Incubating innovation

Incubating innovation

Thanks to exponential technological developments, the world is becoming increasingly connected and accessible, in the broadest sense of the word. This is why running nearly any type of business has become more complex and requires a deeper expertise than ever before. Irrespective of its core business, companies need more expertise in the areas of finance, legal, tax, marketing, IT, as well as treasury and risk. This is all the more reason for Zanders to continuously develop new innovative services and solutions with which we can lend companies a helping hand.

Whereas in the past practically anyone with a license could open a bank, in a manner of speaking, the situation today is very different. Many services in a bank’s traditionally profitable business model are now offered by specialist parties, efficiently and affordably. Companies like the Dutch Adyen and the UK’s Transferwise have carved out a significant place for themselves in the payment system. Similarly, asset management firms and (partly because of it) life insurers have, for many years now, been turned on their heads. Jeroen van der Heide, senior manager at Zanders, says that today everything simply has to be cheaper, better and more transparent. “This is almost synonymous with an ever-increasing degree of process standardization and automation. And financial regulation, positive or otherwise, is also pointing the same way.”

Long-established ‘traditional’ large multinational corporations (MNCs), such as the Netherlands-based AkzoNobel and Philips or the US-based Honeywell or Johnson Controls, do not remain unaffected and to an increasing degree undertake carve-outs or spin-offs. Without significant synergies between business lines, these spin-offs are considered to be better off going alone. Smaller-sized companies are typically more agile and thus better able to cope with our rapidly changing world. And it’s for this same reason that nearly all these MNCs have incubator programs. These are introduced to develop new products, services or solutions that can intelligently exploit the technology infrastructure that is now so widely available.

Entrepreneurial innovators and hands-on implementation specialists

Van der Heide is convinced that this changing business landscape will increase the demand for a new combination of specialist advisory services and solutions. “There are only limited companies left that retain all non-core specialist services in-house, for the simple reason that it’s impossible to be cost-effectively good enough at everything. For example, ‘doing something with data’ nowadays almost automatically translates to having to do business with large cloud-services companies such as Microsoft, Google, Amazon and the many middleware providers that span across the technology landscape on top of those. And, of course, the same applies to our area of expertise: smaller and mid-sized corporations, and banks in particular, are often no longer able to carry out certain specialist treasury and risk management tasks according to the highest standards, as well as cost-effectively.”

“This is why, based on our in-depth treasury and risk experience, we constantly develop a combination of innovative services and solutions for the challenges our customers face, both today and tomorrow,” says Zanders partner Laurens Tijdhof. “And to be more successful in developing these innovations, we recognize in our organization a distinction between certain business capabilities. Our management team (MT) consists of a balanced mix of entrepreneurial innovators and hands-on implementation specialists. New ideas typically need both the time and space to develop and become self-sustainable. Therefore, at Zanders, the incubation process of new ideas is guided by a separate innovation team of people who have plenty of experience in identifying and interpreting market needs, as well as have the commercial opportunism and creative flair to recognize the unique problem-solving qualities of a new service or solution.”

Dragon’s den

The responsibility of leading this innovation team has fallen to Van der Heide, supported by Zanders partner Rob Naber. If someone has an idea for a new service or solution, he or she brings it to the innovation team and that starts the ball rolling. “We’re a company of specialists, so any new idea is usually pretty strong on content and its implementation is fairly obvious, but the rest of the business case is, well… to be determined.” The innovation team’s first task is to collaborate with the idea originator, obtain the needed internal and external expertise and then develop it into a mature business case. “Fewer than two per cent of innovative ideas are ultimately successful,” concedes Van der Heide. “And by working systematically we intend to limit the amount of work that would otherwise be spent on the many ideas that will inevitably not succeed. In that process, it’s essential that we structurally and objectively assess our own interests, strengths and weaknesses. If you already know that one or more of these form limitations to the potential success of a crucial activity, you should look for a good external partner immediately – or move on to the next idea.”

If the innovation team decides that a business case has strong potential, the idea originator progresses to the Dragon’s Den, where it is pitched to the entire Zanders MT for budget and resource allocation. Tijdhof explains: “Not only the business case has to be strong, the idea originator must firmly believe in it and must be able to sell it convincingly. At the end of the day it’s as much about the person as anything else, which means our innovation team acts as a facilitator, sparring partner and coach.”

Dragon’s eggs

As soon as the originator has received all the necessary approvals, he or she is given full freedom and access to the necessary time, resources and budget, after which the innovation team acts as a steering committee. “It’s important to separate the implementation of a new idea as a guided missile from the existing organization,” insists Tijdhof. “As a start-up you cannot allow yourself to be constrained by too many operational interests – and it’s from that perspective that we try to facilitate innovation.”

Tim Neijs was the first Zanders consultant to approach the innovation team with a proposal and recently got the blessing to start developing and implementing this idea. The solution he presented, which had a very convincing business case in combination with an innovative marketing and sales approach, was lauded by the Dragon’s Den at the Zanders MT.

So after having been nurtured and incubated, the first real dragon egg has been hatched and the young dragon is now given the space and budget to develop safely before spreading its wings in our ever-changing world. And with the nest prepared and still warm, it’s ready for the next egg.