How to build an innovation ecosystem that accelerates business transformation

Leaders need to nurture an innovation ecosystem so collaboration can lead to bright ideas.

Leaders need to nurture an innovation ecosystem so collaboration can lead to bright ideas. Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

C. Vijayakumar
Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, HCLTech
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • By creating an innovation ecosystem, companies can accelerate transformative thinking and innovation.
  • This approach can help address challenges organizations face when it comes to crucial, fast-moving issues like the shift to digital and sustainability transformation.
  • Building an innovation ecosystem requires attention from leaders, as well as investment and special systems to encourage, gather and validate good ideas.

Organizations around the world currently face two herculean transformations. One is the digital transformation happening across most industries, and the other is sustainability transformation. There is also credible consensus that these two transformations are converging – in fact, digital transformation is an important enabler of sustainability transformation.

Anyone who has experienced personal or organizational transformation would probably agree that change rarely succeeds without collaboration. Collaboration is not accidental – it is created in a carefully nurtured environment. It requires various elements with different behaviours to come together to make collective progress, hopefully in a common direction for good.

Just like in a natural ecosystem, this kind of complex network of people, technology and institutions requires a few building blocks to seed, grow and thrive. But using this approach can help companies create a more productive and sustainable world.

Building innovation ecosystems made up of the right mix of partners with complementary capabilities across varying functions, with generalists and specialists, requires three key building blocks:

  • Executive attention and commitment
  • Financial investment
  • Organizational plumbing – or frameworks to harness progressive ideas

To realise the benefits of a collaborative world, HCLTech has created a dedicated ecosystem of hyperscalers – large cloud service providers like AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud – under C-level leadership to create a network of large-scale partnerships with the aim of creating accelerated technology development. It takes considerable C-level bandwidth to manage this team. It also required finding the best talent to take up leadership roles within this newly formed innovation ecosystem. Today, the ecosystem team consistently innovates, contributing to some of our largest partnerships.

For example, organizations across all industries have recently been looking to create value from generative artificial intelligence (GenAI). In an emerging space like this, a strong network of relationships across various parts of the technology sector is crucial.

HCLTech's existing partnerships have helped to define the art of the possible in this area, accelerating the GenAI journey for these companies. We have developed an AI ecosystem to help companies navigate the new GenAI landscape safely and responsibly. By quickly mobilising existing relationships, we have built new networks to help solve the problems of the future using technologies like AI. Overseen by our top leadership, our best talent comes together to drive innovation and manage this complex network of strategic partnerships.

Ecosystem partnerships and investment for sustainable change

In a more recent transformative experience, HCLTech's chairperson Roshni Nadar Malhotra realised her vision of accelerating innovation in freshwater conservation through the Aquapreneur initiative. This is a $15 million, five-year commitment to power a first-of-its-kind innovation ecosystem for freshwater conservation.

Climate systems around the globe are changing rapidly. More unpredictable rainfall and ever-higher temperatures have elevated the importance of water conservation. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to water, and a total of 2.7 billion find water scarce for at least one month of the year. Without action, this problem will only worsen. By 2030, according to the World Economic Forum, global demand for water will have exceeded sustainable supply by 40%.


To help address this problem, we wanted to identify entrepreneurs who are driving innovative solutions to combat water scarcity and help bring their ideas to life. We created a network of freshwater-focused “aquaprenuers” by working with UpLink — the open innovation platform of the World Economic Forum that accelerates entrepreneurial projects.

Roshni Nadar Malhotra's vision inspired several employees to put forward their best ideas on freshwater conservation for this project. This is how a network of talented people from SAP and HCLTech created a water monitoring tool called AquaSphere. This software helps businesses measure water consumption and use the data to make changes and conserve their water use, while potentially lowering the cost of related manufacturing and other business processes dependent on water.

A culture of innovation

I have been with HCLTech for nearly three decades. In this time, a culture of innovation has been consistently nurtured at all levels of the company. Over the decades, we have created an integrated and connected network across the entire organization using a system called the “value creation portal”. This encourages every employee, or our “ideapreneurs” to imagine, capture and execute ideas. The relevant client executives use the system to validate ideas that have generated value for them, for example by saving time or with improved features. Those ideas are rewarded for the impact they have generated.

Technology and policy are crucial to creating an environment that encourages innovation. Once encouraged, it needs to be captured and rewarded. Doing this over a period of time creates a culture of innovation across the organization.

My experiences of driving large-scale technology transformations for global players, transforming my own organization of more than 200,000 people and nurturing innovation to support the planet, have all taught me that this can’t be done alone. Relationships drive collaboration and that isn't accidental – collaboration requires the intention and the right environment.

As leaders, we must acknowledge that our commitment has the potential to inspire talented people to come together and drive progress. This commitment, however, requires significant investment into structural and technological elements that can bring out the best in the talent around us.

Have you read?

Inspired by innovation ecosystems

Transformation processes are hard. Accelerated transformation, as is needed today to address digital and sustainability changes, will only be harder. However, organizations can be intentional about planting the seeds for this transformation.

Leaders must ensure these innovation ecosystems receive executive attention, investment and that they are underpinned by deep organizational networks to harness progressive ideas. It is crucial to invest in the building blocks that could create these innovation ecosystems to accelerate collaboration and achieve collective progress.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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