Successful data innovation starts with enthusiastic curiosity, rather than technology

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A strong focus on staff engagement, empowerment and collaborative innovation are the three pillars behind Rolls-Royce’s digital transformation. [Rolls Royce]

This article is part of our special report Pushing Europe’s tech frontiers.

Turning innovation into business success requires, first and foremost, an organisation that actively seeks and embraces a digital-first mind-set and culture, writes Neil Crockett.

Neil Crockett is Chief Digital Officer at Rolls-Royce PLC. He will speak at EIT Digital’s upcoming conference “The Future of Europe’s Digital Innovation” on 11 September in Brussels.

Rolls-Royce is moving fast, transforming our business from an engine manufacturer to a technology led company. We consolidated our markets to concentrate on Civil Aero, Defence and Power Systems and are focussing on Electrification, Data Innovation and a Digital First Culture as key parts of our “Pioneering the Power that Matters” strategy.

Developing such culture successfully is all about creating a movement, a bottom up approach where everyone becomes curious and active around digital. We are developing a digital Rolls-Royce, not just a Rolls-Royce digital strategy, where enthusiasm is perhaps the most important word.

Despite the pace of digital technology, delivering successful data innovation within Rolls-Royce has more to do with applying our expert knowledge across an increasing expanse of data than any technological intervention. In light of this, turning innovation into business success requires, first and foremost, an organisation that actively seeks and embraces a digital-first mind-set and culture, one that drives purposeful action throughout our business.

This is a bold proposition and can only be realised by ensuring we truly engage, excite and enable our people to experience the transformative power, data innovation can have for both themselves and Rolls-Royce. To achieve this, a variety of methods, tools, practices and support mechanisms have been introduced to help cultivate and accelerate the digital first mind-set and culture, helping to driving community-led movements, not just top down digital strategies.

At Rolls-Royce we have developed the Digital Academy; an internal global community and resources ecosystem that is focussed on promoting lifelong learning through sharing and learning digital skills, raising digital awareness and establishing a digital first mind-set throughout the company. Offering a variety of self service, online learning solutions developed or recommended by our own employees, the Digital Academy aims to cater for anyone looking to grow their level of digital capability in the direction and pace that suits them and their future aspirations.

To complement the Digital Academy, we are also establishing a set of specialist guilds, consisting of expert practitioners in fields such as advanced analytics, data engineering and artificial intelligence. These groups help advance the skills, self-serviced tools and methods to ensure our data innovation capabilities keep up with the relentless pace of technology and enthusiasts feel they are part of a wider team of likeminded colleagues which offers learning and career progression.

To help enable and sustain the digital-first mindset and skills being amplified within Rolls-Royce, we have started to accelerate collaboration through multifunctional cells, where domain teams from across Rolls-Royce operations work closely with data experts in multifunctional data innovation “sprints” to tackle specific problems based on hypothesis that indicate specific real financial value – often with an “in year” horizon.

This cell structure enables people to be empowered and develop their ideas in a highly relevant business framework, follow them through and have the focus and capabilities to complete their mission and realise the business value. It also provides an environment where external capability can help influence thoughts. We work with small companies and universities to stimulate ideas and help get people excited. Once you have people engaged and working on innovative projects, a collective enthusiasm around digital possibilities can be developed and teams naturally work together to make it happen.

Make no mistake, Rolls-Royce is focussed and determined on embracing a digital-first mind-set and see this as a substantial change to our corporate culture. Traditionally Rolls-Royce had a strong engineering background, where our projects are run through business cases that show what will be achieved, and once approved we move forward, build and deliver. But digital is not like that, it is not a linear thing. Digital is more fluid, it can take you down many paths. You have to get into that mindset of trying and learning as you go, moving forward and continually being agile.

Rolls-Royce also has a history of excelling in building things ourselves. We are proud of our strong engineering heritage and pedigree, when we needed to acquire additional capability we have been successful in either partnering through structured JVs or through supplier contracts. Yet to be a successful digital company you have to think differently, you need a more flexible approach to develop the latest cutting-edge technology solutions. So to empower Rolls-Royce’s digital strategy and delivering value from data innovation – we needed to build a network of external, as well as internal, innovators.

That’s why Rolls-Royce’s data innovation team R2 Data Labs has been committed to collaborative innovation, building an ecosystem of digital partners that harnesses the latest thinking and technologies from a wide community of innovators. One example of this is our growing collaboration program with tech start-up accelerators. These partnerships help us to engage with technology innovators who can challenge our ideas, bring us new technical insights or ideas for Customer proposition and encourage our employees to get a broader perspective on the possibilities of data innovation and share in their pace, inventiveness and energy. At the same time, we also help these innovators grow. It’s a win-win situation: we’re giving exciting start-ups access to a bigger data innovation stage, while tapping into their potential, so we can accelerate the value we create for Rolls-Royce and its customers.

Our strong focus on staff engagement, empowerment and collaborative innovation has already proven crucial in unlocking the most undiscovered hard business value from data. These three pillars are success factors behind Rolls-Royce’s digital transformation from engine manufacturer to a technology company.

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