Who'd be an incumbent in this world of ever-faster disruption? Barriers to entry that only a year or two ago looked impregnable have now crumbled to dust, leaving many formerly untouchble giants teetering under the onslaught of nimble new upstarts.
But as today's category in the MT/LBS Real Innovation Awards shows, being an incumbent doesn't mean you have to take all this lying down. It is possible to overhaul your offering, to cannibalise your existing markets before someone else does, and come out on top.
Launched by MT and LBS as an antidote to all the slick and shiny existing awards out there, The Real Innovation Awards are designed to reflect the fact that 'Real' innovation is rarely as neat, simple and straightforward as it can appear, but is messy, uncertain and serendipitous business.
The Masters of Reinvention award is for the company which most successfully reinvents a previously-winning formula in the face of a major market challenge.
In the mid-1990s, AutoTrader was one of the top-selling magazines in the UK, with a print circulation of almost 400,000 and revenues of £220 million. While many rivals were driven out of business by the Internet, AutoTrader reinvented itself as a digital company. It launched its first website in 1996 and aggressively pushed its online offerings, with a separate digital sales team competing with the print-based team.
By 2013, with circulation down to 27,000, the company turned off the printing presses. But new digital offerings more than made up for this shortfall. In 2015, as the largest digital automotive marketplace, AutoTrader made an operating profit of £133 million on revenue of £255 million and floated on the London Stock Exchange entering the FTSE 250.
Greater Manchester Fire Service
As Chief Fire Officer in Greater Manchester during the 2000s, Steve McGuirk had to adapt to big reductions in spending and changing global risks.
His innovation was to refocus his force away from its traditional firefighting role towards safety and prevention. This was not popular with firefighters, but it was enormously successful, with dramatic reductions in both workforce and the numbers of fires.
In recent years, McGuirk has also led changes in the use of technology to make firefighting safer, and in increased co-operation between the fire and ambulance services to speed up responses to falls, cardiac arrests and other emergencies.
All these important changes have required effort to overcome resistance within a rather traditional public sector operating environment.
Giant Dutch bank ING went through a painful restructuring after the 2008 financial crisis, selling off product lines and rethinking its business model. Its executives embarked on an ambitious transformation programme – streamlining internal processes and making a strategic push into digital banking.
ING threw out its traditional hierarchical structure in favour of an agile approach more typical of a start-up. 350 autonomous ‘squads’ now set their own KPIs, work in short sprints and have regular progress updates. Squads are clustered into ‘tribes’, supported by coaches.
The new model has already paid dividends, with substantial improvements in customer service, cost efficiency, employee engagement and innovation.
Schibsted Media Group
Most newspaper businesses have struggled to survive the dotcom revolution; Schibsted has enjoyed 15 years of double-digit growth. In 1995, it was a Norwegian newspaper company with 3.5 billion Kroner in revenue. Today it operates in 30 countries and has revenues of 15 billion, mostly from digital services.
Schibsted was an early mover in digital with its large media houses Aftonbladet and VG going online in 1994/1995. Schibsted dared to disrupt itself: its bold decision in 1998 to start Finn.no established a digital competitor to its profitable Norwegian newspapers in classified advertising.
While its print business went into decline, the company expanded its digital operations. Schibsted is now a global leader, investing heavily in technology, and with a young, digitally-savvy workforce delivering great user experiences and the best ad solutions to its audience.