Driving innovation by only focusing on technology is the wrong way to go

Driving innovation by only focusing on technology is the wrong way to go

Some of the best innovation comes from within.

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When talking about business transformation, there’s a tendency to focus on the role played by technology. But it’s important to remember that technology is just a tool, and how that tool is chosen and used is what determines success.

In my conversation with leaders undertaking transformation initiatives within their organisations, I often suggest they start with examination of their organisation’s culture, and whether it can support the changes they want to happen.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has built a reputation for innovation, and we have achieved that because we spend a lot of time thinking about what contributes to creating a culture of innovation.

It’s a challenge that we have never lost sight of since our early days more than 15 years ago, which is why we say it’s always Day 1 here.

How we innovate at AWS

One of the key factors that attracted me to start at AWS earlier this year was our reputation, and specifically, the focus on customer obsession, culture of curiosity, and commitment to the highest standards.

These ideas flow from our 14 leadership principles (LPs), and they are more than just slogans on a poster in the tea room. They are intrinsic at AWS, informing the types of people we employ and the tasks we give them.

For example, the focus on curiosity is reflected in our Technical Account Managers (TAMs), whose tasks include understanding our customers’ business and operational needs and technical challenges.

This touches on another principle that we hold close to our hearts – taking ownership – as our TAMs treat our clients as though they work for them.

We build solutions for a diverse range of people and organisations. And that’s why diversity and inclusion has become a central part of our business, where we see that diversity reflected in the people who are building those very same solutions.

We are also committed to building capability, such as developing skills through our Educate program, or assisting startups through our Activate program, or training people from disadvantaged backgrounds through our Re/start program. Innovation requires ideas, but it also requires skills to bring them to life.

Innovation in action

Any company that wants to drive innovation from within needs to make similar commitments. We often work directly with clients to bring skills creation to life, such as our engagement with the Singapore-based multinational banking and financial services corporation DBS Bank.

DBS Bank is doubling down on technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and data analytics to provide its customers with personalised services on mobile devices. Lauded for its successful digital transformation, the bank committed to making technology skills accessible to all employees in the organisation and ensuring no employee was left behind as it evolved.

To equip 3,000 employees with skillsets in AI and ML, DBS worked together with AWS on the DBS x AWS DeepRacer League. DBS employees participated in a series of hands-on online tutorials before applying their knowledge by programming their own autonomous model race car. These ML models are then uploaded onto a virtual racing environment, allowing employees to experiment and finetune their models while engaging in friendly competition.

Global carmaker Toyota is another example of a business sparking innovation from within. Toyota has collaborated with AWS to expand Toyota’s Mobility Services Platform, allowing Toyota engineers to harness data to ensure driver and passenger safety, security, comfort, and convenience in Toyota's cloud-connected vehicles.

Toyota’s commitment goes beyond the mobility services platform and spans the entire enterprise. The collaboration with AWS provides a foundation for streamlined and secure data sharing throughout the wider company and accelerates Toyota’s move toward CASE (Connected, Autonomous/Automated, Shared and Electric) mobility technologies.

The collaboration between Toyota and AWS extends to Toyota’s entire enterprise and will help build a foundation for streamlined and secure data sharing throughout the company and accelerate its move toward CASE (Connected, Autonomous/Automated, Shared and Electric) mobility technologies.

What I’ve learnt

I’ve had the privilege of working at a wide variety of technology companies, from early-stage Silicon Valley startups to working with some of the world’s tech giants.

And what I have learned along the way – and seen brought to life at AWS – is that driving an innovation agenda by only focusing on technology is the wrong way to go.

True transformation starts by instilling the principles that allow an organisation to be truly innovative, such as obsessing about customers and striving for excellence. And it means not just investing in tools, but also in the training that enables people to use them effectively. More importantly, leadership needs to be intentional and purposeful in the setting these principles.

This gives your people confidence in change and enables them to not just be the agents of change, but also its advocates.

And when you reach that point, your innovation program is truly in safe hands.


Phil Davis is Managing Director APJ at Amazon Web Services

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