Vice-president, Thomson Reuters Toronto Technology Centre.
Generally speaking, large multilateral corporations are not good at innovation. Big, established companies tend to be hierarchical, mired in bureaucracy and victims of "the way we've always done it" thinking. So, how do you infuse the entrepreneurial spirit, speed and agility of a startup into years of established practices and layers upon layers of matrixed management? Start with those who already live in a world of constant change: the technology team.
How we at Thomson Reuters are addressing innovation is multifaceted.
First, at a corporate level, efforts are underway to build a culture that fosters and enables innovation. Systemic culture changes in large companies can be hard and take time to implement. So, along with an enterprise-wide push, you need a short-term plan to augment these efforts and ensure you are keeping pace.
Second, we created a network of labs that partner with startups, academics and others to explore opportunities that are taking place at a grassroots level. These labs are interconnected with an ecosystem of innovators that bring forward ideas that are unique and hard to recreate organically. We have one of these labs in Waterloo, Ont.
Finally, we are creating our own "de facto" startup, the Thomson Reuters Technology Centre, where we are focusing on innovation and amplifying our solutions with emerging technologies. To date, we have hired 200 of the best and brightest technology experts from a cross-section of startups, technology leaders and industry competitors. Our mandate is twofold: first, steward and/or disrupt our existing software and, secondly, invent our own technology.
As we started to build this team, we recognized that, while our successes may be measured in technological achievements, it all starts with people – the truly innovative workforce of the future doesn't have senior leaders. It just has leaders that work together to create an environment defined by trust, transparency and dynamic thought. Also, we embrace failure as a real opportunity for learning and encourage experimentation. At the Toronto Technology Centre, we follow three philosophies to help us get there.
First, democratize the process
We believe it is important to involve everyone. We enable ideas to come from any level of our organization. In the technology sector, the next big idea could come from a co-op student or a 20-year veteran and both have to feel comfortable putting forward ideas and challenging one another.
We meet regularly to get to know each other on a professional and, equally important, personal basis. We believe getting to know each other's strengths and expertise can help us work together as a team to solve common problems. Innovation can mean finding a new path to reach customers when they need support or automating processes that once required human intervention. Our artificial intelligence experts need to work with our data analytics team, our software developers need to work with our domain experts. It's a team game that we will only win if everyone is involved and feels empowered.
Second, create open channels
It is crucially important to inspire information- and technology-sharing across the organization. Rarely is the real "magic" of innovation done in a vacuum. We have addressed this challenge in both formal and informal ways.
Formally, we have created forums so managers can share goals and learnings. As a fast-growing, nimble office, we all have the opportunity to share, to learn quickly and course correct.
Informally, we have instituted "guilds" that bring together a cross-section of people from different teams interested in a common technology to meet on an ad hoc basis. We also create forums to engage directly with customers and business counterparts to help inspire a customer-centric approach to innovation.
Employees need to have the freedom to explore the problems and technology that excite them. When you get a small group excited about a common challenge, where new perspectives and expertise are shared, you pave the way to that "eureka" moment.
Third, scale innovation
Finally, mechanisms need to be put in place to help scale the culture as the organization grows. We codify best practices and implement them across teams as we expand. We also ensure the efforts of innovators are recognized. Be it rapid career advancement, recognition from executive leadership or desired new opportunities, innovation must be rewarded in a swift and meaningful way.
Innovation happens when someone begins to understand something beyond their day-to-day job and connects the dots.
All in all, innovation in a large corporation is as much about a broad culture shift as any single investment or a bright new idea. One size doesn't fit all. However, to stay ahead of trends, retain and attract top talent, and get ready for the next technology coming over the horizon, you need to be innovative. Our recommendation is to approach this challenge in a dynamic systemic, multiphased and multifaceted manner.