Latest News My reflections on Unleashing Innovation – Tim Ensor

March 22nd 2018

The Unleashing Innovation conference was a two day cross-industry summit held in Amsterdam on the 12 – 13 March 2018. Success stories of corporate innovation were shared and the latest trends analysed and discussed by prominent corporate leaders from across Europe. Our Chief Commercial Officer, Tim Ensor, was invited to chair day two and these are his thoughts on the event.

My reflections on Unleashing Innovation – Tim Ensor

I was invited to Unleashing Innovation to chair discussions on the second day and share my insights into working with Ocado, as well as discuss how other big organisations from a range of sectors, from automotive to food industries, are embracing the multiple advantages that robotic and machine technologies can offer.

The summit represented a fantastic opportunity to hear from the most forward thinking and inventive leaders from a range of sectors, with representatives in attendance from Schiphol Airport, Liberty Global, Danfoss, Hilton Hotels and Save The Children, to name just a few.

Since I was chair of the second day and on hand all day for the first, I was able to listen to and participate in the majority of the talks and discussions taking place. I was therefore able to form some clear take away messages from the event.

Message 1: Organising for Innovation remains a challenge, with new challenges for businesses adopting new capabilities and business models

One thing that quickly became obvious was that understanding what the objective is has to be the starting point. There must be clarity on what the aim of any innovation will be to ensure success. While greater financial return on investment is an obvious one, other institutions had other reasons for introducing changes, such as improving customer experience (NS Dutch Railways) or improving the outcomes of disadvantaged youngsters (Save The Children).

There must be senior management buy-in. The support of high level figures in the business and their enthusiasm for the changes is a critical element at all stages of successful innovation. Schiphol Airport’s Christaan Hen illustrated the value of this when he credited their Chief Digital Office with the significant moves made towards Schiphol’s vision of being the world’s best digital airport.

Encouraging input from the bottom-up across all levels of the organisation and welcoming ideas and input was seen as particularly important. Liberty Global and Danfoss both shared social-media-style internal communication campaigns and recognition events they have used to energise and celebrate innovation from across the business.

Challenges to innovation can and do occur across the whole of the organisation, as illustrated by Bastiaan de Groot from Felio Sylvania’s presentation. The company introduced new Internet of Things (IoT) products within their traditional lighting product range, but encountered challenges everywhere from the quality department to sales and accounting as the business got to grips with the different product features and business models wrapped-up in an IoT proposition.

Message 2: Understanding Customers & Markets remains as important as ever, but new data sets may help give additional insights into some customer needs

The ever-advancing sophistication of available data sets and the intricate ways they can be utilised offer new opportunities for companies to learn more about their customers and how their expectations can better be met. However it was evident that there is still a place for more traditional customer research methods too.

Joost Van der Made from Dutch railways described the in-depth analysis they’d done to understand the end-to-end customer journey and see where innovation could improve aspects of the experience. Guy Wootten from Moy Park similarly gave a great overview of the customer insight work they do to understand the needs of different customer segments and create new product ideas in response to the information obtained.

Dörthe Peters from YouGov presented an overview of the customer insight that could be achieved by tapping into new data sets from smart-phone location records and social media activity. This talk was balanced by Jon Sharp from Hilton Hotels and Christiaan Hen from Schiphol who both described more guerrilla-style market research with face-to-face engagement with the target market still the primary method used to fully understand underlying customer needs.

Message 3: New capabilities present new challenges and opportunities. In particular, data analytics, IoT and robotics

There were many examples of how the range of new capabilities were being embraced by different organisations and what issues were being encountered and/or overcome as they were being introduced.

James Walker and Graham Alexander from OC&C Strategy Consultants gave an overview of how different businesses are approaching the creation of a data analytics capability – with varying degrees of success. In a positive example, Elsevier shared their success in deploying data science to create new ways for their customers to access their academic journal content.

Grohe and Felio Sylvania described the opportunities they were pursuing through introducing IoT products into their catalogue and the new business models this had opened up for the two companies.

Of course, at Tharsus, we are well aware of how these new opportunities can become game-changers if fully embraced by a forward-thinking and bold company, thanks to our partnership with Ocado. This case study was shared with the summit as an example of how an organisation can become a world leader in robotic innovation with the right approach


Change in any form can be difficult and the issues I noted here in association with embedding innovation will arise time and time again in business. The importance of understanding customer needs, energising bottom-up idea generation and having the support and buy-in of the senior leadership team are all critical to success and will continue to be so.

At Unleashing Innovation, these points were discussed in the context of brand new issues relating to new capabilities of data analytics, IoT and robotics. It was a fascinating overview of how some significant organisations were coming to terms with the new developments and making the most of them in their businesses.


If you’d like to talk to us about how robots can transform your business, contact the author of this article, our CCO Tim at



If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy our thoughts on the recent Industry 4.0 summit.

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