Spotlight on the IoT Innovation Challenge 2018
 Experts from Aztech and Singtel weigh in on how innovation challenges spark creativity and broaden the scope for open innovation. 


Ideas are in abundance if you only know where to look. As companies seek to gain a competitive edge in their respective industries, they are becoming more receptive to ideas that originate externally, embracing the spirit of open innovation to drive growth.

Broadcasting an intent to co-create is a key step for successful open innovation, and this was the motivation behind launching the IoT Innovation Challenge 2018. Co-organised by IPI, Enterprise Singapore and Nanyang Polytechnic’s Centre of Innovation (Electronics & IoT), the Challenge invites technology enthusiasts to create IoT solutions for a range of validated problem statements by corporate partners Aztech and Singtel.

“IoT relies on a robust ecosystem to be successful, and together with Enterprise Singapore and industry players, we hope to remove the barrier of IoT adoption by facilitating innovators and businesses in bringing their IoT innovations to market,” said Mark Koh, Director, IoT Execution and Delivery at Singtel.

Getting the creative juices flowing

Kicked off in November 2018, the IoT Innovation Challenge saw more than 25 teams responding to the call for innovations. In the months since, Challenge participants have been refining their proposals and preparing their prototypes for demonstration in July 2019.

Ivan Mun, Vice President of Business Development at Aztech, championed the format of an innovation challenge, noting that it encourages creativity. “Other formats of open innovation are often very specific—sometimes too specific, which narrows the boundaries [of idea generation] and could lead to ‘me too’ solutions.”

However, given the wide variety of solutions that have been submitted, deciding what makes a winning solution can be tricky, Mun added. Having said that, novelty and inventiveness rank highly on the Challenge scorecard. “Does an equivalent solution exist or does a proposed solution tackle a business problem in a unique manner? Does a solution open up a new field of business service?” These are some of the questions innovators need to keep in mind if they want to succeed in an innovation challenge, Koh added.

Keeping it real

Although innovation challenges are generally aspirational, solution providers that take into consideration the commercialisation potential of their technologies are more likely to stand out from the crowd, said the executives from Aztech and Singtel. “We look at the maturity and stability of the solution; we consider whether the commercialisation of the prototype is feasible, as well as whether the solution can be productised in a cost-effective manner that provides a return on investment,” Koh explained.

Time-to-market is another key factor. “If the product needs another two to three years of development, the market cycle may have moved on, making the product obsolete,” cautioned Mun, adding that sometimes, a solution may even be so far ahead of the curve that the market may not be ready to adopt it.

Mun further emphasised that functionality needs to be balanced against cost. “If a product is too ‘Swiss Army knife’-styled, it may contain lots of functions which may not be used and become too costly for consumers,” he said.

Nonetheless, Koh and Mun concurred that they are generally impressed with the quality of solutions—with real use cases—that they have received. Both Aztech and Singtel are looking forward to developing the best innovations further, and will provide finalists with test-bedding opportunities for selected technologies.

“For participants who have introduced innovative and interesting solutions, we believe there are ample opportunities for collaboration with our manufacturing capabilities and market reach,” said Mun.