The business of business is making an impact - Paul Winstanley

For decades, demonstrating the impact of businesses and economic activity has focused on factors such as job creation, additional investment generated and financial returns. However, we have to recognise that the definition of the word has evolved and it should now include a broad spectrum of measures, from environmental performance to community benefits.

You might see the word used more than ever before, but ‘impact’ is more than just jargon or a buzzword. It represents an important shift that is taking place in terms of how we measure the value of activities such as innovation or research and development. Quantifying it should cover at least three areas: people, planet and prosperity.

I don’t believe it is too ambitious to say that if an initiative is truly making impact, then it will touch all three strands. Indeed, with the right approach to innovation, and more specifically digital transformation, the effect of a business or organisation introducing a new piece of technology or process could, and should, span each of them.

Of course, times are tough for businesses and communities. We are already facing a climate emergency and cost of living crisis, while a recession looks to be on the horizon – but we cannot afford to think of each challenge in isolation. There are still opportunities to introduce new tools and technologies which have multifaceted impacts for the companies using them, the end-users of their goods and services, their sectors, and wider society too.

One example is Smart Green Shipping, an organisation delivering digitally enabled wind powered solutions for commercial shipping. On the one hand, the company is developing smarter, emission-reducing sail technology, but at the same time, it is also reducing fuel costs, proving the business case for reducing the carbon used across the sector, and helping to establish a new supply chain for environmental technologies.

Scotland has a deep-rooted history of invention and innovation, with world-class research outputs from our academic institutions. Yet, whether it is because of the level of risk involved, or a lack of access to investment, there is room for improvement when it comes to commercialising these opportunities and, ultimately, delivering impact.

Our business community is largely made up of SMEs and we must ensure Scotland’s innovation ecosystem continues to nurture companies of this size. They need the right kind of support to engage with academic expertise, adopt new technologies and transform ways of working for the better. Collaboration should remain at the heart of the strategy, with multiple partners getting involved to deliver new initiatives for maximum results.

It is always going to be hard to measure results that don’t follow a traditional economic or financial model, but demonstrating value is only becoming more important for stakeholders, investors, and customers. As a starting point, businesses need to evidence their impact in as wide a sense as possible, demonstrating their positive influence in the widest sense possible.

Paul Winstanley, CEO of CENSIS - Scotland’s innovation centre for sensors, imaging systems, and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies

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