Incubating innovation: a transformation of structure and culture

Last updated: 14 October 2019

To succeed in today’s hyper competitive, connected and fast-moving world, innovation is key. But it’s not necessarily a simple thing to find – true innovation requires adaptation and transformation. Large tech companies in particular need to transform themselves to adapt to the modern world through permanent, heavy-hitting innovation in response to short cycles, quick consumption and customer volatility.

But innovation for a large tech company doesn’t always mean technological innovation – it’s also about working effectively to make sure the ‘tech’ side and the ‘business’ side of a company collaborate properly to address real market needs. One of the best ways to do this is to re-inject investment into R&D, which is something we’ve done recently. See below for our takeaways from this positive experiment.

Idea 1 – Humans are at the heart of innovation

Sometimes, to really inspire change you need to put people together that wouldn’t normally interact or work in tandem. ‘Positive friction’, as we call it, is the result of mixing different profiles of people/job types/sectors to form a diverse and focused team, so called “incubation cell”. This experience can be invaluable when it comes to addressing new challenges as it provides new perspectives and teaches us how to work together all the entire chain: from dev, to ops, to marketing etc.

We’ve found that this form of ‘incubation’ impacts the way teams work on an entirely new level. For example, recently we’ve been looking at how we could better position Gemalto in the e-commerce area. In order to do so, we have created a team full of diverse profiles such as marketing, R&D managers and architects. The team is working two days a week outside Gemalto in an inspiring place which is part of the startup eco-system. The team is following ‘design thinking’ methodology, based on customer insights and exploration with no limit. After a few weeks of interviews and brainstorming away from the usual day-to-day work, the team came back with a new offer proposal, which is currently under consideration – so far, it looks very promising.

We’ve also investigated creating ‘decision boards’ made up of a range of profiles – from top management to architects and beyond. This has also had a positive effect on the way senior management collaborates. We’ve now set up a regular ‘Innovation Board’ which gathers strategic people from throughout the business, with decision making power from marketing, strategy, R&D and the experts community. Collectively, this board reviews innovation projects on a quarterly basis, addressing all aspects of it, from market insight to technology constraints, and whether the decision is taken to accelerate a project or not. The information is spread across all the company, allowing anyone to understand all aspects of innovation, from business to implementation and delivery. Of course, it’s crucial that the learnings and insights are shared so that as many people within the business can improve their own innovative thinking and understanding of the necessary processes.

Idea 2 – Developing skills: learn and make

We’ve also developed a four-pronged approach to learning and developing new skills, which has informed a new mindset at a company-wide level.

Training – integrating new working methods à la lean startups

  • Talking – explaining your success, inside, outside
  • Listening – getting inspiration from external or internal persons
  • Trying, testing, experimenting – using know-how to become a maker

This switch in mindset has resulted in some of the following initiatives:

  1. Each employee now has access to a wide source of inspiration, with no limit: a training catalog is available online, which covers new working methods, inspirational conferences on sites, which could either be made by external speakers or internal (e.g. an employee sharing an entrepreneurship experiment), an internal TV channel delivering talks on innovation and technology, a yearly internal tech conference, and last but not least: regular innovation related publication on internal blogs.
  2. The agility mindset is explained to all our employees, whatever their position or function in the company. In 2018, more than 1,000 people have been trained or involved in awareness sessions, and three agility weeks were organized in three Gemalto offices across the world (Singapore, India and France), gathering more than 600 people in total. This education on agility, which embeds the notion of trust, confidence and autonomy has been a real game-changer in the company culture, creating a rich common framework.
  3. We also have a program allowing employees to suggest or enrich innovative ideas on a global platform which is accessible to all employees. Each can contribute by voluntarily donating their time and skills to support innovation projects and to learn with others, in an intrapreneurship framework.
  4. In our ‘incubation cells’, we now mandate that in parallel to business exploration, the solution is actually tested from the technical point of view – this of course allows us to stop the process if the technical side is unworkable, saving resources and wasted time.


We’ve found that it’s crucial to create a sustainable framework for permanent innovation allowing to capture market insights and serve our key technology challenges. If you want to innovate, you must set the foundations in place and give your employees the tools, space and funding to do so.

The keys to the framework we built:

  • Each employee looking at the world with the following angle: does my technology answer an actual business need? (from tech to marketing)
  • Creating confidence and trust (because people need trust to be flexible)
  • A structure encouraging short cycles (to deliver value on regular basis)
  • A process favoring quick and reliable decision making (to avoid wasting time and money)

And specifically, for some business and tech perspectives, we made sure that we also did the following:

  • Every year, we define the directions in which we want to go in terms of innovation through our key technology challenges
  • In 2018, we defined the major axes that may impact all Gemalto markets, as biometrics, machine learning, advanced crypto, Cloud offer as a service, digital identity, ID security, and BU enabler – this helped define technical features to serve multiple BUs and accelerate cross selling.
  • Those key technology challenges give the main guidelines and direction as a strategic plan for the company, then the ‘Innovation Framework’ makes it happen

So there you have it! Through that process, we’ve been able to develop a new structure and culture ripe for innovation across the company; we’re already seeing the benefits in a short space of time.

What do you think of our approach to innovation? Let us know by tweeting to us @Gemalto, or leave a comment in the section below.

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