NextWave was fortunate to interview Mohan Jayaraman, the Regional Managing Director, Decision Analytics, and Business Information Services at Experian Asia- Pacific to understand how businesses keep innovating during the COVID-19 period. He has been a leader within Experian for close to 10 years and gave a great perspective on how innovation will be even more necessary moving forward.
His background includes setting up the Indian office from scratch and now having a dynamic role where he drives the Innovation Hub into building out next-generation products, manages regional analytics teams, and helps in building core technology products for the business.
How do you think the current situation will affect innovation hubs around the world?
Mohan: Innovation hubs worldwide typically worked on a “long, event horizon”. With the evolving COVID-19 situation, I believe the innovation hubs will pivot to a short to medium-term view on their innovation vision.
I always think of necessity as the mother of invention for innovation. The COVID-19 situation has forced us to look outside of our comfort zone and stay quick on our feet to react. This can be a newfound positive pace for innovation hubs and innovation in general.
COVID-19 will force us to solve the more immediate problems and compel us to be more revenue-facing in addressing immediate challenges. It’s a shift from how we used to prioritise a long-term objective.
Could you give an example of what you see as a difference between a short-term versus a long-term goal?
Mohan: A long-term goal in our case would be tackling large existential problems like financial inclusion for Asia Pacific which impacts a significant portion of the region’s population and working on tough problems like grass-root level credit access for the rural population.
A short-term goal right now could be looking at addressing ease of digital credit access to the financially included. It could perhaps be working on alternate data-based credit access for a segment of the credit-excluded who are heavy telecom users. We are essentially focusing on breaking the problem into smaller pieces and picking up the ones that are closer to being solved immediately.
Do you see any potential hindrances or challenges to innovating?
Mohan: The greatest challenges to innovating are gaining access to available capital and resources. When organisations undergo a period of stress, they will have to ration resources, and innovation budgets are amongst the first to be typically impacted. The best way to overcome this is to align your team to short-term organisational goals, so you’re more likely to get access to resourcing and funding.
Why do you think it’s important to keep innovating?
Mohan: Innovation is the best way of optimising resource constraints. The coming period is undoubtedly going to bring big changes in business models and innovation can keep businesses relevant through these shifts.
Taking 2020 as a short term projection, what do you see happening in this period?
Mohan: We have seen quite a few interesting things happen in this period. There have been significant shifts in the way organisations and teams function remotely. We are conducting this interview over a video conference rather than doing it face-to-face. This is a form of innovation as well. Teams are starting to come together with these tools of innovation and means of collaboration that are very different from the way we would have done some of these things in the past. The immediate focus for innovation will be to address some of these immediate term challenges to help teams function better.
Let me give you an example from our world, we do a lot of things in supporting banks and financial institutions in onboarding customers and credit underwriting them. It’s likely as we’re going through this period that physical interaction with customers will be more challenged and we may need to focus innovation efforts on creating a seamless digital interaction and the ability to offer them services and products digitally.
Similarly, another challenge that comes to mind involves digital hardship management – are banks and financial institutions equipped to deal with a surge in demand? How do they identify at-risk customers, keep existing customers engaged, and manage their budgets and resources?
The pandemic has meant that governments across Asia Pacific are introducing various relief measures for businesses and consumers. This means that banks and financial services providers are grappling with rising customer demand and need to handle this in a customer-friendly and cost-efficient manner. Innovation initiatives here would be helping banks by using analytics and automated software tools to differentiate customers who are genuinely vulnerable, triggering real-time alerts so banks are notified.
What this will translate to is a short-term, results-oriented focus, which is a good thing for organisations to get the outcome that they need and thrive in this context of resource constraint.
I fundamentally believe that innovation teams do very well in periods of constraint because by nature we are put together to make the best of constraints. You maybe see less of the moon shots, and you will see more of things that might be changing short-term tactical gains to an organisation.
If we had to give practical tips, what can a company do to start innovating?
Mohan: The first is to start defining the areas where you want the outcome a little more clearly. As the recession or pandemic plays out, there are places that organisations will require more support and more change. Defining these areas is usually a good precursor to starting the process of innovation. It makes sure that there is an emphasis on the areas you want to see outcome.
Secondly, make sure you’re supporting your senior management team in the process of change management and the challenges ahead. During normal times, it’s easier for an organisation to innovate. Innovation teams and change management exercises will require more organisational effort through this period.
Finally, make sure you’re investing for the future while managing or adjusting to the current phase. We find that in most cases, when organisations have been through a period of recession or lower growth, the ones that have invested in the future have thrived when growth returns.