market-share.

Enterprises can also learn from start-ups around their approach to driving efficient process. Automation is used to keep activity ticking over while the real value is created elsewhere resulting in a ‘work smarter, not harder’ approach.

Their willingness to adopt new and modern ways has also led to offices being as lean as start-ups. An astounding 75% of businesses who took part in our research now have much of their everyday IT automated, ensuring it’s predictable, efficient, sustainable and cost-effective. Timing is a vital component of innovation. Automation can be a key driver here since it frees up considerable time by removing many of the time sapping tasks that have long been the Achilles Heel of IT departments.

Without the right people and culture, no set of tools, methods, or processes will be successful. Most companies value predictability, control, reliability, repeatability, and continuity above innovation and creativity – this is especially true in larger organisations. Pushing forwards with innovation, while delivering efficiency, can only be achieved by implementing automation. With automation the best and brightest staff can be freed from day-to-day operations and focus on driving innovation.

What is clear is that innovation starts right at the top, with strong leadership and a bold vision. A company’s culture is fundamental for empowering employees to take risks; in fact, our research also found that 90% of those interviewed believe that business leaders must be willing to fail.

Indeed, a range of characteristics found in ambitious start-ups that can underpin the drive towards increased innovation are within enterprises as well. These include an appetite for risk, culture, focus, resource dedication and vision. Businesses built on these characteristics can be better prepared to take risks and not punish failure in the pursuit of innovation; in other words the culture fosters innovation.

However, creating a culture for innovation means freeing up the brightest resources while driving the efficiency and process needed to keep the company executing. It’s rather like changing the wings of a plane while in flight. It’s difficult. Business automation is THE critical enabler for driving the innovation culture since it automates core business processes and frees-up resources. Without adopting business automation, innovation within larger enterprises will fail.