Harnessing innovation for both purpose and profit

Posted on 29th October 2019

Maria Hernandez

Written by Maria Hernandez, Head of Innovation, Cisco UKI

Following our Power & Responsibility Summit on 9th October, speaker Maria Hernandez, Head of Innovation at Cisco UKI, discusses why balancing profit with a sense of purpose is commercially beneficial, and how businesses can best use technology and innovation to achieve this aim.

We all have a need for a sense of purpose – a bigger direction or motivation that drives our lives. So, it’s no surprise that we would expect our business and government leaders to feel the same, and to feed that into their work. Today, 70% of consumers agree it is more important than ever for organisations to consider their broader impact on society, the environment and people. They want a change; they want to see purpose behind the profit. 

But how to deliver on that expectation is not so well defined. Nor who should be responsible for unlocking the secret to doing so. Is it business? Government? Individuals?

The answer is that it’s probably all three. Such a large endeavour can’t be led by any one party. But it needs someone to coordinate it and a healthy dose of innovative thinking to unleash it – and that’s a big part of my role at Cisco, bringing together different stakeholders to make a change. 

Where are we now?

I see positive signs in my work every day. In a recent survey, we spoke to 1,000 business leaders and discovered that 69% agreed that it’s important their next strategy brings wider benefits to society. Government programmes here in the UK, such as Rural Connected Communities, are being announced more and more frequently, providing funding to support underserved areas of the country. Simple things like reusable coffee cups are becoming the norm for us all.

We remain a long way off from the changed world that society is demanding now, but the potential – and the desire – is huge.  And that is what makes my job at Cisco so exciting. As the head of innovation for Cisco in the UK and Ireland, my job description is quite literally to think about how we can do things differently.  But I don’t believe just in using new technology for the sake of it, instead my commitment is that at Cisco we think about how we can use technology (sometimes new, sometimes existing used in new ways) to make a lasting impact, benefiting both businesses and society.  

So, what do we do?

It would be naïve to say that the pursuit of profit is likely to fall away as the main driver of the business world, but I believe we can harness the power of co-innovation to integrate purpose with profit and ensure a more sustainable future. 

I’ve been lucky enough to work on some amazing co-innovation projects over the last year, which look at doing just that. Bringing together government, business and academia, these projects exist to tackle the world’s biggest challenges and create new opportunities for business and society.

Take a look at our work with 5G RuralFirst. Our goal was to trial 5G in some of the most remote and challenging environments in the UK to demonstrate new market, technology and application opportunities and engage rural communities in how 5G could benefit them, personally and professionally. The results were overwhelming. We connected places, people up in Orkney that had never experienced connectivity before, even connecting an off-shore sea farm, giving salmon farmers the ability to remotely check on the welfare of their fish, so they don’t have to brave rough conditions to check water conditions every day. We proved a commercial model for 5G connectivity in rural areas that could benefit all.

Or, take our work with Smart Mobility Living Lab here in London. We set out to build a driverless car testbed, trialling new mobility and transport technologies in a real-world connected environment to create a safer, cleaner, and more intelligent transport system that would benefit both industry and citizens. With the build phase of the project entering its final stages, we’re pleased to see the testbed primed to stand on its own feet as a new commercial offering from next Spring. 

What each of these projects has resulted in is a viable commercial model for how the pursuit of innovation and profit can be aligned to societal and environmental goals. Yes, big business and governments want 5G technology to be rolled out to support a bottom line – but a combined model shows how that roll out can also benefit farmers, doctors, shop owners and countless others.  Putting driverless cars on the roads in London will put the UK at the top of the automotive food chain, but with the right focus, it can also reduce carbon emissions, improve road safety and ensure greater freedoms for the elderly and disabled, contributing to a better world for us all. 

Combining purpose and profit in business strategies is more than possible – we’ve proved it’s commercially beneficial and sustainable.  This is the message and learning that we need to drive home to create the change that our world is so desperate for, now.

Cisco UKI sponsored the 2019 DigitalAgenda Power & Responsibility Summit about the unintended consequences of digital. You can find out more about the Summit and its themes here.

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