IdeaScale Nation

Wolters Kluwer: Start Your Own Innovation Olympics

September 15, 2021 IdeaScale Season 3 Episode 5
IdeaScale Nation
Wolters Kluwer: Start Your Own Innovation Olympics
Show Notes Transcript

This month, we’re pleased to introduce you to Atul Dubey, Chief Strategy Officer at Wolters Kluwer. Wolters Kluwer is a Dutch-company that is a global provider of professional information, software solutions and services for clinicians, accountants, lawyers, in the tax, finance, audit, risk, compliance, and regulatory sectors. They serve customers in over 180 countries, maintain operations in over 40 countries, and employ approximately 19,200 people worldwide. And with a global network , wide ranging in specialties, they have a huge opportunity to leverage the collective domain knowledge of their workforce, which is why Wolters Kluwer has been running their Global Innovation Awards for the past ten years – a cross-company competition encouraging the development and implementation of innovative solutions from within. It’s not just a great employee engagement exercise - 75% of the suggested ideas are implemented and adopted across Wolters Kluwer. And the work shows, Wolters Kluwer regularly wins awards for its innovation performance. Under Atul’s broad umbrella of responsibilities, he manages the Global Innovation Awards and that’s one of the things that we’re going to chat about today.


Speaker 1:

We have an external jury. We have ex CEOs , ex C-suite people. We have technologists, you know , we have people from the publishing space and they act as our external grand jury. And we have the CEO and myself, everyone can view the presentations. All the competing teams can see each other. So if you had an interest in innovation, you wanted to see our let's call it our innovation Olympics going live. You could log in and see what's going on.

Speaker 2:

[inaudible]

Speaker 3:

Hello, and welcome to our idea. Scale nation podcast, everyone we're talking to innovation leaders, entrepreneurs, futurists change-makers and tons of other people. But this month, we're pleased to introduce you to a tool Dubay , who is the chief strategy officer at Walters Kluwer Walter's Chlor is a global provider of information, software solutions, and other services for professionals in the healthcare tax, finance, audit, risk compliance and regulatory sectors. They serve customers and over 180 countries, they maintain operations and over 40 countries and they employ 19,200 people worldwide. The company transformed from being a specialized publisher to a digital information company, and is now moving quickly towards expert software solutions, basically embedding the deep domain expertise into their customer's workflows. Today, we are going to talk to a tool about innovation. So he has a broad set of responsibilities, collectively focused on the company's growth agenda, including the stewardship of the company's global innovation awards process. So this is a company wide competition, encouraging the development and implementation of innovative solutions. 75% of the suggested ideas that come from this program are implemented and adopted across Walters Chlor , and the work shows Walters Claire regularly wins awards for its innovation performance. So let's get started. First of all, welcome to the podcast at tool. Thank you so much for joining. We're so pleased to have you as a guest. I am so interested in what you're doing to take these global innovation wards to the next level. Can you tell us about that?

Speaker 1:

Thank you, Jessica. Good to be on here as well. And so I've had this process for about five years and the not to say that we didn't have a good process. We had a very good process in place. The program has been around for about 10 years. So we set about in the spirit of continuous improvement to make it even better. So we focused on three things first and foremost was to drive alignment with the innovation categories, with our strategy. So we have three categories. We ask people to submit ideas on adjacencies to our existing businesses. Game-changers that our moonshots take longer to , to come about, have a lower probability of success, but can change the game. And finally, internal improvement continuing to improve the inner workings of our company. So that was the first thing, but it was driving alignment with our strategy. Second thing we did was invested in training our submitters and the finalists on improving their submissions and their pitches because they have to come, come and compete in a shark tank like format, very competitive. So as with any idea of pitching, the idea is also important. So I've invested in a lot of training and bringing in outside ideas. Third was to get better calibration on the ideas themselves. What makes for a good idea in one division would not historically would have been considered a good idea. And the other divisions don't the other functions. So we set about creating a calibration method using multiple states gates to get more consistent ideas and do better level setting. The way we went around doing that was to fundamentally do a cross-divisional cross-functional review of those ideas. And once we select finalists from that pool of ideas of those pool of ideas, we take it to a tech savvy, external jury. So we don't necessarily rely on what we think is a good idea, but we rely on an external perspective to calibrate on what is a good or a great idea. So what we've seen already now is that the number of ideas coming to us as part of this process out a bit fewer in number then in the past, but the quality is much, much, much higher and, and we get better sort of feedback on the whole process since we made these improvements. I love

