To say that 2020 has been a highly challenging year is somewhat of an understatement. For those that work in local government and for the citizens and businesses that we deliver services to, it’s been as challenging a time as any other in living memory.
Many of the businesses in the UK have been hit hard. They have had to adjust to most of the workforce suddenly working from home, with all the attendant cybersecurity, productivity and well-being challenges that come with that. Some businesses have had to cope with not even being open for several months and the cash-flow problems that come with that.
This all means that more innovation and collaboration is essential for businesses to survive and thrive. To encourage and support such collaboration, local councils must provide local businesses with the platform and tools to be innovative. At Worcestershire County Council (WCC), this has meant the recent launch of Worcestershire Innovation (WINN), an innovation platform which aims to drive crowd innovation across the county.
The need for a more innovation approach
The need for businesses to collaborate and innovate is not new. Even in Worcestershire – which in many ways is a thriving county for business – we are facing challenges such as skills shortages in key sectors, how to manage an ageing population and how to keep students in the area once they have finished studying.
Another key requirement is for smaller and more agile firms to connect with larger companies. There is much that can be learned from companies of different sizes, and the benefits and impact of shared best practice will be felt across the county.
Sustainable economic growth and business growth has long been a key priority for Worcestershire County Council and part of that commitment includes the WINN initiative. WINN had previously been focused on events and round-tables amongst its members, but we wanted a way to continue the idea sharing and collaboration on an on-going basis, and to scale-up the efforts that were already in place. When coronavirus took hold, the need for socially distanced collaboration became even greater.
A digital platform to drive innovation
The answer was found in our new innovation platform, which makes it easy for businesses and other organisations across the county to share ideas and best practice. Powered by Idea Spotlight, the idea management solution from software & services firm Wazoku, it provides a way to continue idea sharing and discover new opportunities.
Businesses can sign-up to the platform, develop a business profile, find supportive content, begin conversations and respond to challenges. We had started a successful pilot scheme in the fourth quarter of 2019, which placed user requirements at the centre of its operations. Iterations were made based on this feedback, including the ability for users to now ask direct questions. Now fully launched, we aim to get as many individuals and businesses signed up and engaging on the platform as possible.
It’s vital to give businesses the tools they need to keep talking and innovating together. Collaboration is essential in modern business and open innovation platforms that allow businesses to access the collective expertise and know-how of other organisations are a building block to future business success, in Worcestershire but across the rest of the UK too.
Even now, as the workplace tentatively comes to terms with new ways of working, it is a stressful time for businesses of all sizes. The uncertainty and pressure of running a business are currently unlike at any other time, and it stands to reason business owners and managers will want to connect with others. The WINN platform gives them the perfect way to do so.
Jessica Antley is senior project manager, innovation, at Worcestershire County Council