Digital innovation: What does it mean in practice for different sectors?


11 minute read
Jo Morrison

Jo Morrison

Director of Digital Innovation & Research

Digital Insights

Woman smiles at a wooden bench-desk with a smart phone on it, looking out of shot

What’s the first thing that jumps into your head when you hear the words digital innovation? For most, it will be bleeding-edge technology – the Internet of Things, automation, pervasive artificial intelligence (AI) and all things ‘immersive’ or ‘deep’. Yet the key to digital innovation for business is not the technology itself but its application in novel and creative ways to enable real, positive change. With that in mind, something that is a true innovation needn’t employ the latest digital tech at all, it may harness proven technology but apply that technology in new ways for a particular enterprise.

Whilst the term ‘disruptive technology’ has been well used for the past decade and is often aimed at the sector level (e.g. Film and TV – Netflix; Retail – Amazon; Music – Spotify and Transport – Uber), it’s worth remembering that digital innovation doesn’t have to mean seismic shifts at scale. Some of the most effective digital innovations in businesses are smaller, incremental changes to how they work. For instance, in engineering this could be a digitised version of a previously manual process, for the heritage sector it may be a different way to convey an age-old story, and for a retailer it could be a smoother, more helpful user interface for the customer.

At Calvium, we are fortunate to work with a wide range of clients who all have one thing in common – a desire to explore and introduce digital innovation within their organisations. The way that these clients use technology to achieve their ambitions, however, is very different and we’ll look at some examples later in this article.

Firstly, why is digital innovation important?  

Why digital innovation?

Digital innovation is about exploring and harnessing the opportunities that digital technologies can bring to any business – opportunities that make a real and positive change.

It goes without saying that the adoption of digital tech has had an enormous impact on the ways in which much of the world operates: be it socially, economically, culturally or environmentally. Indeed, the impact is now so huge that we have digital cooperation between nations and in the UK, our Industrial Strategy has innovation at its heart, with AI and data playing a major part of the country’s economic agenda.

The amount of investment dedicated to digital innovation across sectors also demonstrates its importance. For instance, in 2018 the UK government opened a £7.5m fund for councils looking to transform their public services through digital innovation, while Cisco has pledged $100m to accelerate digital innovation in the UK.  

Innovation involves risk, whatever the scale of endeavour. When innovating, organisations introduce a new product or service experience into an existing situation that can make a real change  – a manufacturing process or a visitor engagement proposition, for example. It’s this change that makes risk and uncertainty unavoidable. But a lack of innovation is a bigger risk. Standing still is going backwards as the old adage goes.

The greater value of digital innovation can lie in its wider context, i.e. the positive impact that it can have on company culture. If approached as a multi-departmental endeavour that brings an organisation together around a coherent vision and drive for change, then digital innovation has the potential to inspire strategic thinking and operational doing.

At Calvium, innovation is in our DNA. The team has been at the forefront of mobile digital innovation for 20 years; working with our clients to effect positive change through innovative practice, product, service or experience. This could be integrating mobile control systems for manufacturers and creating compelling experiences for arts and cultural heritage organisations through to collaborating with academic institutions on Research Council funded projects.

Read on for four examples that illustrate the value of embracing digital innovation:

1. Digital placemaking: Battersea Power Station

People enjoying the AR function of the Battersea Power Station Heritage Trail app

London’s iconic Battersea Power Station is being transformed, with the 42-acre site becoming home to offices, shops, homes, green spaces, restaurants and a brand new London Underground station. As part of its evolution, Battersea Power Station and Calvium launched its first digital placemaking project at the prestigious London Festival of Architecture in 2018.

The question for the development’s placemaking team (and for many other regeneration projects) was how to modernise the site while still retaining a connection with its past. Battersea Power Station is a vital part of London’s history; how could they tell that story in fresh ways that would draw visitors, engage residents and honour the crucial role the site played in powering huge swathes of London for decades? The answer was The Heritage Trail – a compelling app experience comprising location-based entertainment, a bespoke game for families and an Augmented Reality (AR) experience – a blend of the familiar and the novel.

Here, we worked with the placemaking team at Battersea to enable visitors to experience a development site in creative and original ways, e.g. using AR to give the public access to parts of the historic and iconic site that are physically inaccessible. As part of the trail, the public could use their smartphones to see a 3D representation of the site’s original magnificent Art Deco control rooms, in a seamless segue between the real world and the virtual that keeps Battersea’s history and majesty alive.

Alongside the more traditional placemaking methods, Battersea understood that the redevelopment deserved something fresh and innovative; storytelling that offers an active rather than a passive experience. The approach to placemaking was holistic from initial strategy through to operations, the physical and digital spaces considered as one from the very beginning, and forming part of Battersea’s overall placemaking strategy.

Find out more about The Heritage Trail app for Battersea Power Station

2. Engineering: Rolls-Royce

Calvium has been working with Rolls-Royce – a firm that’s always had innovation at its core – to deliver operational systems at speed.

App tech is at the heart of the firm’s operations. Within their Digital Innovation programme, Calvium contributes to their App Factory which allows Rolls-Royce employees to suggest new apps for their team or the company that will help them to fulfil their roles more effectively and efficiently. The concept of the App Factory is simple, but the impact on the business has been far reaching. By allowing pockets of innovative change within the business, Rolls-Royce has streamlined process but also inspired other areas of the business to think innovatively, too.

