Co-innovation is essential to the UK Public Sector’s COVID recovery

© AlenaKravchenko

Leila Romane, Head of Public Sector at SAP UK & Ireland, shows how in the midst of crisis co-innovation enabled companies to give back to communities and come out of the pandemic stronger

When the initial coronavirus outbreak occurred, it was an incomparable national crisis that galvanised a nation. As office workers set up makeshift homeworking stations, key workers – those who society relies on to operate in and out of crises – took centre-stage.

This led to a surge of national pride in the public sector. Epitomising this national effort were frontline NHS workers, with around 5,000 former staff leaving retirement to return to work, and approximately 15,000 nursing and midwifery students transferring to frontline jobs.

The public sector now faces a different, more chronic challenge. After a decade of austerity measures, public sector funds were stretched, and the economic impact of COVID-19 has exacerbated these issues. Now the global economy is experiencing unprecedented disruption, with UK public debt recently topping £2 trillion for the first time in history. This economic recovery will be like no other, and hard choices will almost certainly have to be made – as ever, the public sector will likely bear the brunt.

To aid its recovery and enable our public sector bodies to support our citizens, we must match the spirit of collective effort we saw during the peak of the crisis. Co-innovation, where public sector bodies partner with private firms and collaborate to innovate, can play a vital role in coming up with solutions for the public sector that are both cost-effective and impactful.

The business sense behind co-innovation

The public sector faces vast challenges, and society at large simply cannot afford myopic thinking from businesses and public organisations. Moreover, many technology sectors are so highly specialised that tackling problems alone simply is not viable.

We have a lot of experience working with public sector bodies in the UK and have a deep understanding of the pressures these organisations are under, and the impact of those pressures on frontline workers. To respond to the challenge the COVID-19 pandemic presented, we reached out to our network of partners, asking them to join in a social collaboration initiative aimed at helping address the most pressing challenges facing key workers.

Working together, we would co-create, develop, and implement impactful solutions that drive improvements for frontline workers. The requirements set by the firm were that the solution must have a tangible impact for key workers, operate via SAP technology, and be ready to deploy quickly.

Co-innovation with impact

The impact that businesses can have on the public sector are ranging and when the crisis broke there were hundreds of stories of businesses turning to support the NHS. While there were challenges around the supply of PPE and hand sanitiser, behind the scenes businesses and public sector groups around the country were joining forces to deliver the solution.

We are proud to be a part of this cross-industry collaboration. From building an end-to-end intelligent solution that provided real-time patient monitoring to developing a solution that enables organisations to monitor for proper wearing of PPE, the opportunities were endless, particularly in the healthcare space.

However, businesses have a duty not just to frontline workers but also to keeping the general population safe. One solution which was designed to do this was a risk assessment app which enabled businesses to assess the risk of employees spreading infection and their vulnerability to disease. While the technology was not simple, through effective partnerships, solutions could be found quickly without sacrificing usability. These are just some examples of the over 20 innovations we developed with our partners during the crisis.

One key takeaway from the experience is that businesses cannot afford to dismiss the possibilities that are offered by working with their partner networks. Innovation does not have to be a solely internal endeavour – in fact, in many cases, it should not be at all. In some companies, it might take brave leadership to make this point.

Another key learning is that the most impactful innovations stem from clear and achievable objectives. Now is not the time for innovation for innovation’s sake – companies must incentivise one another to provide tangible, sustainable impact with their innovations. Through doing this, companies will be more able to pivot and adapt to change, increasing their agility which is essential for building resilience post-pandemic.

Finally, co-innovation is not limited to private-private partnerships. Working with public sector customers and partners to develop solutions with continuous, ongoing feedback can be an invaluable way of finessing a solution until it is exactly what the customer needs.

Co-innovation can help solve the greatest challenges created by COVID-19

The economic outlook, at least in the short term, will be of great concern to public and private sector organisations alike. While the initial response to COVID was focused on the direct impacts of the disease, the long-term challenges it has brought about will require even greater ingenuity.

Technology has played a key role in supporting public sector organisations and businesses through the pandemic by enabling remote working, increased employee engagement, case tracking and improved patient care across the NHS.

Collaboration between the public and private sectors has inspired a multitude of improvements during this time of crisis. Through embracing co-innovation, private companies can find rapid and cost-effective solutions even when the crisis has passed. It is no longer enough to do good work in isolation, companies must be brave and commit to collaboration, working together for the greater good. If we want to solve our biggest challenges, the only way is to do it together.


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