INTERVIEW Mila Milenkovic

Mila, tell us something about yourself first?

Innovation and exploration are of great interest to me, both as a part of my daily job within Telekom Srbija and in my parallel academic research. The team for innovations that I am managing at the moment is responsible for enabling opening API interfaces that, in turn, enable the outside-in process of innovation and bring innovation into the portfolio of the company, all based on solutions and applications developed by external partners and startups.

Our responsibility is to give IT support for the development of both the external and the internal ecosystem, and to provide integration with our back-end systems in a standardized and structured way. In parallel to this technology-focused segment of innovations, I am continuing my academic activities and working on the business focused side of the innovation process – exploring how business models and agile project management are influencing innovations in general.


How could you connect exploration with other parts of the innovation process?

The team for innovations has an integral role in the managed innovation process because it needs to support new products and services, new business models, new partnerships, all based on opening up our core platforms in an organized and secure way. We are acting as a part of a broader concept of services and product development at the company level, based on a strategic goal of branching out into a new area of business and bringing innovations to our product portfolio through cooperation with other companies. When our team receives an initiative for the implementation of an innovative product from the product and business development departments through portfolio management, our task is to work together with the product development team and provide support in the research phase, in order to provide IT support for opening up our external interfaces.

The complete model for the implementation of innovations is based on our initial research, where roles within the company are defined and the whole team works based on the information that is gathered from different sources – from a top-down perspective in ICT research trends, from technological trends followed by the startup community, market requirements where the bottom-up approach recognizes a so-called gap for which an adequate solution needs to be created. Furthermore, we follow the product road map of our company, its core competencies and organizational capabilities for innovations. These processes require a multi-disciplined, cross-functional and projectized approach in the research phase and development of innovative products and services, as decided by the company.

Exploration is a huge, very important part of innovation. How do you use exploration in your daily job?

The team for innovations strives to provide IT support for the development of external, as well as internal ecosystems and supports changes in corporate culture through different projects with teams such as product development and HR. It is important for our team to have both perspectives –to have an external perspective and also to support internal capabilities and standard practices of the organization. However, it is necessary to drive new growth and look beyond the obvious. New convergent services seek a wide array of knowledge, as well as learning new technologies fast, which requires an agile approach in the everyday functioning of the team.

The team for innovations implements a project-based approach and every team member has a lead for a specific research topic. That provides the team with the capability to quickly adapt to any changes in the requests or course of the research and gain knowledge in order to support the development of new products and services. In day-to-day activities, our team uses brainstorming as well as individual exploration. Our exploration process combines both traditional and unconventional elements, and half of our team members have a background in technology, whereas the other half is for the most part business-oriented. It helps us when thinking both through the lens of traditional telco and in an entrepreneurial way.

How can you support your team/people to explore even more, beyond the limits?
Leadership is often considered to play a critical role in enabling innovation within an organization. It is crucial to provide learning and development opportunities for the team members, as they need to feel free to be creative, innovative, to have their own progress, but also to have a sense of the group achievements through collaborative projects. Agile leaders need to keep a team focused, but at the same time to enable each team member to have the initiative to explore and try to innovate without being afraid of failure. My belief and my experience is that people who believe that exploration and the learning process both futher their own professional improvement and enable them to show creativity or even lead on joint projects, always give huge support to new projects and try to exceed in every sense. In my opinion, it is important to give people the freedom to think and try, but they also need to be led by setting an example.

How can you manage a healthy balance between exploration and execution with your team?

Our main focus is to enable the leveraging and extending of our corporate assets through the partnership program and startup program that will provide higher levels of integration with the solutions developed by external, more agile companies. Therefore, exploration basically consists of outside exploration through working with external companies with the goal of making our product offers more innovative. Throughout the years, we have established a process for working with partners from the first presentation through a parallel approach of providing both proof of concept – PoC – and proof of business concept – PoBC – for new products and services. A portfolio approach is very relevant for innovation, as working on a number of innovative projects increases the chances of getting the desired result. Within the team for innovation, we try to extend the portfolio approach that is in place on the company level and to work in a more agile way with external companies. The goal is to combine both a technological and a business perspective in the implementation phase with the aim of using the best of both worlds – corporate stability and external agility for the sake of innovation.

Any final thoughts for the end?

It is necessary that companies, as well as their professionals, keep learning and exploring their business opportunities through a combination of traditional and non-traditional approaches; particularly in the exploration and execution phases of all innovation initiatives. It is all about people with a strong skillset and mindset ready to bring the company from an idea to a successful business.

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