So far, the Digital Innovation programme has created apps that assist with design engineering, fault diagnosis, asset management and data visualisation. One such tool was the Engine Network initiative: essentially a social media-style app that historical data on all of Rolls-Royce’s engines. This allowed team members to make more informed decisions on maintenance, and, via a built-in recommendation engine, to see what preemptive maintenance solutions were suggested for individual engines.

By constantly assessing process and delivery, and thinking digital-first when looking for solutions, Rolls-Royce has built a hugely valuable asset to the business as a whole. Understanding that innovation doesn’t always have to grow internally, they have highlighted a group of technology specialists that can help them achieve their goals.

As Caroline Gorski, Director of Global Ecosystem and Partnerships at Rolls-Royce says: “If we are going to be more innovative, adaptive, flexible and successful in the future markets, then partnerships are crucial. Delivering value from data innovation is pivotal to Rolls-Royce’s digital strategy but we can’t do it all by ourselves in a vacuum.”

“In short, we need to bring the extraordinary capabilities of our organisation to the market alongside the extraordinary capabilities of some other organisations. Building an ecosystem with those partners, being outward-looking and very positive about the benefits that can come from a collaborative development process is critical to our future success.”

By building a platform for innovation, the firm can now plan and deliver innovative change in an incredibly short space of time, fostering a culture of digital innovation across the entire company.

Learn more about our work with Rolls-Royce

3. Research: Hidden Florence

Visit any city and you’ll find walking routes, apps, tour guides and open top buses that take you on a whistle-stop tour of the city’s main tourist attractions and sites of historical interest. But how might digital technologies enable us to convey a greater sense of Florence’s past and present? One way is for visitors to navigate the city through a modern map and a fully responsive sixteenth-century map, equivalent to a Renaissance street-view on their smartphone. On top of that visitors can explore and engage with the city as a lived experience, ably guided by the voice of Giovanni, a wool worker from that period.


In Hidden Florence, we teamed up with the University of Exeter to research, design and develop a freely downloadable mobile app that was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

“Really good app, very interesting and engaging. I loved the sant ambrogio walk because it showed me a Florence different to the one I knew! Would recommend it!” App Store Review

“Great app. We did this with family friends who didn’t know the city and they loved it! Got to all sorts of unusual places. Giovanni the guide is quite funny too.” App Store Review

“It’s like playing Pokemon Go, but with historical sites!’ Rebel Wilson on Channel 4’s Travel Man.

Together with the University of Exeter, we are currently undertaking the next stage of research alongside the Universities of Cambridge and Toronto and The National Gallery. Now, we are exploring how data-rich 3D models that form part of a complex and innovative AR application, can enhance people’s experience of Renaissance art when at The National Gallery as well as on-location in Florence.

Discover more about our contemporary guide to Florence

4. Training: CommScope Infrastructure Academy App

Training and e-learning services for the global communications infrastructure community is a highly competitive market where innovation is key. With the CommScope Infrastructure Academy App, developed by Calvium for Cabling Science, this innovation is delivered in the form of digital resources and information for infrastructure engineers, delivered online or offline to their mobile devices, wherever they need it.

Here, it’s this in-field installation support that gives CommScope their competitive edge, improving on-site workforce efficiency, increasing productivity and reducing risk.  

But that’s not all. As well as featuring reference materials in the form of videos, images, text, 3D animations and PDFs, the app provides a direct link to CommScope’s Infrastructure Academy. Push notifications can inform students about course updates and results, while students can also learn of new training programmes and opportunities and converse with other students and tutors via the app’s discussion boards.

As well as providing a new method to enhance workforce productivity and support learning today, key to the success of the CommScope Infrastructure Academy App will be the ways in which its functionality evolves in response to the changing nature of digital culture. The technical architecture is already in place to allow it to grow – a fairly innovative and future-proofing activity in itself.  

Read all about our innovative approach to in-field training support


The results of digital innovation may vary from sector to sector and business to business, but our approach is the same, no matter the industry. We work alongside our clients to research, design, develop, deploy and manage the innovative solutions that make their businesses stronger.

As well as putting the users and the business context at the heart of any original solution, creative technology partners commissioned for digital innovation projects should be:

  • Researchers and designers who understand and respond to evolving digital cultures;
  • Creative and critical users of technology rather than those who employ a purely functional stance;
  • Adept developers of new software solutions and also understand a range of existing technologies to the extent that both sets integrate with one another;
  • Experienced multidisciplinary collaborators able to anticipate all project stakeholders’ needs so as to design adapted responses to them;
  • Familiar with working both in an R&D environment and in a commercial delivery context, so as to achieve the best digital innovation solution for the organisation.

And at Calvium, we’re proud to say that we do it all. Whether it’s creating immersive experiences in the city, transforming operations at a major engineering firm, sharing the rich histories woven into the story of an Italian city or transforming e-learning for infrastructure companies, after all digital innovation comes in many, many forms…
For a detailed insight into how digital innovation can transform a cultural heritage institutions, read our whitepaper on our work with Historic Royal Palaces.

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