A Peek Into ADP’s Innovation Lab
Also earlier this Fall, ADP announced plans for a new ADP Innovation Lab at a September 30th event showcasing the company’s latest HCM platforms. The space will be dedicated to technology development and will be located in the Chelsea district, part of New York City’s “Silicon Alley.”
Here’s our interview with Roberto for a first-hand look at driving a business forward through innovation.
We started the innovation lab at ADP in 2010, about two and a half years ago. The idea for the innovation lab was to create a group of talented minds dedicated to research and incubate new technology that we could apply to make our products better and improve the lives of our clients. We wanted this to be something outside of the regular product development process. We brought the idea to executive leaders within the company and with their support, started moving forward with making decisions about how big the group would be and our mission.
We launched the innovation lab with about six people and decided to keep the group small, limited to around twenty people: the idea being to create the lab as a start up with a $10 billion angel investor. By the nature of being small, our innovation lab is more nimble and collaborative. Each member of the team has to play several roles at the same time. We have a flat organizational structure. Every member of the innovation lab team reports to me, which means no managerial hierarchy. Leadership on projects is decided by knowledge of the people working on it. Team members with certain knowledge of a project organically rise as the leader for a particular initiative. It’s the right way to approach it.
What are some of the accomplishments that have come out of the ADP Innovation Lab?
Our most notable accomplishment is the ADP Mobile Solutions App. It’s one of the first projects that came out of the lab and with more than 1 million users in less than two years. We consider it a very important accomplishment for ADP as well as for the innovation lab. Another great accomplishment is that we are speaking at a lot of conferences and developing a strong presence in the outside community. Our synaptic search, another initiative that came out of the innovation lab that allows users to find any person or document in our system, is the subject of many of our talks and industry experts get excited about it.
Can you explain to blog readers what “real world innovation” is?
Real world innovation is innovation that makes the lives of our clients better. It’s consumer-oriented and customer-driven. Everything we do at the innovation lab is designed specifically with our user community in mind. We try to have an outsider view of our initiatives and think like our users. That’s key to everything we do in the innovation lab. The idea is not to do things just because we can do them best, but to do them because it’s really what will benefit the user. As Jeff Bezos says, “We start with the customer and we work backward.” Real world innovation touches the life of our users, with mobile, search and social, making life better.
Tell us what you think about the latest trends in innovation– big data, mobile and social?
These are all initiatives of the innovation lab, keeping in mind our goal is not to have more than 4-5 projects at a time. Mobile is a big one, which I already mentioned. In terms of social, we are working on leveraging social architecture, such as blogging, micro-blogging and leveraging social networks to bring that connectivity into our human capital management processes. Again, we’re not just looking at social for people saying what they had for lunch, we want our social component to be an organic part of our system so that it adds value to what our clients do in human capital management. We realize that social leverages the power of the network and we think it will transform a lot of the ways we do things like recruiting, reporting, benefits, and performance.
Big data is another huge trend. The data behind our global solution today, helps us make decisions about what we should do in the lab. A great example of how we have used big data in the decision making process is in designing the user interface of our ADP mobile app. We analyzed the behavior of users and realized the user typically skips to the last of the detail pages on the app. People wanted to see what they got paid first, so when we updated app, we immediately took users to that page. We are all working very close to our analytics to leverage big data and add value to our clients and make their lives better.
How do you come up with what you will be working on next?
There’s no scientific formula for that. We work closely with product development and try to participate in client visits and listen to what they are saying. The majority or our work just comes from pure research. I scan the news hours at night, just reading. I monitor signals from everywhere. I follow top minds in the world of technology design and big data. We have a lot of connections visiting startups, with the lab being near New York City. We try to spend time with new companies doing interesting things and see how we can plug in and leverage ideas for our business.
You mention that the innovation lab is customer-focused, how do you involve customers in the innovation process?
We start by listening to them. But listening to a customer is just one of the signals. One caveat with that approach is that you end up creating problems if you listen to one customer and not the other. With big data, we have a major advantage. We have a big enough sample of our customers, so we’re listening to the majority. It’s the data telling us there’s a need for a new technology, not just one big client or another. I think it’s important to use a combination of the two approaches to involve customers in the innovation process. I’m a big fan of listening to clients, but adding it to the pile of data input.
How do you recommend organizations cultivate an innovation culture?
Start by having people always asking themselves, “why not?” Encourage the thinking, “Why are we trying this?” or “Why not do it this way?” Really question what the company is doing and what it could be doing to move away from the status quo. We are fortunate to get a lot of support from the top at ADP and that is key to a culture of innovation. Our CEO realized innovation is a critical imperative to our business, which helps us come up with new ideas and challenge us to grow.
How do you drive innovation and keep people interested and involved in generating ideas?
We keep inspiring and generating ideas by hiring the right people to motivate each other. As Steve Jobs said, “We don’t have a process for innovation, we hire good people.” That’s what we do at ADP. It comes down to talent management and recruiting the best thinkers at any organization. We hire people who question, who wonder and who are collaborative. And we offer those employees a nice environment for collaborating with plenty of space for everyone to participate from conception to production and delivery of our latest innovation. They can question every aspect of the process along the way. That’s how we nurture innovation and come up with the best ideas.
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