For the longest time, the idea of open innovation was merely a buzzword thrown around at tech conferences. Most conglomerates were wary about exposing too much internal information about the challenges they were tackling. Though an exception to this rule was the John Keells Group. Since the inception of the John Keells X programme, the conglomerate and its many subsidiaries have been working alongside startups to solve critical issues. Now in its fifth year, the programme has refined itself, with one of its three tracks dedicated to open innovation known as JKX Innovate. As the COVID-19 pandemic forces companies large and small to realise the importance of collaboration, the JKX Innovate programme offers a foundational blueprint for open innovation.
The importance of open innovation
By definition, open innovation refers to a large organisation collaborating with external parties to develop innovative solutions to existing challenges. It’s an approach that has benefits for all involved. A startup can utilise its rapid execution speed to solve a burning problem creatively. The conglomerate can bring deep insights into problems, offer valuable domain expertise, and also assist the startup with market access for their solution across the industry. More importantly, it widens the scope for value creation.
However, despite these clear benefits, most organisations rarely practised true open innovation in the past. Concerns over protecting intellectual property and trade secrets outweighed the opportunities. That all changed when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Overnight, organisations lost control due to disruptions across their value chains. As a result, they returned to the drawing board and looked at problems in a non-linear fashion.
Group CIO of John Keells Holdings, Ramesh Shanmuganathan, explains, “It meant moving away from trying to own the entire value chain and instead look at value ecosystems. Businesses would compete based on price and efficiency in such ecosystems while forming partnerships to deliver value to their consumers.”
John Keells X Innovate: A driver of open innovation
While organisations grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and begin to explore opportunities for open innovation, John Keells Holdings has been proactive in exploring such opportunities. The primary driver has been the John Keells X programme, which has served as a bridge between startups and the conglomerate. In a previous story, we explored how the programme connected startups such as SenzAgro, Helios P2P, iLoan, and more with its vast networks. This open innovation process resulted in companies across the John Keells Group unlocking new value and the startups receiving valuable feedback to refine their offerings to scale up.
The programme is doubling down on its efforts to facilitate open innovation for its latest edition. Hence, the creation of a dedicated track known as JKX Innovate. Head of John Keells X, Wishanth Wijesinha, introduces it as, “An open innovation platform which directly bridges the demand and supply components of the innovation ecosystem. We will publicize a list of challenges put forward by companies in our networks inviting solutions from other companies or teams.”
How does John Keells X Innovate work?
The programme is centered around many challenges put forward by many companies in the John Keells X corporate networks. Any startup, scale-up, or an established company with the required domain or technological expertise can apply to solve these challenges. After applications close, the programme would shortlist up to three teams for each challenge.
Once in the JKX Innovate programme, each team will work closely with challenge owners to solve their respective challenges. These challenge owners would be dedicated individuals from the respective businesses assigned to support the startups. This support includes access to mentors, data, APIs, and a sandbox environment where relevant. Further, the selected teams will also receive training in areas such as customer-centric design, developing problem statements, design and development sprints, etc.
The teams would then pitch to a panel of industry judges who will decide whether to greenlight a proof of concept. After the proof of concept is deployed, its success will be evaluated. Based on this and feedback from the challenge owners, the teams can get the chance to win a further paid pilot opportunity, funding, or a long term commercial agreement.
What are the challenges?
A number of companies in the John Keells Group have put forward challenges for the JKX Innovate programme. Below is a quick introduction to the challenges. You can find more details on the JKX website by clicking here.
The first of these is Union Assurance, which has given two challenges to the participants. One challenge from the insurance provider asks participants to reimagine how life and health insurance can be obtained through a Direct to Consumer (D2C) channel by developing new customer journeys and designing new digital distribution methods. Another challenge from Union Assurance seeks solutions to obtain quality data instantly to make higher quality decisions regarding insurance policy underwriting.
Keells has given a challenge revolving around smart warehouses in the retail sector. The supermarket chain has an aggressive outlet expansion plan. Hence, enhancing order fulfilment capabilities and driving centralised warehouse efficiencies are key strategic priorities. Thus, it’s seeking digital solutions that will help it increase efficiencies and reduce costs at its warehouses.
Another challenge from John Keells IT asks participants to reimagine digital office experiences. In most organisations today, employees utilise several independent applications for their work. However, this becomes cumbersome as the number of tools increases. As such, John Keells IT is looking for a Smart Office solution built on the Microsoft Azure framework and will serve as a single point of integration for different platforms and lifestyle features.
The next challenge comes from John Keells Stock Brokers. The company is seeking to work with startups and expand its jksbonline.com platform with tailored dashboards and toolkits. By doing so, JKSB aims to disseminate better data to retail investors, thereby allowing them to make better-informed decisions. Thus, improving the overall investing experience.
Finally, there’s the challenge from John Keells Group Legal department. Every company in the conglomerate currently contacts the legal department for all legal agreements. At times, this includes clarifications on minor amendments, which results in inefficiencies for the lawyers. Hence, the department is looking for solutions that utilise technology to drive efficiencies and monetise the standard legal processes and documents.
The benefits of an open innovation approach
Applications for the John Keells X Innovate programme are now open. If you’re an entrepreneur with suitable solutions that solve these problems, the initiative offers you much support and funding to develop your product. Furthermore, you’ll also be able to tap into the expertise of the challenge owners and leaders of the John Keells Group of companies to build your company and credibility as innovators. Thereby, such credibility and experience allow you to widen your solution’s commercial application.
Click here to learn more about the John Keells X Innovate programme. Further, at the upcoming JKX Innovate Open Day, you’ll get a chance to connect with the John Keells X team and learn more about this track. You can register for the JKX Innovate Open Day by clicking here.