Creating a place to turn ideas into innovations

Agencies are standing up centers as hubs of innovation activity. Some focus on research and development, others on acquisition. What an innovation center is and does are business decisions each organization makes about how the center best closes a mission-critical capability gap.

Headshot of Lou Kerestesy
Lou Kerestesy, founder, GovInnovators

But what is an innovation center? What’s it do? What’s the best way to organize and run one? This is the first blog in a five-part series that answers these questions.

What is an innovation center?

Regardless of what it’s called or how it’s organized and run, an innovation center fulfills basic functions:

  • Find and receive inputs about customers, value and potential innovation.
  • Act on inputs to manage strategy, innovation and organizational change processes.
  • Produce outputs in the form of innovations and learning that add value for customers and the organization.

If you think in terms of space, an innovation center is a physical or virtual place where people work together to do these things. If you think in terms of people, an innovation center is the people who do them. One can also describe centers in terms of processes and tools, but you get the idea.

Essentially, an innovation center is where people work together to turn ideas into innovations. The notion of a center implies an organizational operation with the requisite roles, responsibilities, authorities and resources to systematically do something different to add value for customers on a sustained basis.

What’s the best way to organize and run an innovation center?

Innovation is a business proposition unique to each agency. The best way to organize and run a center depends on the business use to which it will be put.

Many potential uses exist. The difference between innovating acquisition and innovating R&D, for example, would require different definitions of value, customers, participants, stakeholders, pipeline management and more.

Even the difference between innovating veterans’ health care and innovating rural veterans’ health care can lead to surprising differences. The broader objective might include veterans’ benefit programs, for example, while the narrower objective might not.

To further complicate matters, there are many business objective frameworks to consider. Classic business objectives are effectiveness, efficiency, quality, timeliness and productivity. Operations management objectives are quality, speed, dependability, flexibility and cost. Improving customers’ digital experience is becoming broadly recognized as a priority government business objective. Then there are shared services, data analytics, security, cloud computing. Does it end?

Amid this complexity and confusion, keep two principles in mind:

  • Innovation is about the customer. This is the first thing that makes it a business proposition. Your organization exists to serve certain customers and it’s already organized and operating to provide current value to them. Innovating further concentrates focus on the customer. You’ll never stray far from center by iteratively and incrementally asking what you might do differently to add value for a customer.
  • Innovation is about your organization. This is the second thing that makes it a business proposition. Your organization is the place where product, service, customer and value meet. It’s also the place that will change to add value for a customer. But because there’s no end to additional value customers would take, your organization must choose to do some things differently but not others, or innovate to different degrees in different areas of operation. Again, iteratively and incrementally, ask what you might do differently to add value for a customer.

What next?

Selecting a business objective and getting oriented to it is the first step to standing up an innovation center. The second blog in this five-part series, Getting oriented, explains those steps.

Lou Kerestesy is the founder and CEO of GovInnovators. Look for all Lou’s innovation blogs, including his complete paper on “Standing Up An Innovation Center.” There you’ll also find papers on “What Is Innovation and Creating an Innovation Strategy.” Questions?  Email him.