Speaker 3:

That. It's interesting to me, I think some people think of innovation. They think of these big commitments to technology and investments there, but what you've invested in is understanding what your company needs understanding and how to build up your people and make that commitment to your workforce. And then also making a commitment to some of those external experts so that you can leverage their knowledge to get your work done. So I heard that since 2003 Walters Chlor each year consistently invest eight to 10% of their total revenue in product development. Can you tell me what this says about your innovation strategy?

Speaker 1:

Yeah. So if you're thinking Wolters Kluwer is about, let's call it a 5 billion Euro company. So that means we are plowing back 400 to 500 million euros back into product development, right? So this is important for many different reasons. First and foremost, we are deeply committed to listening to what our customers want and need, and also maintaining our competitive edge and competition doesn't necessarily come from a nontraditional peer set. It comes out of left field. So we keep an eye on that as well. The other part that is interesting about this level of commitment is we have continued to invest this amount of money, as you know, eight to 10% of our revenues in product development, through challenging macro economic conditions. We invest the same enough cycles and in down cycles, like for example, during the pandemic as well, we continue to the same amount of money because you have to invest in innovation because that pays dividends much further down the road. So if you choose to economize or cut costs or cut corners, you'll pay for it quite significantly from a competitive perspective. And also from what I call is the customer satisfaction, you know , and you see a lot of churn. So that makes no sense. So we have consistently invested in that and even more so we are trending closer to the higher end of that range, not the lower end of that , especially because we are, you know , latching onto the , the big trends you have seen coming out of the pandemic on the adoption of cloud based solutions that are , you know, familiarity and comfort with the cloud. Advanced technologies, most popular being in artificial intelligence are being adopted everywhere and also by us. And these are actually attributes we look for in, you know , the highly innovative submissions. So we look for those things inside the submissions that people send us and that results in us continuing to fund innovation, you know , continuously and through these cycles. That

Speaker 3:

Makes a lot of sense. And I love that you're talking about how you continue to make those investments, even in down cycles. I remember that McKinsey put out that innovation in a crisis white paper that talked about how companies that invested in innovation through the last economic downturn. Not only did they outperform them in the crisis, but then they also continued to outperform them in the market for up to 30% in the following years. So tell us a little bit more about the global innovation awards. How do people find out about it get involved? What's the process like?

Speaker 1:

So the, you know, you're to understand that the process I steward is actually a process which allows people to surface the ideas to us, you know, get it evaluated and seek an award. But that does not mean that innovation does not happen on a daily basis and doesn't happen in, you know, vastly bigger areas than what we can cover. So one of the main intentions of the global innovation awards is to drive more involvement. You know, we have a core set of what I call serial innovators in the company they range from about, you know, any given day from 600 to 800 people out of a company that's about 20,000 strong are the serial innovators in this company. They're constantly looking to do things better, either externally or internally in the marketplace. So one of the aims of this global innovation awards is to, to advertise it beyond those serial innovators, invite more people to participate more different perspectives, to come in from different geographies, different functions, different businesses, and also drive the cross-pollination of ideas. So we, we, we run webinars, we run meetings, you know, all, all year long, we bring in outside speakers, interesting speakers to come in. Last one we did was about actually thinking about monetizing even before you innovate, you know, where is the money? Where's the customer's pain point for example, right? And that itself is, is quite innovative to , to start that before you have the idea for change. So we first start to get people excited continuously and then drive participation from their own, you know, assuming we started to get good ideas coming into the system, let's say somewhere in April, may, June, July, the next part of the process is to actually vet those ideas and get them to be a more cohesive set. You know, typically we have about 300 to 400 ideas come into us by about, you know, in the next couple of months, that's when they'll be coming through. And what we try and do is then get a lot of, you know, inside and outside experts to look at those ideas. And in that there is a lot of, a lot of interaction with those serial innovators that divisional and functional people are reviewing the ideas with the teams that have submitted them. We get to see their presentations in action. We skipped to see their draft presentations in action. They start to get training. So there's a lot of what I call touch that happens both ways between the people who, who have the ideas and who are shaping them to people who are help helping nurture them or mentor them to get to be a winner and being a winner is definitely, you know, we , we, we, we, we thrive on the spirit of competition internally as well, but constructive competition or collaborative competition, if you want to call it that. So it's a great honor to, to win an award without external jury and with our CEO. And there's also a cash element to that, but it doesn't mean that people who don't win awards, don't go on to see their ideas come into action or into fruition, right? So that is how we interact. And the process is, you know, inform, engage, and then it's all about filtering, vetting, finalists, finalists, preps. And then we go to this shark tank like competition. That's what it looks like.

