The challenge of implementing new innovations


Author: Professor Jonathan Linton, Pitch-In Academic Lead for managing the introduction of IoT, the University of Sheffield.

The Internet of Things (IoT) opens up an array of both opportunities and challenges regarding how it is implemented and managed within organisations, considering not just the technological developments in this area, but how these advances may impact people, businesses and communities.

In addition to tremendous opportunities for economic and social benefit, there is the possibility of unanticipated negative consequences which cut across all applications and sectors. Of particular consideration is ethics, given that technology is ethically blind and its application limited by the abilities of those who use it.

What role does social science play in innovation?

The first challenge is to fully understand what innovation is. A common misconception is that innovation is only technical.

Whilst development of new technology is understandably a key focus, considering the management and implementation of this technology is also a major contributor to successful innovations. In addition, there are a number of broader forms of innovation which extract value from technology such as business model innovation, social innovation, administrative innovation, and organisational innovation, which is covered in more detail below.

Implementing innovative technology

It’s only when implementing a new innovation that the total added value can be seen. Both the innovation itself and the adopting party (this may be an individual, business, community) must be able to work flexibly and adapt accordingly to ensure success. The adopting party may need to alter existing working practices and perceptions in order to gain value from this new idea.

Ideally at this stage an innovation is successful and becomes part of routine behaviour, however the total amount of value gained can still be influenced positively by the social sciences through creativity, learning and imitation. If, however, it’s agreed that abandoning the innovation is the best route forward then answers regarding this decision and the best timing can be also be considered by social science and management researchers.

Alternative non-technical considerations

In addition to the social implications of incorporating new technology, there are a number of non-technical innovations which can also be considered and which can still add value. These might include:

  • Administrative innovation – an innovation to a process or system.

  • Business model innovation – new ways of extracting value/making profit from a product – goods and services – offering. Examples include: making profit on the services as opposed to selling a product – such as Power-by-the-Hour.

  • Organisational innovation – a change in the structure, interactions or management of either a group, groups or an organisation.

  • Social innovation – two separate definitions with very different meanings exist:

    • Social innovation – newer definition – innovation for the purpose of producing non-economic benefit. Often associated with charitable or community organisations. User innovation and open source software can be included as examples.

    • Social innovation – older definition – innovation in social systems required for the extraction of value from technological innovation. For example, in the absence of banks and stock markets it is impossible to raise sufficient capital for railway systems. Hence rail (technological innovation) is dependent on developing ways of amassing private capital (innovations in finance – social systems).

How will Pitch-In overcome these challenges?

The Pitch-In project is focused on developing a sustainable Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem to add value to UK industry and society. We will be developing and sharing solutions which overcome barriers to the uptake of IoT across four sectors: cities, energy, health and wellbeing, and manufacturing.

The cross-cutting management and implementation theme will work simultaneously to address issues or challenges regarding the adoption of IoT across all areas.

We are already able to gain insights from recent past experience relating to this technology, such as the internet, mobile telecommunications and smart radio. We are assessing the challenges, barriers, required precautions, opportunities and enablers which are most likely to influence how IoT is perceived and applied across different communities and organisations.

However, there are areas in which this knowledge is still insufficient, and that is where Pitch-In will be providing further insights. For example:

  • Understanding the fundamental differences that using the internet to link together things as opposed to people.

  • Understanding the impact of this change to individuals, groups, communities and society.

  • Understanding the manner in which social systems and individual behaviours need to change to enable benefit and avoid undesirable unanticipated consequences.

  • Understanding the appropriate business models and organisational structures to extract economic and social benefit.