Select employees at Balfour Beatty Investments, based in London, participated in an Innovation Lab “i-Lab” process to determine the feasibility of integrating smart tech and the Internet of Things (IoT) into student accommodations proposals/projects. As part of the i-Lab, team members engaged existing and potential clients to understand market needs and trends. The innovation program was identified as a key factor in the company’s selection as preferred bidder for a £120m 2,000-bed student accommodation project at the University of Sussex’s campus in Brighton.

The i-Lab program was designed to achieve three primary needs of the organization: little to no extra cost, no new staff, and keeping ideas relevant to existing business aspirations. Effective innovation programs need little additional budget. To keep costs low, BBI:

  1. Leveraged existing communications and technology processes, such as the: Intranet (360 Hub), WebEx with video,VC / Teleconference, and “Piggybacking” of existing meetings (when employees may already be in the same location for the day).
  2. Brought in external industry experts and partners to educate the team on new technologies / offerings (no cost).
  3. Engaged existing clients and partners to understand their needs and contributions (this process directly contributed to winning new business).

Innovation success can occur with help from existing staff. In fact, by using internal employees who are already plugged into the organization via various roles and responsibilities, the company increased embedment and buy-in. Using an application process, BBI was assured of team member commitment; further, opening participation to all office locations allowed for greater cross-functional exposure to leadership and potential career growth.

Key achievements of the iLab, according to the 2013 and 2014 team feedback, include:

  1. Horizontal, vertical, and multi-geographical networking / sharing
  2. Representation from multiple sectors (avoids isolated “Think Tank” approach)
  3. Employee retention and satisfaction
  4. Experience with next generation topics
  5. Personal coaching and team building opportunities