What is Digital Innovation Hub?

A Digital Innovation Hub (DIH) is a support facility that helps companies to become more competitive by improving their business/production processes as well as products and services by means of digital technology. DIHs act as a one-stop-shop, serving companies within their local region and beyond to digitalise their business. They help customers address their challenges in a business-focused way and with a common service model, offering services that would not be readily accessible elsewhere.

The services available through a DIH enable any business to access the latest knowledge, expertise and technology for testing and experimenting with digital innovations relevant to its products, processes or business models. DIHs also provide connections with investors, facilitate access to financing for digital transformations, help connect users and suppliers of digital innovations across the value chain, and foster synergies between digital and other key enabling technologies (such as biotech, advanced materials, etc.).

Digital Innovation Hubs as Tools for Digital Transformation

Digital Innovation Hubs hold significant potential to support and assist SMEs and start-ups and could become key actors in bringing digitisation within the reach of all industry sectors.

Key messages in terms of achieving this goal are:

  • Europe has a wealth of knowledge and experience in hub-type initiatives on which to draw in implementing such a network. Solid examples are evident at European, national and regional levels and further instances are set to emerge as a result of policies designed to accelerate and give direction to digital transformation. At present, however, the available and emerging provision is not sufficiently visible either to industry or to other hubs and initiatives. Much greater transparency is required, so as to facilitate both access for companies and mutual learning between service
  • Digital Innovation Hubs must cater for a wide spectrum of needs and as such will have multiple facets. They must be agile and demand-led, and build sustainable innovation ecosystems, not just gateways to services. While there can be no one-fit-all approach, Hubs should be united by common values based on independence, a commitment to excellence and customer service, and a proactive, innovative
  • Digital Innovation Hubs should offer a broad range of services accessible through multiple entry points. Core services should include: awareness creation around the business potential of digital technologies; innovation scouting; visioning and strategy development; working with companies to assess their digital maturity and develop appropriate plans; brokering relationships with service providers; mentoring and training; and cost-effective access to specialist experimentation, testbeds and production facilities. The available services should complement rather than compete against existing public and private service
  • Digital Innovation Hubs have to pioneer a new and distinctive approach. They must be evangelists for digitisation within their constituencies. They must be highly client-focused while having collaboration and networking as a defining characteristic. They must instill entrepreneurial thinking and embed a digital culture in companies while being firmly rooted in practical business solutions. They must have a strong physical presence while also operating effectively in the digital space. And they must have flexible business models that are able to adapt and evolve over time as circumstances and funding regimes

The added value of Digital Innovation Hubs

The value proposition for Digital Innovation Hubs should reflect industry needs. This amounts to more than simply a list of solutions and services: it goes to the heart of the Hubs’ mission and how they operate.

The added value of Digital Innovation Hubs over existing initiatives and approaches may include one or more of the following:

  • Acting as a one-stop-shop for companies and providing a gateway to specialist platforms and
  • Possessing significant know-how spanning, for example, across technical disciplines and between technology and non-technology areas (e.g. business, finance, law, IPR).
  • Ability to market themselves and proactively identify relevant customers for their
  • Ability to ‘speak the language’ of SME businesses and understand their
  • Understanding of business models and business transformation and being able to help companies
  • Ability to work with companies at all levels of digital maturity, including offering low-tech transfer to companies lower down the maturity
  • Ability to broker between the needs of industry and relevant technology providers in an independent and unbiased way.
  • Ability to assess current and future skills needs and provide appropriate Providing funding or facilitating access to funding from external sources

The Digital Innovation Hub Offer

The service portfolio

Digital Innovation Hubs have to translate this value proposition into a unique offer that addresses the specific needs of the companies they serve and does not replicate existing service provision.

In broad terms, the services available through Digital Innovation Hubs may be categorised under three pillars, with the services split as shown:20

  • Innovation activities, concerned with identifying opportunities for digitisation, and developing and validating innovative solutions based on cutting-edge technology;
  • Business development, concerned with helping companies to apply their solutions, assess the business implications, and manage the resultant changes; and
  • Skills creation, concerned with building innovation capacity through enriching human

 

More specifically, the principal services may be defined as follows:

  • Awareness Creation around Digital Technologies: Engage objectively and at large within the business community to create awareness of the opportunities and benefits of digitisation. This should go beyond simply disseminating information. Hubs must be evangelists, challenging companies to evaluate whether their current efforts really address global trends and threats. Only by focusing on the gap between where companies think they are and where they actually are can they start to formulate their true needs in a way that enables them to remain
  • Innovation Scouting: Actively searching for SMEs and midcaps that could benefit from digitisation, understanding their needs and showing them through success stories how they can digitise their processes, products or business models. Channels for this outreach should include innovation scouts who are trained in innovation management; trade fairs and exhibitions; and online channels, including social
  • Digital Maturity Assessment: Diagnosing a company’s needs and readiness in relation to digital technologies, providing feedback on its level of maturity in relation to digital technologies, and identifying potential
  • Visioning and Strategy Development for Businesses: Having identified a company’s needs, work with the client to envision its digital future and develop a strategy for delivering this vision. DIHs would help to evolve companies’ business models, ensuring they targeted the right combination of digital technologies, digital services, and other advanced technologies in their products. This may involve working with the client directly or directing them to further tailored help and advice within the Hub’s ecosystem. In some cases it may be necessary to bring producers and end-users together to develop a common
  • Brokering/matchmaking: Having stimulated interest in digitisation, work with companies to understand their challenges, develop a solution and propose technology and service providers that could help to implement a solution. This could be achieved through direct contact and through physical events that bring stakeholders (e.g. digital IT SMEs, user SMEs, supply chains, investors, other regions) together to network, access information, share experiences, and/or tackle innovation-related problems. Large enterprises could play a key role here, especially by helping small companies within their own supply chains. Formats include roadshows, workshops, innovation camps, and
  • Access to Specialist Expertise and Infrastructure: Support the technology providers and users to carry out experiments and to test whether the proposed approach would indeed be beneficial for the user. At the same time these experiments can be useful for the provider that has an early customer and can adapt the technology to the needs of a certain class of user. Learning from this experience and creating a best practice which will be disseminated further will be important. The support can be:
    • providing expertise;
    • providing technology building blocks on the basis of which the solution may be built;
    • providing manufacturing pilot lines to produce prototypes or first series production;
    • providing facilities that are needed for testing or providing a gateway to such facilities in other regions;
    • providing access to living labs that can validate new products/business
  • Mentoring: Once a successful experiment has been carried out, provide support on how to roll it out to the next level (start-up/scale-up expertise, business expertise, access to finance, incubator support services, internationalisation, marketing, market assessments, trend analysis, co-creation, value-chain creation, ).
  • Training: both technical and management, for the workforce to be able to deal efficiently with the newly digitised products, processes or business models (see below).
  • Access to Funding and Investor Readiness Services: Help for SMEs and start-ups to access regional, national and/or European funding to make use of new technologies (see below).
  • Collaborative Research on Issues of Common Interest. Although in general DIHs are not research organisations, in certain cases applied research and development may be justified in areas of common interest for the client companies. Depending on the local circumstances, the DIH could either undertake this research directly or act as the gateway to relevant expertise within universities or

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