Reengineer — The business for success. Pivot the business for continued success. Optimize the existing product and services mix and business operations, leveraging technology or alternate operations and talent models. Determine additional service offerings to provide consumers, and opportunities to move to a recurring revenue model. To grow revenues, align and optimize the sales force, customer support, and marketing teams. Today, leadership has three additional options for growth: build, buy, or form strategic alliances. Ensure that the right talent is in place. Hire the right talent, and/or educate/upskill the existing talent. Finally determine if there are ways to disrupt the business before an external competitor does so and execute on it.
As part of my series about the “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nita Sanger, the CEO of Idea Innovate Consulting, with over 20 years of experience in in guiding businesses to transform themselves for growth during market uncertainty, driven by changing customer needs, the regulatory environment, entry of non-traditional competitors and disruptive technologies. Nita has successfully transformed large complex regulated global businesses in financial, professional, and legal services. Nita has also worked with well-funded start-ups, as a member of their C-suite, to guide them to grow their business revenues and improve operations, and with PE firms to optimize the performance of companies in their portfolio. She brings domain expertise in the application of various technologies to transform the business, i.e., Artificial Intelligence/Cognitive, Internet of Things, Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding, Analytics, Blockchain, etc.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I grew up in India, and was lucky to have lived, studied and worked in multiple countries before coming to the US to go to business school. I believe my global experiences during my formative years played a key role in shaping my perspective as they provided me with insights into how various parts of the world operate, an understanding of cultural differences, and knowledge of business best practices from around the world. These experiences helped me as I worked with various leading global financial institutions and services businesses, and global teams, to innovate and grow for continued market success. Having gained the experience and confidence, after successfully innovating and transforming several large global businesses I started Idea Innovate Consulting, to guide smaller companies to innovate and grow, and advise PE firms on how to improve the performance of companies in their portfolio.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
One of the funniest mistakes (which was mortifying at that time) happened at the beginning of my consulting career. My firm had been brought in to transform the investment banking division of a large well reputed investment bank. I was still learning how the busines world operated in the U.S. The investment banking partner was talking about a recently held football game, discussing his favorite team and its performance. I did not realize that American football, is different from football in the rest of the world (football is called soccer in the U.S). I made some remarks about a recent soccer game that I had watched and was totally out of line with the discussion and made me come across as ignorant. After I made the comment, my partner quickly stepped in and covered up my lack of knowledge of American football. We then moved on to the presentation, but I realized that my credibility had been somewhat diminished in the eyes of the banker because I was unable to discuss American football with him. What this experience taught me was that it is critical to understand the cultural nuances of the people who you are working with, and it can be an effective way to build a personal rapport, which translates into a stronger working relationship. After that I always made it a point to do my homework on the background of the person/people I was going work with.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Yes, I have been lucky to have many great leaders guide and help me. The one I would like to talk about is the CEO of the Global Audit business at Deloitte, who gave me the authority and the responsibility to transform the business. He was a true visionary and recognized that the business needed to change drastically if it was going to continue to be profitable. As we were driving change across the organization, he pushed me and the team, to be bolder and think about how we could disrupt the business before an outside firm came and disrupted us. He showed me what a true leader should be, by being bold in his vision, giving the necessary funding, air cover, and the authority and responsibility to drive the change. In many ways, he set the benchmark for what a great leader needs to look like.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
When I started my company, my goal was to help smaller companies transform themselves for growth, by leveraging my years of experience gained at transforming large complex global businesses and sharing the benefit of my knowledge and expertise with those that may not be able to afford the costs of larger expensive consulting firms or bring on someone with my years of experience as a full time C-suite hire.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?
My business provides strategic advice and tactical execution to businesses to optimize their go-to-market strategy, grow revenues and optimize business models. We initially conduct a business and market assessment, including understanding hanging customer needs. We then overlay that with the current business model at the firm, and make recommendations to transform the business for success. Once the leadership approves of our initial assessment, we work with them to execute on the transformation.
Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
The key to realize is that disruptive technologies are the enabler, not the driver of change. Technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Natural Language Processing (NLP), Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR), Blockchain, Big Data, Analytics, etc., are converging and changing how people are accessing and using information, and what they are looking for from their service providers. All these technologies have impacted services businesses that I have been involved in, such as Financial and Professional services, i.e. consulting, auditing, accounting, risk advisory, and legal:
- In Financial services, and specially in consumer banking, customers are now looking for a more customized, user-friendly and one-stop shopping experiences. They are also comfortable using technology and non-traditional providers for their financial needs. As a result, many fintech’s focusing on meeting individual needs such as payments, loans, etc. Retailers are also evolving this business models, to make payments for their products and services much easier, which could potentially disintermediate banks, i.e. Starbucks, Walmart, Amazon, etc. In addition, technology companies such as Apple and Google, with deep pockets and technology expertise, are also getting into providing financial services, to better own the customer end-to-end. This has resulted in a traditional financial institutions, banks, and credit card companies, facing disruption, and struggling to innovate and transform their business models.
- For services businesses, which have historically been knowledge and talent driven, and usually charge the end user by the hour, technologies have come in that can significantly increase the efficiency of the repetitive tasks, making the service provider more efficient, while reducing the overall costs for the buyer. Hence there has been a huge increase of technology solutions for tax, accounting, audits, analytics, legal services, etc. This has resulted in a split of services, between the value-added service/advise and the rest of the tasks performed by the provider. Each provider has to identify the true value they bring to their customer, for e.g. lawyers provide legal advice, auditors provide insights on the financial health of the company to help the management run the business more effectively, etc. Everything else that is non-essential to the core value of the service, has the potential to be automated, outsourced or sent out as a managed service. This is where technology providers are coming in to disrupt the business. Most service providers are struggling to deal with the disruption, as they are being pushed to improve efficiency, which directly impacts how much they can charge their clients.
