Non-traditional drivers of innovation in UK Aerospace and Defence


It is not unknown that the impact of Covid-19 globally is catastrophic. However, in the wake of this pandemic, the UK Aerospace and Defence (A&D) industry have found themselves being forced towards a more resilient and digitalised way of working. It is proving necessary for organisations to reflect on their current operational processes and begin their journeys towards a more innovative business culture. A recent report published by PWC highlights this agenda. The report indicates a multitude of barriers preventing UK A&D organisations from exploiting the plethora of accelerators available to the industry and goes on to propose new drivers for innovation that can address the mentioned barriers.

Even though it is not a recent notion that continuous innovation and development is needed for organisations to be both successful and sustainable, the pandemic has amplified the need for operational resilience in the face of incessant change. With less focus on internal product innovation, greater emphasis is placed on ensuring internal operational innovation, with this mentality embedded and etched into the business culture. Below we highlight some key ways that businesses can innovate, many of which move away from the more traditional models we are used to.

Leadership Culture

In order to harness the full potential of an innovation strategy, an organisation needs to embed this mindset into its business culture. It is critical for the executive and managerial teams to commit to this mindset and encourage creative thinking and transparency across all departments and all teams. Without this commitment, any efforts to transform the business will fail. PWC’s report found that a significant nine in ten participants believe that a strong leadership culture is needed for successful innovation. (PwC, 2020). This further highlights the importance of a committed leadership team and an empowered work force. With the whole organisation ready to adopt and accept new ways of working, innovation is then at the heart of all business processes and strategies, promoting creativity across all employees. Culture change does not happen overnight and can be a slow process, however this is a necessary process if you are wanting to remain competitive within the industry.

Innovation Strategy and Customer Demand

Whilst culture change is necessary, a well-developed strategy is imperative. An organisation needs to agree on their approach to transformation to encourage open communication and inspire creativity from across the organisation. The strategy and culture change are symbiotic and support one another to promote innovation. By having an in-depth strategy, organisations are able to focus on the areas they want to prioritise and react to the market rather than trying to adopt this across every area of the business and have a fragmented approach.

Understanding customer needs and market trends is vital for driving innovation. Implementing a CRM technology would provide the organisation with a deeper 360-degree view of the customer and would be instrumental in understanding their wants. However, only a third of the PwC survey participants have implemented this software, whilst another third of participants plan to implement these technologies in the next three years (PwC, 2020).

Implementing Sustainable Recruitment and Collaborations

Recruiting talent is difficult within A&D as there are very specific skills and interests required to join this industry. This means that there are limited people with these skills and thus a smaller pool of people to hire from. Consequently, the industry experiences a significant skills gap. In addition, projects have very long cycles causing young graduates to move on from their roles because of both the slower pace and the impact of experienced professionals leaving and take their knowledge with them. Unfortunately, these factors lead to a real issue when it comes to recruitment and in order to address this problem companies must place a strong emphasis on upskilling programmes and sufficient training to close this gap.

Alongside closing the skills gap, collaborations with other partnerships, strategic alliances and joint ventures are a necessary route in driving innovation. Outside sources are just as important as internal sources when it comes to harnessing creativity and influencing how innovation can be achieved. It is evident that A&D need to be more welcoming to the outside world to become innovative instead of always relying on who is already in the industry or the organisation.

There is a clear roadmap for how innovation can be driven forward within your organisation, however sometimes this mapping doesn’t always include the more traditional ways we are used to considering. In order to prepare for future implications that can drastically impact the marketplace, innovation and agility need to be at the forefront of an organisations business strategy,

Innovation needs to be part of the culture of an organisation, it needs to collaborate with different people to harness their different values and businesses need to understand the changing market trends and their customers desires. Innovation needs to be a part of the culture of a business and essentially, needs to be made up in the infrastructure and DNA of a business in order for the business to thrive.

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