Speaker 3:

Well , I think it's great. I feel like it's, you know, it's not just an innovation play. It's almost a diversity play cause your serial entrepreneurs or your intrepreneurs, as you were saying, those serial innovators, they don't necessarily need a contest. They're going to do that anyways. But bringing in unheard voices can be so powerful. And I love that you invest in them throughout the process. Like we want these ideas to win. So the time they get to the shark tank, they're fully formed and valuable. I'd love to understand the global innovation awards. How does this innovation initiative fit into the other parts of your job?

Speaker 1:

So this has been a sort of very complimentary to the portfolio responsibilities I have, as you announced me on my title, chief strategy officer, but I have that in a few other things, right? So we have corporate strategy. We do scale ups . We do turn around. We help businesses grow fundamentally. That's where I spend my time. I also have a strategic pricing team. I'm responsible for digital marketing transformation and recently inherited M and a as well. When you add that up. And then what I, you know, I'm primarily responsible for and driving ideation or providing advice is on driving growth for the company. So what I ended up helping the executive board on is primarily on the growth aspect of the company. And no better thing to talk about from an organic perspective. Innovation is key. Innovation is key to meeting customer needs, both articulated and unarticulated needs. Innovation is key to remaining competitive innovation is key to not to get caught in a rock, you know, of sideways sort of markets or environments, but to drive growth, to reap sort of, you know, our businesses to rethink our products, to get them an edge. So, you know , this is generally my main focus. There's what I wake up for every day . So this fits very neatly and nicely into my portfolio. And it's also pretty exciting to see all the new ideas coming in right through through this process.

Speaker 3:

And I bet you get to have like this really interesting view of your entire organization, cause you get to work with so many different individuals throughout the globe and different departments.

Speaker 1:

We do. We do. Absolutely.

Speaker 3:

You've already sort of alluded to this when you were talking above about how you have calibrated or have level set on how you evaluate good ideas, but can you tell us how you select your winners and how do you separate those winning ideas from non winning ideas? Does that happen during the shark tank sort of pitch session that you do?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, so that is the last and final gate. So we have basically what we call three stage gates that we have put into the system using ideas scale, as you know, so the first stage gate is where the ideas are reviewed by the division or function that initially submitted it. So it's almost, let's call it a self-selection process where they have to get to a certain quota based on certain attributes that are well-advertised right. There's not just financial. It is about how innovative is the idea of what customer need does it mean ? Does it, does it have a competitive edge or not, et cetera, et cetera, have you done market testing, et cetera, et cetera, right? So that is the first stage gate that is done by the division or function that is in charge of that idea itself. The second stage gate is where it gets interesting. We get our divisional and functional leads who are in charge of innovation for those areas together in one room we physically, or as we are doing it now virtually. And they look at the cross calibration of those ideas that came out of the first stage gate. So it's like a funnel. So here we have fewer ideas than what we started with, but now we're trying to get calibration across the divisions and functions almost like the best of the best. And we get up to, I would say 15 to 20 finalist is what we are trying to get to out of a field of 400 initial submissions. Then once those finalists are selected and informed, they get a couple of months to review their submissions, get feedback from our sessions that we have had on how to improve them, make them even better. They work on their presentations, their pitches, their data, their analytics, and then they come to us in December where it takes a day, you know, back to back when, when we're doing it physically or two half days when you're doing it virtually is what we did last year because of the pandemic. And we have an external jury. We have ex CEOs, ex C-suite people. We have technologists, you know, we have people from the end of the publishing space and they act as our external grand jury. And we have the CEO and myself. So that's about, I would say about seven people and the presentations are done. Everyone can view the presentations, all the competing teams can see each other. And not only that, because we were doing it virtually, we opened it up to the entire company as well at that point in time. So if you had an interest in innovation, you wanted to see our , you know, let's call it our innovation Olympics going live. You could log in and see what's going on. Right? So we did that. So out of those 15 or 20 in three categories, we tried to pick a winner. And at times we've tried to pick a runner up because it is one of the most exciting days, but also a difficult day in picking the best of the best of the best. Right ? So it turns out to be quite an exciting day. It goes pretty fast and we'll end up having four short, three winners, one for each category. And sometimes there's a runoff runner-up or two, right? So that's what happens. And then there's followed by a , a big celebratory dinner where we actually hand out physical awards as well. That becomes a time to celebrate and for the teams, finalists and winners, to engage with senior management as well. That's how we do it.

