Grant Thornton International is a winner of the IdeaScale 2021 Innovation Management Award for Best Innovation.
Every year, IdeaScale hosts the Innovation Management Awards to award organizations who have demonstrated a level of sophistication in their innovation strategy that has had a measurable impact on their business. This year, one of our winners was Grant Thornton International in the category of Best Innovation for their ability to deliver the IASC — a process and product innovation with global appeal. We took some time to interview Ben Verdi, the Global Innovation Manager at Grant Thornton International to learn more about their program and the best practices that they’ve developed.
IdeaScale: Ben, why don’t we get started by you introducing yourself and the network you work for?
Ben: Thanks, Jessica. My name is Ben Verdi and I am the Global Innovation Manager for Grant Thornton International. We’re a professional services network based in almost every country you can think of. We have about 140 member firms around the world and close to 60,000 employees.
We’ve been working over the past few years about how to structure our global innovation strategy and our global innovation program and our large diverse network presents us with a lot of opportunities to do that, but it also creates some pretty unique challenges that IdeaScale has been essential in helping us navigate.
IdeaScale: This question is in two parts: I want to ask you why is innovation vital to you at Grant Thornton? And are there emerging trends that are impacting your sector? Or perhaps why have they dedicated a role to innovation?
Ben: Absolutely. Yes, innovation is essential to the current state of our business, and just as importantly to the future state of audit, tax and advisory. We are committed to keeping innovation as something that is key to our global strategy.
And we’re not merely committed to it because it’s “cool,” but because the quality of service we provide our clients is the thing that we pride ourselves on most, and leveraging technology to enhance the current services we provide is what will continue to keep us competitive.
Innovation is not just a matter of building new tools, but it’s also rooted in that value, that quality, that we want to provide our clients. In every respect, innovation allows us to do that better. It allows us to scale while maintaining and enhancing the value we’re adding at the individual level.
So there’s a lot of fascinating things going on around our network that we want to support any way we can.
IdeaScale: Well, and that brings us back to those 60,000 people that you have as your network of opportunity. You’ve created the Innovation Exchange to sort of harness some of that opportunity. Can you tell us what it is and how it works?
Ben: Yes. Our Global Innovation Exchange (which is run on IdeaScale) is an idea community that serves as our primary marketplace for innovations, new tools, new products, new services that have been developed in our member firms.
Those member firms are attempting to source global interest for the programs they’ve created. So primarily it’s a way that we are helping to connect the community of innovators around our network.
But also it’s a way that we’re building out additional campaigns to support smaller scale member firm innovation programs. Some are modeled after our Global Innovation Exchange, but some are quite different and are focused on collecting user feedback on a single product, or structuring decisions within a single business line.
There’s a lot of different capabilities that we’re taking advantage of. And it all falls under that umbrella of the Innovation Exchange.
IdeaScale: So you’re looking for new ideas and feedback, but you’re also looking for things that are beyond the idea format that are already in practice and that you just want to scale out across the organization?
Ben: That’s correct. It’s a multi-faceted approach to using the platform and it’s extra convenient because it’s all in one place.
IdeaScale: Well, can you tell us about some of the ideas that have emerged especially the Intelligent Automation Service Center (IASC), but any of the other ones you can talk about as well?
Ben: Sure. Well, the Intelligent Automation Service Center (IASC) was one of the first global innovations submitted into our Innovation Exchange by a member of our Global Innovation Council. It’s a partnership between the US and Indian member firms which sources opportunities for RPA where bots are built to make processes more efficient and support US client and internal needs developed and iterated on in the Indian market.
So that’s a terrific example not only of something that the Global Innovation Exchange has helped raise awareness for but it’s also a kind of evidence for our initial hypothesis, which was that there is an appetite for this kind of cross-border collaboration. And there is not only the talent and capability around our network to build something as robust as IASC, but also that clients want to use it.
In addition to that solution you mentioned, I will just say there are about eight or nine blockchain tools that member firms have been building at varying levels of maturity. Some from Spain, some from Canada, some from the US, and additionally there is a really fascinating cross-section of cybersecurity solutions.
In 2020, cybersecurity was definitely the area of innovation that we saw the most rapid growth. I don’t think we began the year with that expectation, but over the last year it has definitely grown the fastest.
IdeaScale: Do you think that this renewed focus on security is because of the digital transformation that took place due to COVID and now that everything’s online, people want to make sure that their data is super secure?
Ben: I think that’s absolutely one part of it: the forced nature of a lot of digital transformation for a lot of our clients over the last year. It’s certainly a challenge accelerated by COVID, but we’ve been able to turn it into a really exciting business opportunity because not only is it something our clients need, it’s something that our clients are turning to us more and more to provide.
IdeaScale: Well, I’m wondering, so you’ve got all these ideas coming in. Who is it on your team that’s making it possible for these ideas to come to life? Is it you or different collaborators throughout the organization?
Ben: So the product development in our network is generated, owned and driven by the talented, smart, hardworking product teams in our member firms.
I’m much more focused on trying to source and raise awareness for local products that are looking for a global adoption potential. But we really do have some incredibly talented developers and some forward-thinking, innovative people leading product teams that are the engine that drives solutions into the Exchange.
Meeting the team on the Innovation Council and the hundreds and hundreds more around the network who are focused on building new, innovative solutions every day is really the privilege of my position: to be able to work with so many people who are doing so many amazing things.
We’re a big network so we’re really diverse in terms of capabilities as there are a lot of globally-minded and entrepreneurial units and product owners around the network.
IdeaScale: So for the people who might be thinking about launching a program like this, what’s the most important piece of advice you can give to someone who wants to get started with IdeaScale or a tool like IdeaScale?
Ben: I think the first piece of advice, maybe the most important piece of advice would be to take as much time as you need to understand and learn all of the functionality that is available to you through a platform like this. It might sound obvious, but really it helps unleash whatever sort of structure you’re looking for and that’s going to meet your needs.
IdeaScale: So just this last question to finish up here: what are you most proud of in your innovation program?
Ben: The thing that I’m proudest of with our innovation program and our Innovation Exchange is that we’ve grown the global user community as much as we have since we launched in the fourth quarter of 2019. I think we had a certain feel for how many people would initially be interested in submitting solutions, but I don’t think anybody could have expected us to beat those projections given the year that we all just went through. And we shattered them. I mean, it was incredible, and especially because of the rate at which the inventory of products has grown.
The number of member firms that we have accessing the Innovation Exchange has beaten the targets that we set at the outset of the program. And that’ because of the individual users around our global network who have taken the time out of their day, out of their week, to connect with the innovation community. They truly inspire me.
I think there wasn’t just a desire for a global innovation marketplace, but a desire to create an global innovation community. And whether we set out to do that or not, I think that’s certainly something that we’re cultivating.