David Best, a consultant for Kirchner + Robrecht in Germany, has delved into this topic recently and shares his thoughts on the topic.
WAN-IFRA: How would you, generally, characterise the level of corporate innovation management methodology being used in news organisations today?
David Best: Most players are of course used to constantly innovating, especially as far as digital products and business models are concerned. In many cases, that's more or less digital product development mostly carried out by editorial staff, digital product departments and IT.
"Sometimes, publishers create their own "laboratory" organisations, reflecting the focus on the experiment with the new, like for instance SPIEGEL Tech Lab in Germany." – David Best
However, a structured and well-defined "stage gate" process for idea management and selection for the whole company isn't very common.
And we see a number of ways to organise corporate venture management in Germany, especially in medium to large news organisations.
For instance, corporate venture units like pd ventures (from Mediengruppe Pressedruck), inter-corporational initiatives like Media & More Venture (MMV) of Badische Zeitung, Heilbronner Stimme and Verlagsgruppe Rhein-Main, investment in corporate venture funds and industry-wide accelerators like Capnamic Ventures and the next media accelerator initiated by Deutsche Presseagentur (DPA), just to name a few. Furthermore, we see Google's DNI, where many diverse media and tech companies participate.
How are publishers cultivating an innovative culture? Are they seeking outside help and talent?
Looking at the corporate venture initiatives, we see that "radical" innovation is organised mainly outside the company, which makes sense in two ways. Firstly, companies can grow without the organisational and cultural boundaries of an established and traditional company. Secondly, they can focus on customer needs beyond the traditional core business of content publication and advertising and thus enter new markets more easily.
Of course, products may be closely strategically aligned to the companies and can be tested and launched. This can have a cultural impact on the organization, but that's more a secondary effect. To impact the existing business, regular exchange is an absolute necessity. And to achieve cultural change, internal innovation processes must be organised accordingly. In other words: Team-building days, innovation events and projects can help to transform the culture; defined roles and processes for innovation management have an enduring impact.
It would seem to be an issue on both sides: 1) trying to find the right people internally to cultivate innovation while also retaining that rare talent, 2) the challenge of bringing such talent into a seemingly traditional company.
I believe that any news organisation has internal staff willing to innovate and since news organisations are creative companies, they have always attracted open-minded people. Talented individuals in the tech sector have many attractive alternatives.
"The news industry transformation and challenges in Western Europe and the US are not exactly beneficial concerning the retention of talent, honestly speaking."
– David Best
However, if the management shows a strong commitment to innovation and the organisations empower and reward them to start initiatives and develop them, it's much easier to retain talent.
Talented individuals in the tech sector have many attractive alternatives. A way to attract good developers is to give them freedom to do what they really want to do: to code exciting products. Hackathons are a good way to get to know developers and possibly hire them. Another way could be the implementation of organisational units for new digital product and tech platform development like the mentioned "tech labs."
Have you seen some specific programmes that are really working that you can mention... and why they are working?
Let's have a look at the next media accelerator in Germany. This programme has a focus on media startups and is thus interesting. They offer a six-month programme for startups in order to develop a minimum viable product. Companies with high market visibility have been accelerated, for instance, Spectrm, a chatbot builder that was one of Facebook's launch partners for chatbots at the official Facebook Developer Conference in 2016.
This year, the next media accelerator has attracted more money and more participants. Although the particular success factors cannot be defined, it could be seen as a proof-of-concept for industry-wide media accelerators.
"Concerning internal innovation management approaches, one outstanding success factor is constant management commitment." – David Best
What are the greatest challenges for news publishers in trying to introduce such a sweeping type of philosophy and strategy?
A challenge is that the traditional print business is still, in most cases, the most important business segment. The ongoing "battle" for business stability needs attention and resources. New business models and product initiatives often need time until they pay out. Although the mind shift towards the necessity of, especially, digital innovations is a primary focus, there is an urgency for increasing earnings in this field.
It's not always easy to communicate efficiency and cost-cutting programmes to staff, and at the same time increase spending and investment in innovation programmes. In this respect, it is necessary to mention that innovation covers the entire business, including processes. Improved processes can lead to higher efficiency. Consequently, innovation programmes can pay off also in this respect.
What kind of methodologies are used by publishers as far as innovation management is concerned?
Agile product development and project methods are used by news organisations, and classical waterfall product and project methods are common as well.
The lean startup (main principles:
- understanding user needs,
- testing and validating of success-critical hypothesis with minimum viable products,
- learning and iterating development, and pivoting);
and the design thinking approach (main principles:
- understanding the user,
- rapid prototyping,
- interdisciplinary, iterative, empathic work in free and flexible working rooms)
have gained interest and traction in recent years, although they are often not implemented inside traditional publishing organisations.
Additionally, more traditional methods like lead-user workshops and focus groups, scenarios, trend or competitive analysis are more relevant to the publishing industry.
Are there technological tools to help measure, visualise, identify innovation within an organisation?
Tools exist for all parts of the innovation process. One can start with the "fuzzy frontend of innovation," methods for strategic search field definition, idea collection, selection and conceptualisation. Furthermore, one can employ tools for special innovation methods, for instance, "open innovation" with people outside the company. Different functionalities for measurement and visualisation are included in these tools. Beyond this, specialised tools for trend identification can be implemented.
"Smaller enterprises can use systems already in place to support innovation processes." – David Best
This comprises business intelligence, web analytics and CRM systems for identifying trends. You can also employ collaboration tools for gathering, discussing and evaluating ideas. As far as the development and testing of product concepts and minimum viable products are concerned, small "SaaS" tools for landing page generation and testing are relevant. And, last but not least, project management tools could be used as well, especially those focusing on agile project management.