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Digital vs Innovation

Digital vs Innovation

With a better understanding of digital, how it relates to your organisation, and why it’s important…how is digital different to innovation?

Doesn’t innovation basically mean digital? Innovations are always digital, aren’t they?

The term innovation can often cause confusion, particularly in the sport and physical activity sector, and a lot of organisations use the terms ‘innovation’ or ‘digital’ interchangeably. In this section we’ll explore what we mean by innovation, and how this differs to digital.

In section 1 we explored in detail what digital means. You’ll remember the following:

Across community sport and physical activity, digital refers to how organisations use data and technology to meet raised consumer expectations and drive innovation, actionable insights and value across:

  1. Capabilities and culture
  2. Processes and systems
  3. Services and experiences; online, in places, and in the community

Across community sport and physical activity, innovation is applying a creative mindset, generating ideas and experimenting to make positive changes that improve people’s experiences of, and increase levels of, sport and physical activity. Innovation is an approach that puts people’s needs at the heart, and in our case, continually learning and adapting to remove the real-life barriers they are facing preventing them from being physically active.

There is often a misconception that innovation means the creation, development and implementation of all signing, all dancing, radical changes that are ‘disruptive’ – or ideas that are altogether reinventing the wheel.

Whilst this can be true, and innovation can refer to the process of introducing something new, innovation should be viewed as a scale. For example, innovation can also be about improving upon existing ideas, methods, products, or services – or generally just ‘doing things better’. Innovations can be incremental, involving small improvements, or they can be disruptive, introducing radical changes that transform industries or entire societies. What’s key is that any organisations or individuals can be innovators; it’s a process that involves creating solutions to problems, enhancing efficiency, or introducing fresh approaches that lead to positive changes.

What are the key differences between digital and innovation?

Innovation does not mean digital. Digital does not mean innovation. They are altogether different.

In an ever evolving, digital first world, it’s common to find digital driving innovation, or at least featuring heavily as part of idea generation when experimenting to discover solution as part of the problem-solving process. However, whilst digital innovation (new technologies, software applications etc) are prominent examples, innovation is not limited to digital advancements and encompasses a wide range of areas and forms. Innovation can be found in products, processes, services, business models, organisational structures, and more.

Therefore, innovation extends beyond the digital realm to include innovations in countless fields and is more concerned with the introduction of new ideas and methods that bring about positive change, regardless of whether they are based on digital technologies or other forms of innovation.

You can read through some of the key differences below.

  • Innovation is about applying a creative mindset, generating ideas and experimenting to make positive changes; this could be through the delivery of new, or improving existing, ides, methods, products or services.
  • Digital refers to the use of data and technology to meet raised customer needs; digital will often feature or play a role when organisations are innovating.
  • Innovation can be technological, organisational, process-oriented (or something else), and involves creating something new or delivering improvements.
  • Digital: Primarily relates to the use of data and technology (the internet, software, applications, digital communication, emerging tech etc).
  • Innovation can be applied to various fields, including business models, product development, customer experience, and much more.
  • Digital is often applied through data and/or technology driven solutions to improve systems and processes, like digital transformation, or to deliver improved services and experience, like online platforms, and electronic communication.
  • Innovation involves human creativity, thinking, and problem-solving skills to develop novel ideas.
  • Digital focuses on the use of data, technologies and tools, with less emphasis on human creativity in its definition. However, in its implementation, people and workforce play a significant role; as covered in our section looking at capabilities and culture.
  • Innovation entails a degree of uncertainty and risk, as not all innovative ideas may succeed in the market. However, de-risking ideas through a series of lean experiments is one way to management uncertainty before heavily investing in innovations.
  • Digital advancements still carry risks but are often more predictable and measurable.
  • Innovation metrics can be subjective and qualitative, and may include factors such as customer satisfaction, market share, and societal impact.
  • Digital metrics are often more quantifiable, including factors like data gathered, collected and analysed, webpage and comms analytics, and software efficiency.
Are there any similarities between digital and innovation?

Whilst the above demonstrates how digital and innovation are different, there are similarities between the two.

Using our definitions of digital and innovation, we view digital innovation as the process of using and applying data and digital technologies and strategies to make positive changes that improve people’s experiences of, and increase levels of, sport and physical activity. However, as highlighted above, digital innovation is only one type, or example, of innovation in practice.

That said, digital and innovation do have other similarities, some of which are explored below.

Both innovation and digital will often have a broad cultural impact, influencing the way people live, work, and interact. An innovative and digital culture embraces and leverages digital technologies to drive innovation, efficiency, and adaptability, referring to the set of values, behaviours, and practices within your organisation.

Innovation and digital can often both involve a broad range of stakeholders, including individuals, businesses, governments, and society at large.

Innovation and digital both require adaptability; for digital this is not only limited to evolving hardware, software, and security requirements, but also to changing market conditions, customer needs, and emerging trends. Theres a requirement to place the customer at the heart of decisions, using measured feedback and key metrics to inform and drive the development and implementation of innovations through an iterative approach and process. This promotes continuous learning, collaboration, and agility to make better and faster decisions, and developing more iterative and rapid ways of doing things.

To find out more about the innovation work being used to address inequalities across sport and physical activity (being led by Sport England) check out their latest blog and resources here.

Case study

Check out the case study from Redbridge Culture & Leisure.

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