Leeds Digital Festival 2020 — A practical guide to Innovation & Transformation part 1

“Innovate or die” has been my rallying call at the Leeds Digital Festival for many years and this year I’m going to reveal how to go one step further – How to integrate innovation and digital transformation into the fabric of your organisation by helping to make it part of your culture.

The world is changing fast, perhaps faster than ever before and the impact of Covid is forcing change to happen even more quickly. There are new companies entering markets with no legacy systems, no preconceived ideas and brand-new ways of doing things.

Global organisations are using technology to move in on micro local markets and companies, not just "eating their lunch" but destroying value, whilst building their own -for example, Uber and Airbnb are global technology driven businesses that are affecting even tiny one person companies.


At Bolser, our passion is to Make Digital Better

One of the ways we can make digital better is to innovate. I’m the son of an inventor — my dad invented night storage heaters and underfloor heating. He lived off his wits and ingenuity and was always looking at making things better.

The value of innovation is shared by the team at Bolser, we’ve been responsible for at least three world firsts including:

  • Live stream video subtitles for Xbox.
  • Application of Natural Language Artificial Intelligence in app store reviews for clients like Jet2 and McDonald’s
  • Video serving on Mobile for Nokia

Along with Xbox, we have incredible clients like The Football Foundation, AIG, Microsoft, Discovery Channel, Taco Bell who have quite a few things in common — they are global companies in extremely competitive markets. They are also engaging in some form of digital transformation, of process, delivery and product.

The current crisis is putting even more pressure in this transformative process, an example is the Yorkshire Building Society app. Covid has prevented their customers visiting branches, so the need for a handy mobile app to allow customers to check their balances and perform speedy transfers is now more important than ever.


Why innovation and transformation are important

So, why do I say Innovate or Die… 20 years ago I worked for a business in Leeds – WWAV Rapp Collins, it turned over more than £20 million and employed around 120 people, sadly, they no longer exist.

Some of our clients were massive multi-million-pound brands known the world over, others were retailers who simply failed to notice the internet and others Mail order companies who thought printed catalogues were here to stay

Some were local businesses who were ruined by international trade and tough customers.

No matter their size, they all failed to see that innovation and transformation was vitally important to their survival.

I believe that standing still is going backwards. And that's a lesson for us all. 

Fast forward 20 years and we’re already seeing the same outcome. Companies that didn’t adapt to the current climate are beginning to fall. A reminder of why constant innovation is so important.

These famous companies have all ceased trading in 2020, two of those are personal to Bolser here in Leeds, we lost £25k this year when one of these companies went bust on us. What do they have in common? Most of them had borrowed too much but all had failed to innovate and stay relevant to customers. Covid-19 may have been the final straw for them, but in most cases, they were already broken.


If innovation and transformation is so vital, why don’t all organisations do it?

Well it can be difficult.

Jeff Bezos said, “As organizations get larger they are characterised by slowness, unthoughtful risk aversion, failure to experiment sufficiently, and diminished invention” 

Nic Skillicorn also says that ideas are simple, fast and cheap, but that implementation is difficult, slow and expensive! I think it's all about the implementation, but if your organisation is not coming up with new ways of doing things, to new customers, then you are in trouble!

From my perspective, running a digital marketing agency, the importance of innovation is: 

  1. Differentiation from the competition
  2. Staying relevant to consumers
  3. Happy staff
  4. Happy clients
  5. “Improvement” mindset

As published in ‘Scientific American’, Safi Bahcall said that ‘Fear of failure’ was the 2nd most common reason why organisations don’t innovate. In the crowded space of online retail how does Amazon, for example, remain distinctive? In my view, it’s addressing the issue of innovation that has allowed Jeff Bezos and Amazon to thrive.

It's worthwhile to hear more from Jeff Bezos, in this case talking about Marketplace on Amazon:

“One area where I think we are especially distinctive is failure. I believe we are the best place in the world to fail (we have plenty of practice!), and failure and invention are inseparable twins.

Luck plays an outsized role in every endeavor, and I can assure you we’ve had a bountiful supply.

To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment. Most large organisations embrace the idea of invention, but are not willing to suffer the string of failed experiments necessary to get there.

We learned from our failures and stayed stubborn on the vision.”

Now that we know why innovation is important to survival, what do we do?

Find out in the concluding post; A practical guide to Innovation & Transformation Part 2 

Thanks for reading.



Managing Director