Speaker 3:

I think it's wonderful how public it is, so that even if you're not in the room, the entire company can be a part of that process. And so some of these innovations that you've selected, these, these winners are renters up. Have they continued to add value over the year?

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And I think, you know , you mentioned that at the outset in the briefing we've been tracking for the last 10 years, 75% of our ideas and you know, pretty much all the winners for sure. They go live in the market or they go live in totally . But it's an internal improvement idea and they generate a significant value for our customers also financially and also our internal customers. Right. Because many of those ideas are internally oriented as well. So yes, the answer is, yes, that's why the program has legs and has a following and we continue to improve and take it to the next level.

Speaker 3:

I was wondering if you were sort of getting to the preview of this question and its answer when you were talking about the funnel that the idea is go for, go through, but you work with a lot of different people as part of this program, what are some of the roles that different people play? And what's the feedback that you get,

Speaker 1:

Right. And all in all, all of the sort of conversations we've had so far, you know, I haven't talked enough about the people themselves, right? So the ideas are nothing , uh , by themselves, right? They are, they are a result of our and our customers. We're also actually working together to , to converse, to have a dialogue about what's working. What's not working, what are other people doing? So I would say that for us, our people, and, you know, we are in the sort of expertise business, right? We are an expert solutions company. And so it's are people with deep domain expertise is where the ideas start, you know, and it's a grassroots program at our company. As I mentioned before, despite the serial innovators that I get to see that a lot more people thinking about this. So there's a lot of dialogue , correct? So the variety of people is just amazing. I have everyone that I interact with and we get all sorts of questions and Q and a happens in the different channels. We have B you know, zoom calls, teams, calls, emails, or, you know, back in the day hallway conversations. And so the people generally that I get , I get to see her interact, you know, that would be obvious our customer facing that could be in sales. It could be in marketing there for sure in product for our first two categories, right? Because it has some of the ideas have to be shepherded by product, but they can be originated anywhere technology as well. We are husking our , our idea submissions folks to make sure that they are keeping their technology partners in the loop, because these days you need technology to bring everything. And then we , I would say broadly, I would say management, right? All the people in the field, or who do, who have a day job betters their managers, here's that leaders who help nurture the ideas who provide support, be it monetary or otherwise, including making time or having conversations with customers. So I would say pretty much everyone is involved in the, in the company. You know , I cannot think of a single 80 or function that I haven't interacted with in the last five years that would have been, I would say, or left out. But I just wanted to broaden the pool of people that, that not think about. And in the last, I would say last go around two years ago. And I think that trend continues. We are even seeing our teams, pulling our customers into their presentations, which is quite interesting, or it will make me rethink the process a little bit, but we are seeing customers come in and support these ideas and provide sort of proof points, which is quite we can do to encourage, you know, more cross-functional teaming because we'd like to see teams present that have thought through different aspects of an idea or creating a business because that's ultimately what's needed to get it to market. So that's kind of, that's my sort of answer to your question quite diverse front to back left to right. And I would say top to bottom, right? So our bottoms up, we see a lot of different levels of engagement.

