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Combing innovation process with innovation culture

Top-down and bottom-up innovation

Articulate wisely central techno-pushed innovation with local innovation, closer to the fields and to the user needs, thus opening new windows of opportunities, is one of the goal of intrapreneurship at Orange, and of the local innovation approach developed for Orange Africa. This way we can balance the technical expertise from a central innovation division, with the possibility of local lean-startups initiatives, experimenting up to 100 innovative solutions every semester with the circa 20 countries where Orange is present in Africa and Middles-East.

With lean-startups initiative, we focused on agility, pragmatism, and value created for the users, and Orange, while leveraging a key asset that Orange can bring to the innovative service.

One emblematic story of this successful articulation is the birth of Orange Money, a money transfer service without a bank account. The idea was born in Kenya, and it clearly could not have emerged here: in France, everyone is banked, even kids! Orange decided to develop centrally a platform capable of supporting all African countries on this service, to roll it out locally, and progressively over 18 countries: today, ten years later, we have 45 millions customers!

This is probably the most brilliant innovation of Orange over the decade, and there is no cutting-edge tech embedded: it’s low tech (SMS), with a massive adoption rate and a targeted user problem, and it really transforms people’s life. Furthermore, the central Orange Money platform enables local developments, tailored to each country needs, and let these local developments be picked-up, and replicated from one country to another over the region.

Intrapreneurship: the way forward with innovation squads

I created Orange intrapreneurship program 4 years ago, with a view to help innovative ideas transition more fluently into business, with the help of a sponsoring business unit, and to open the innovation doors to every Orange employee, letting them benefit from a tunnel of goodwill around their idea.

The program incorporates a know-how in developing new markets, and innovative products, that we share with the intrapreneurs through coaching sessions, acting like an innovation center of expertise. The program clearly involves the business units very upstream: I consider that our role is not to develop innovations in our area that would then be “sold” to core business; I’m a strong believer in co-developing innovations that create opportunities for business units, give them a competitive advantage or solve one of their problems.

Now we are adapting the process for the 20 countries of Orange Africa taking into account contextual particularities. We keep the employees participation and the business unit ownership aspects, but we also try to test refinements on the exploration stage:

  • opening the doors to innovative process improvement, that impact the internal organization, and not only to new product and services: for instance, streamlining the authentification process for new customers;
  • mixing employees and business representatives with startups that can bring a specific expertise in the solutions that we are experimenting; this has been pioneered by Orange Belgium, and these teams are called innovation squads like in the Spotify vocabulary;
  • keeping the process nimble, in a stretched time frame of a few weeks, so as to conduct a high number of experiments, confronting mock-ups to users, and collecting a maximum of users’ feedback, rather than polishing a product.

Our target is to build proximity with our target users, rather than falling in love with our product, to explore and conduct short experiments, and pave the way to exploitation capitalizing on users’ feedback.

Designing an innovation program, and building an innovation community

I’ve been through 10 steps to design an intrapreneurship program in my book The Intrapreneurs’ Factory. I’ve used these 10 milestones to design the innovation process with the countries of Orange Africa.

It’s important first of all to define the reason why you start the program, what problem you’re trying to solve, what goals and KPIs will make the management team satisfied if they are reached.

Then, some delicate gates are:

  1. Finding out the right sponsor, both visible and accessible; sometime a deputy sponsor can compensate a lack of disponibility!
  2. Involving the business side soon enough in the process to trigger ownership, and further facilitate the exit, aka the transition from exploration to exploitation;
  3. Closely coaching the process along the way, sharing the innovation tools from design thinking and lean start-up, bespoke tools to design mock-ups, and conduct experiment, but also the very peculiar mindset of the successful innovator: flexible and stubborn at the same time as says Jeff Bezos, as the key relies in the management of iteration in short cycles.

In this journey, I’m highly energized by a community of 20 staggering innovation champions, representing the countries of Orange Africa. Not only we discuss the innovation process to test locally, but we share view on innovation organization, during a Radio Innovation show every 3 weeks.

During the past events, Radio Innovation had the chance to welcome tremendous testimonials from external speakers (innovation leader at Gefco describing its innovation strategy and organization, Booster incubation studio at Total, Make Sense incubator and the facilitation of the Dakar Citylab for innovation, innovation in the informal sector in Africa with GoodPoint/, as well as Orange speakers illustrating the wealthness of the group (Orange Ventures Africa seeds challenge, Orange Fab Belgium innovation squads, Orange Senegal design thinking toolbox, Orange Slovakia Butterfly Effect partnership for open innovation).

For these innovation champions in charge of setting-up an organization for innovation in their country, the challenge is to seek for integration (integrating seamlessly innovation with the business) before seeking for success. These mind-boggling testimonials feed them, and consolidate their innovation culture.

Scaling-up an innovation program

Once the innovation program gets traction, the next step is about scaling-up the approach, engaging progressively all participants. If all Orange countries commit to the innovation process in Africa, that will lead to the tremendous threshold of 100 creative solutions experimented per semester, 200 on a yearly basis on the regional footprint: what a eye-catching achievement!

At the innovation project level, one can use the scale-up canvas to check whether the project is ready to grow, and move from a start-up to a scale-up stage.

How to scale, how to move from early adopter to a larger market, how to streamline your organization? The scale-up canvas goes over 4 key areas to help you cement your project organization, and strengthen its resilience for exploitation:

  1. Adapting the value proposition to appeal beyond Early Adopters. At this stage, the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is no longer sufficient. The goal is to have a Minimum Marketable Product (or Minimum Lovable Product), which has acquired a certain stability – but which is also capable of teasing. It therefore has less purely functional, more aesthetic characteristics than the MVP. The question of the international is also raised;
  2. Industrialization of the product or service delivery. All processes are concerned: sales (with the establishment of a sales force), marketing and growth hacking (marketing campaign), data (analytics management), customer service (CRM) …
  3. The challenge is to maintain agility while embracing industrial digital platforms sustaining the activity. But even more important: the product must now rest
  4. on an architecture make it possible to develop according to a roadmap fed continuously by customer feedback;
  5. Putting in place the resources and organization for growth while preserving culture. Internally, it is necessary to prepare the landing within the corporate teams, creating a common vision, – and settle to grow the team. Externally, relationships with suppliers, logistics partners for example, change: they enter into more classic and stabilized operations;
  6. The creation of a robust management system. This requires alignment with corporate objectives: what value creation, what indicators, and what transition plan? The project converges toward the legacy business unit management, with a 3-year plan which must lead to profitability by optimizing awareness, activation, pricing model and recurrent revenue, referral, retention, customer acquisition, etc.

If all innovation projects become familiar with the whole process from exploration to exploitation and scale-up, then the program can host more projects, and scale in turn: as all projects cross-fertilize, the insights of some projects benefiting to others, the whole will definitely be greater than the sum of all parts!

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