Innovate UK

We give out government grants to support innovation for creative or collaborative R&D across the UK. So it is our responsibility to provide systems that make these transactions easier for both our customers and our employees.”

- Douglas Ward-Deputy Director of Business Systems & Insight at Innovate UK
500-1000 Employees


jobs across 8,500 organisations


Bridging the Gap

Innovate UK serves as the bridge between dreams and reality. As an organization, they are strategically positioned to support pre-commercial funding for small and medium businesses. "We fill in the gap between someone coming up with an idea and having that first leap of faith to give up their day job and start a real-life business. That's our sweet spot,” said Douglas Ward-Deputy Director of Business Systems & Insight at Innovate UK.

Innovation-based grants and economic development

Since 2007, in partnership with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) , Innovate UK has invested around £2.5 billion to help businesses across the country to innovate. This financial impact has enabled 8,500 organisations to create around 70,000 jobs; which added an estimated £18 billion of value to the UK economy. As a financial lifeline for the creative, talented, and the dreamers, Innovate UK actively drives economic growth by supporting businesses to develop and realise the potential of new ideas.

The funding provided is often correlated to a theme, sector, or industry trend such as carbon reduction or “smart city” ideas. It is the intersection between capital, innovation, and economic impact that makes the Innovate UK mission unique. “We give out government grants to support innovation for creative or collaborative R&D across the UK”, Ward continued. “So it has become our responsibility to provide systems that make these transactions easier for both our customers and our employees. That’s what led us to the cloud.”

Tracing the Link Between Innovation And Funding

On a daily basis, the Innovate UK Team received hundreds of paper applications from businesses eager to get their creative research funded. The standard pathway to acquiring the grants was two-fold: the application process (pre-customer signature) and the grants management process (post-customer signature). “Both pathways were traditionally very paper based and each was supported by a different system,” recalled Ward. “This meant that once the grant was distributed, there was no way to track the innovation outcome. We also didn’t have a repository for our monitoring offices to store this kind of information in one single place.”

It was the goal of Innovate UK to eliminate the paper from the process and have a consistent user journey internally and externally. In order to enhance the customer experience, paper applications were converted to a GDS-compliant frontend on the Innovate UK website -- making them searchable, accessible, and capable of being electronically submitted. Meanwhile for backend support, the team began scoping out the design for a digital, collaborative post-award grants management system. This would enable communication between multiple parties; and ensure project milestones could be met and monitored throughout the application lifecycle.

“Initially we just looked at how we would effectively log the progress of a project. For example, key points of contact, award amount, and project status. Then we wanted this information linked to a case or a claim that could be queried,” said Ward. The Innovate UK team had already begun utilizing Service Cloud to support their contact center and customer service operations, but sought to expand the scope to be more inclusive of tracking project outcomes. “That's when we decided to leverage where we already had Service Cloud, and extend its scope to linking the case and the project by using the Lightning platform to translate the core management of our backend processes”.

Launching the Solution

Ward and team launched a grants management platform called the Innovate UK’s Innovate Funding Service (IFS). It supports up to 500 officers in a variety of roles as they work to review applications and distribute funding, and has become the beacon for digital engagement within Innovate UK. Here’s how it works:

  • The overall solution begins with Service Cloud which is the single-source of truth for all recipient claims and project data. When a grant is issued, the Innovate UK Team creates a recipient record consisting of award amount, project updates, feedback submitted, and can track the periodic milestones established by the Monitoring Team. Knowledge can be accessed during the customer service calls in order to aid businesses with application questions and inquiries pertaining to the distribution of funds.
  • Customer Community Cloud facilitates the internal collaboration and knowledge sharing across teams; it is the action behind harmonizing the grant review, fraud management, and monitoring process. Information stored in Service Cloud can be accessed via portals built on Community Cloud which connect the link between customer service and the monitoring processes.
  • Pardot rounds out the holistic solution. It was initially added on as an engagement tool during the pandemic to reach out to existing partners, and was incorporated into the Innovate UK processes to make visionary hopefuls aware of available funding and innovation projects.
  • Integrated reports and dashboards provide visibility into the overall Innovate UK operations, allowing tracking and government reporting to occur seamlessly. “I can very easily access a single record of a business, or I can see every complaint managed through the customer service desk ticket, including the grant activity and innovation developed,” said Ward.

The solution was launched through a pilot of the flagship program called, Smart which is a catchall that enables funding to be accessed for multiple research and innovation projects across all aspects of society. The small scale test began with the management of 105 projects on the Salesforce platform; and was expanded to 8,000 projects, 20,000 participants, and approximately £6 billion of funding, positively highlighting the terms of development to the cost-to-serve.

Realizing the Value

Even in the midst of the pandemic, the Innovate Funding Services (IFS) platform was proven to be sustainable. “We were three times busier than usual due to the COVID response initiative. We literally tripled the size of business due to the increased number of applicants seeking grants to navigate the difficult times,” said Ward.

Due to the platform’s agility, features and functionality such as quality assurance and “check and balances” were incorporated to offset the business need and service their customers beyond claim request and project setup. “Things that typically would have taken us six months-plus to build, we were able to do in six weeks. I think we will be able to deliver and continue delivering on higher volumes of competitions, applications, and managing the programs because of all of that investment that we have done on the platform in making improvements.”

The Innovate UK digital transformation journey is just beginning. “We've only recently completed the migration of turning off our own legacy systems in January of this year. So we're really just starting to unlock the power of what that information means to type in any business name and see their entire contact history in one place”.


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