Speaker 3:

Definitely. I mean, I love the fact that sometimes you'll even bring your customers into the process and collapse that difference between the people creating value and the people who are hopefully going to enjoy that value. Well, one of the things that I'm personally very interested in is about sustainability. And I know that Wolters Kluwer has actually been identified one of the top 100 most sustainable brands in the world. So I'm sure that sustainability is also an emerging trend that you guys are thinking about. What are some of the other trends that are also shaping your future?

Speaker 1:

Right. So sustainability is important and, you know, in some ways we strive towards it. We'd like to be, you know , in the upper end of that top 100. And given that we are largely a digital company that we are not in manufacturing, we are not in , um , other what I call tangible goods industries. It's a little bit easier for us to get to our sustainability metrics. However, we play as a company, we play in a much broader space. When we, in terms of our products and services, I would say , um, we blend the broader ESG and health space if you want to call it that. Right? So environmental sustainable governance governance is a big topic, right? We have an entire division called governance risk and compliance, and we have a health division as well, right? So we operate in that sort of broader space, which is very, very topical these days. As you can imagine, especially, you know , during and coming out of the pandemic, there was, there has been more focused on the whole ESG sector. Have we provided a lot of goods and goods, but products and services and software information oriented, transactional law expert software oriented in this space, right? So that's natural for us, but we are also pushing against other trends, which work hand in hand with the spaces we operate in. And what are those? They are the adoption of cloud or cloud-based technologies, advanced technologies. And I've talked to you about artificial intelligence and all, especially things like NLP or RPA, bots, workflow automation, all these things are enablers to solve. One of the bigger problems that are , that are , that our customers are facing in the , in their own sort of day-to-day lives. Right? And so if you look , look at who we serve, we serve tax accountants. We serve compliance officers. We serve healthcare professionals. We serve risk experts. You know , lawyers what's going on all around us is that the information and knowledge is exploding. They can , they , in the healthcare space, it was just exploding beyond exponentially because of the advances in genomics based medicine, for example, right? So that explosion has to be managed because our customers expect us to provide services, meet software or knowledge that can help make critical decisions faster. So beyond sustainability, we have to harness these technologies to do better. What we are asked to do for our customers.

Speaker 3:

As I've said, you guys have been recognized as an innovative brand. You've won innovation awards. You obviously run your own innovation awards, but I'm interested in what you think, what makes Wolters Kluwer an innovative brand. That's going to stick around for the next century.

Speaker 1:

Good question. Um, a tough question to answer from, you know , what may happen into the far future, but I can tell you about the near future. Yeah.

Speaker 3:

Just tell me everything about how to survive for the next century, a tool

Speaker 1:

That would be very tough, but I think in the near future, I think what has held true for us in the, in the last decade will hold true. I think in the next few decades, it all comes down to people. It comes down to sort of my colleagues, the employees of this company. It comes down to the people who partner with us, who are our providers and of course our customers. So I think it comes down to people and why, especially for us people is we are the people business because we are a company that, that is asked hard test with having expertise, you know, deep domain expertise. When I said , you know, about helping doctors make a decision about a difficult diagnosis or when a lawyer is asked about a difficult case or a tax accountant has to deal with some very complicated accounting issue. Or it's a large company that has complicated financials that wants to close it books quickly. And on all of these come down to actual expertise is needed in those domains. And we, you know, those, those, that expertise is in the minds of our people. So to me, the people aspect is the most important attracting and retaining and developing the talent that we have and continue to have and managing the change all around us, right. That that is happening. That's what it'll take for us to, to survive and thrive in the , you know , if we are able to attract and retain the talent that we have and that talent can actually manage and harness the change, I don't worry about the companies that are competitive competitiveness or its ability to survive, you know, into the near medium future, whichever way you define it.

Speaker 3:

Well, I think that's definitely a true insight. I think it comes back to kind of what I was saying earlier. So many people think an investment in innovation is an investment in technology, but it's really an investment in people. It sounds like that's how you guys think about it at Wolters Kluwer. Well, thank you for telling us about your program and sharing how the global innovation awards work. We'll hopefully get to check in with you again, once you announce the winners later this year

Speaker 1:

Will do Jessica. Thank you. And thank you idea scale for letting us come talk to you and your followers for this podcast.