Wolters Kluwer is a global provider of information, software solutions, and services for professionals in the healthcare, 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. The company transformed from being a specialized publisher to a digital information company and now moving quickly towards expert (software) solutions – basically embedding deep domain expertise into the customers’ workflows.
Today we are going to talk to Atul Dubey, Chief Strategy Officer at Wolters Kluwer, about innovation. 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. This is a company-wide competition encouraging the development and implementation of innovative solutions. 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.
IdeaScale: Atul, I’m so interested in what you are doing to take the Global Innovation awards to the next level
Atul Dubey: We had a very good process already, so set about to make it even better. We focused on three things. First and most critical was to align the innovation categories (Adjacencies, Game Changers, and Internal Improvement) to our company strategy. Second, we invested in training our finalists on improving their submissions and their pitches. The Third was to get better calibration and level setting by evaluating the submissions through a cross-divisional review and a tech-savvy external jury. We have seen that the number of ideas submitted to us came down a little bit, but the quality of the ideas grew exponentially.
IS: heard that since 2003 Wolters Kluwer each year consistently invests 8%-10% of total revenues in product development. What does this say about your innovation strategy?
AD: We are deeply committed to listening to our customers needs and maintaining our competitive edge, so we have consistently invested in product development even through challenging macroeconomic conditions. We are trending closer to the higher end of that range as we are investing to leverage the adoption of cloud-based solutions and advanced technologies, which are attributes we look for in the innovation submissions. It also means that we consistently fund innovation through economic cycles.
IS: So, tell us more about the Global Innovation Awards. How do people get involved and what is the process like?
AD: In the field, innovation is a continuous process, but the Innovation Awards process gives our colleagues a cadence to think through the idea formation to submission/pitching cycles culminating in a live shark-tank like day long live session where teams pitch their ideas to the CEO and an external jury. In her words, the most exciting day for her to see our best ideas and teams in action. Throughout the year we bring in outside and inside experts and past winners to talk to the Innovation community – which is about 600-800 strong.
IS: How does this innovation initiative fit in with the other parts of your role?
AD: The GIA process is very complementary to my portfolio of responsibilities – corporate strategy, strategic pricing, digital marketing transformation, and also M&A – thus bringing both the organic and inorganic efforts together in driving growth – which is my main focus.
IS: How do you select your winners? How do you separate a winning idea from a non-winning idea?
AD: We have clearly laid out criteria for each category with assigned weights. They are then reviewed and filtered in the first stage gate by the Divisions and then cross-calibrated in a second Stage Gate with Divisional and Functional leads. This is where have the difficult task of shortlisting 15-18 finalists and we have a good debate to get to our finalists. This also helps cross-pollinate the ideas across our leads and at times we can combine two different complementary submissions into a more compelling single submission. We try to maintain continuity and consistency by having the cross functional leads serve a term of 3-5 years. And then finally we have the day long session with an external panel of experts along with our CEO to shortlist the winners.
IS: Have those innovations continued to add value?
AD: Yes, typically ~75% of our ideas, not just the winners, go live and generate value for our external and internal customers.
IS: You work with a variety of different people as part of this program – what roles do they play and what feedback do you get?
AD: Innovation is a grass-roots program at our company. Ideas start with our people and our customers and are shaped and nurtured by teams of people across various areas: customer-facing, product, technology, corporate functions, and many others. In a few instances, we have our key customers also participate in the process. We encourage cross-functional teams and submissions because it’s needed to bring an idea to life and to get it to market. In addition, we have various parts of management vetting the ideas, nurturing them, and also critically supporting and funding them.
IS: I know that Wolters Kluwer has been identified as one of the top 100 most sustainable brands in the world, so surely sustainability is an emerging trend that you’re thinking about. Are there other trends that are shaping your future?
AD: WK operates in the ESG & Health space with a variety of information, transactional and expert solutions. There is an exponential increase in information and knowledge in our specialties and key trends like the adoption of cloud, advanced technologies, and workflow automation are being used to manage that explosion for our customers and us.
IS: What makes Wolters Kluwer an innovative brand that’s going to stick around for the next century (or more)?
AD: Simply put, our people. We operate in areas that require deep domain expertise and managing change to help our customers make critical decisions. Our people (who are deep domain experts) who come to work driven by purpose, are the reason why we continue to succeed today, and in the future.