Han Gerrits, partner at KPMG - Innovation Factory, on the necessity of innovation, crowdsourcing ideas and how applications can ultimately solve global problems. ‘If we unite all our brainpower, we will be able to accomplish great things.’
‘Many companies are not intrinsically motivated to change, but external factors such as legislation and digitalization eventually force them to act.’ These are the words of Han Gerrits, the embodiment of innovation at KPMG. Not only is he Professor of Innovation at Amsterdam’s VU university, he is also tasked with rolling out Innovation Factory, which he founded and was purchased by KPMG three years ago. The company helps enterprises all over the world to professionalize innovation.
‘More and more money is being made available for innovation, especially now the economy is growing again. You see this across the board: everyone from funded start-ups to major companies recognizes that the business model has to change. CEOs and CFOs know that the changes we are encountering now will have a greater impact than any changes we’ve seen for the past thirty years. They simply must make their organizations more adaptive and adjust to new circumstances. We can help organizations act by involving employees in innovation.’
Gerrits experienced first-hand how technology can change a business model and its associated organization. Because besides consultancy, Innovation Factory also developed software to facilitate the crowdsourcing of ideas. Essentially ‘an intelligent variation on the suggestions box’, which is still the backbone of the business. ‘When the crisis began in 2008, many companies slashed their innovation budgets. We observed that companies who were using our software continued to innovate and managed innovation more professionally. Which is why we switched from consultancy to software. Not a simple operation by any means, because the entire character of the business changed from being people-centred to being product-centred. It was enlightening though, because this is a development taking place throughout the world of consultancy.’
The effort paid off. Innovation Factory’s social software was quickly snapped up by major analysts such as Gartner and Forrester. It was essential to link up with a major party in order to be able to take international steps. ‘Suddenly we were being called by customers like Boeing, whereas we only had a staff of fifteen. Fortunately “the big four” showed interest. KPMG was the only one with a clear vision of consultancy enhanced by technology. With KPMG we were able to shift up a gear. By now we have trained-up Innovation Factory consultants at KPMG in the US, Australia and Europe and this is quickly spreading.’
There is a demand for innovation from almost all sectors. Sometimes prompted by new regulations or deregulation such as the climate agreements, other times by technological developments like the internet of things. Innovation Factory facilitates the generation of ideas together with employees and, for example, external start-ups. ‘We unite the brain power of all the employees and the surrounding network. Increasingly, boards of directors and innovation managers are coming to realize that innovation entails more than just incorporating a development like blockchain and then continuing to practice business as usual. You have to move towards more innovative working methods. You can build that on our software. Knowledge development requires structural exchange. People propose ideas, are connected with others through our platform and help each other to improve and implement the ideas.’
For example, Innovation Factory recently organized a Start-Up Challenge for a large company in the chemical sector. This included mobilizing the platform and KPMG’s network to create as many matches and connections as possible. Gerrits: ‘Yesterday, for example, we were contacted by a company who didn’t win but who were delighted by the process. They received amazing feedback on their idea, there were constructive discussions and they have made connections beyond the organization with whom they will be able to take their idea further.’
Innovation Factory works for corporates in the food and beverage, telecom and railway sector. The platform has also been made suitable for smaller enterprises. This wide accessibility is a major factor in accomplishing the ultimate goal: connecting all the world’s brainpower. ‘Our technology enables this and it’s essential for solving social issues. We have already run projects focusing on cleaning up the oceans and converting fossil fuels to sustainable energy. My dream is to run a project dealing with the unequal distribution of food around the world. There is still so much potential brainpower and if we manage to harness that, we will be able to accomplish great things.’ The advancement of science only goes in collaboration.’