University of Gothenburg
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What is digital innovation?

The word innovation derives from Latin's innovare and means to renew something. According to Wikipedia, an innovation is "a new idea, creative thoughts, new imaginations in form of device or method". What do we then mean when we talk about digital innovation?

Professor Jan Ljungberg:

The digitalization of society creates new opportunities to innovate to solve major societal challenges, for example in health, healthcare and sustainable development.

– Our research group is studying what digitalization of society does with the innovation processes. How new IT infrastructures create momentum and change in society, which means new opportunities, but also new questions to solve.

Completely new actors contribute to innovation

– The digitalization of society creates new opportunities to solve major societal challenges, for example in health care, sustainable development and the environmental field, to name a few. Digitalization means that the thresholds are lowered to participate and contribute to innovation, which means that new actors can participate, such as customers, patients, citizens or you as a private person. This means new opportunities to mobilise people's creativity and skills to develop both products and services, and to solve our societal challenges.

What does digitalization mean to society in the long run?

– What my colleagues and I are trying to understand is what digitalization means to society in the long run. It is about major changes, partly for the citizen as an individual, but also for many industries and for the institutions in society.

– The fact that we are now talking more and more about digital agendas and digitalization rather than just about IT, is an expression of the fact that information technology and digitalization affect everyone. There is a tremendous potential to develop society, while at the same time means having to deal with the new challenges that are being created.


Professor Rikard Lindgren
Professor Rikard Lindgren

Professor Rikard Lindgren:

Digital technology means a leveraging tool and an opportunity to create dynamics. But it also causes identity problems - what expectations do we have? What happens to the value of invested knowledge and skills?

– We are studying what happens when you digitalize something that was previously only physical, such as a car. If you equip a car with electronics, it can suddenly start communicating about its own state – signalling, receiving input and processing information, creating opportunities for new services and innovation.

– When a product becomes smart and intelligent and gets the ability to handle and deliver information, it also becomes part of the interaction with the environment that was not possible before. The interaction results new demands on the partners in the industry who also have to start interacting in a completely new way.

Changes in the balance of power and hierarchy in the industry

– The automotive industry is an interesting example from a number of aspects, including the changes in the balance of power that arise from digitalization. When you bring your portable electronics to your car, it is also required to be compatible with the car's electronics, and forces the vehicle manufacturers to also turn their eyes outwards.

– Previously, the car organization handled all parts of a car internally, but now that does no longer work. The digital components built into the car will be part of some kind of network logic, which results in a situation where a company such as Volvo Cars, which was previously very hierarchically structured, is now forced to interact with smaller companies who are really subordinate. They must open their innovation process to external partners and re-evaluate their relationships and power relations. And this is what happens in a wide range of other industries, the white goods industry, for example, and the music industry's great transformation through the digitalization of music.

– The traditional logic, the ways in which we understand phenomena in society, is overturned by digitalization and in many ways it is a revolution. This applies to both business law, business models and financing solutions. All that looks established, profit-generating and reliable can be undermined very quickly due to digital innovation. The traditional service model does no longer apply.

New demands also on authorities ... and on everyone else

– Everyone is forced to rethink. This also affects authorities and various public organizations that are forced to think about their identity and their relationship with their citizens. Authorities are often given new requirements that can be about creating more appropriate information and new services that are perceived as more valuable to the citizen. Citizens can now also co-create information in public services. This also means that where you earlier believed that you could guarantee quality and an output that has been through a process and quality assured, you have ended up in a situation where it no longer applies. And what do you do now with all routines and processes that you may have built and structured for the last 50 years?

– And everything is still in its infancy! Digital technology means a leveraging tool and an opportunity to create dynamics. But it also presents identity problems – what expectations do we have? What happens to the value of invested knowledge and skills?


Text: Catharina Jerkbrant

Professor Jan Ljungberg
Professor Jan Ljungberg
Photo: Johan Wingborg