What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?
Any business pivot needs to focus on meeting the changing needs of the customer more effectively. I will share how I helped a large incumbent pivot to deal with disruption. We used a three phased approach:
- Innovate the core business — We understood the current business process, and customer journey map, and identified where there was potential to leverage technology to improve efficiency and effectiveness, focusing on the 80/20 rule (20% of the tasks that took up 80% of the time). For each of the tasks we identified potential technology start-ups to collaborate with to create a solution to automate/optimize the task. This required agile experimentation, creating a minimum viable product, testing, iterating, piloting and then rolling out the solution across the network.
- Identify adjacent sources of revenues — We examined the changing needs of the end-user, identifying adjacent services we could provide the consumer, and then developed those services.
- Disrupt the business — We Identified how someone from the outside, with no knowledge of the business, would approach disrupting the business, and then created a start-up to disrupt the business.
Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.
I think it was the foresight of the leader to push us to be bold that started us down this path. Then we brough together futurists who had seen disruption in other businesses with innovators in the firm and the industry to help us map the new approach for the firm’s business and created global cross-functional teams to execute on the pivot.
So, how are things going with this new direction?
This approach was extremely successful and has helped the firm continue to grow revenues and stay ahead of competitors.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?
I think the role of the leader is the most critical element of success during a disruptive period. The leader needs to be able to recognize the need for change, and then be willing to take the necessary bold steps to drive change and set the “tone at the top” regarding the importance of change across the entire firm. The key is to realize that change will require time and investments, and results will not be immediate. The leader needs to make sure that he/she brings on the right talent to drive the business transformation, who is viewed as the execution arm of the CEO, while being viewed as a partner to the other leaders in the firm, to help them be successful.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
The key is communication. Business uncertainty and change is hard to deal with. The leadership needs to communicate with the team what they are doing and make the team part of the solution. The key to remember is that transformation is about people. Treat the talent in the organization as partners and customers. They are partners in the transformation journey, as they are closest to the business, bring deep insights into processes, recognize pain-points, and can often provide solutions. They are also the customers, who will use the new processes, tools, and technologies and will ultimately drive the success (or failure) of the transformation efforts.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
The number one principle that can help guide the company through ups and downs during turbulent times is recognizing that talent will be the key differentiator that determines the success (or failure) of the business. The C-suite needs to make sure that they bring on the right talent and then provide them with the opportunities, funding, authority, and responsibility to help drive the change.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
The most common mistakes that people make with disruptive technologies are:
- Leading with the technology. Instead, the business needs to determine the problem it is solving for and then identify the right technology to solve the problem.
- Not paying attention to or understanding the legal, risk and regulatory implications of the technology upfront. If this is not done in a timely fashion, it could result in significant delays in going-to-market or being used in the business.
- Overestimating what the technology will be able to do for the business, while underestimating the time, effort and cost it will take to develop, roll-out and adopt solutions that the business can leverage with the technologies. This often results in firms spending a lot but not getting the cost or revenue benefits they expect.
- Being unwilling to make the hard decision, to stop working on technology products and solutions that do not meet the desired business/revenue metrics.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.
The five most important thing a leader needs to do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies are what I call the “5 R approach”
- Recognize — The need for a pivot or change. Most often the business will see the symptoms of the problem such as declining revenues, flat margins, loss of customers, etc. The key is to recognize that a change is required to the business model or the go-to-market strategy.
- Reexamine — The external business environment. Identify if there are shifts in customer needs, competitive landscape, regulatory environment, new technologies, etc., and their impact.
- Reassess — The internal operations and go-to-market strategy. Examine product/service offerings, including the technology to develop and support them, go-to-market strategy (customers, sales channels, sales team, products/services), business operations, and talent skills and capabilities, to determine the changes that need to be made to meet the changing customer needs and drive continued revenue growth.
- Reengineer — The business for success. Pivot the business for continued success. Optimize the existing product and services mix and business operations, leveraging technology or alternate operations and talent models. Determine additional service offerings to provide consumers, and opportunities to move to a recurring revenue model. To grow revenues, align and optimize the sales force, customer support, and marketing teams. Today, leadership has three additional options for growth: build, buy, or form strategic alliances. Ensure that the right talent is in place. Hire the right talent, and/or educate/upskill the existing talent. Finally determine if there are ways to disrupt the business before an external competitor does so and execute on it.
- Repeat — The analysis at frequent intervals.Given that the market is changing constantly changing, conduct this analysis at frequent intervals and continue to evolve the business models and go-to-market strategies to deal with disruptive technologies and trends.
Happy to provide more details on this if needed.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote, is from a Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, “change is the only constant.” This has been relevant throughout my professional career but has become even more critical during the past 8 to 10 years, especially as I increased my focus on innovation, transformation and disruption. The advent of new technologies, their convergence and innovative uses, has only accelerated the pace of change. People and businesses that tend to be successful are those have the ability to adapt to change.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Readers can go to my LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nita-sanger/ and read my various articles or go to my website at https://ideainnovate.com/reports-tools/ for my articles, media appearances, etc.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!