The theme of this year’s IABC World Conference held in New Orleans was Rise: Innovation in Global Communications. As the industry’s largest international conference, it speaks volumes about how the role of internal communications has evolved. No longer happy to be order takers that ‘just send stuff out’, internal communicators strive to be more strategic and innovative in their approach to employee communications.
At Newsweaver we take innovation seriously, not just in the technology that we create but in the way we work as a company and in teams. In this blog post, Kevin Duggan, engineering team lead, will take you through his team’s approach to innovation and what it means to him.
Ideas vs Innovation
Everyone loves innovation. Everyone loves hearing about great ideas (especially their own great ideas!). Who hasn’t heard the phrase “I’ve got a brilliant idea for an app”? As a developer I must have heard it a hundred times, followed by the person guaranteeing me that we will both be rich. Simple right? But real product innovation is not so easy. Innovation takes a real commitment to your customers and investment in your people.
At Newsweaver we are committed to Internal Communicators (IC). This focus gives us a real insight into, and empathy for, the problems that IC face and all decisions around our product vision and direction follow on from this. This focus, along with our emphasis on innovation through technology and engineering has led us to develop a unique suite of tools. Tools that, simply put, allow IC to do their job better.
Through close collaboration and interaction with our customers, by going out, talking with them, getting their insight and feedback, we build up a very strong backlog of product features. Seperately, as a company we strongly believe in the power of our own people. Investment in research time for our staff and all day hackathons further adds to our pool of awesome ideas. Popular features such as targeted content and sends, and personalised emails have come out of this process. But this abundance of ideas and innovation poses its own problem, a good problem but a problem none the less. You cannot and should not build everything.
Data Driven = Value Driven
As a developer there is nothing worse than spending a year of your life on a project or product that sounded like a great idea but is just not the right fit for your customer. We offset the risk of this happening by spending time and effort up front identifying the measurable goals we want to to achieve and then delivering incremental releases (all the while examining and reevaluating) until our goals are achieved.
This data driven approach we apply is as follows:
- Take a feature/idea and validate it with customers
- Identify signal metrics and define goals that would indicate the success of the feature or confirm our assumptions of why the idea was a valuable one
- Develop a minimal viable product
- Release this to a subset of customers
- Collect and analyze metrics to see if feature goals were reached
- If not then we do not proceed further with the idea
- If a level of success is achieved then we iterate again, refining the idea but always using the data to back up any decisions we make
Taking a data driven product development approach in Newsweaver gives us the best possible chance of delivering real value to our customers. It has a knock on effect of creating a really engaged and motivated team here. Creating great software that engages your end user it what we all are passionate about.
One application of this approach is our new Cross-Channel Analytics product. From our conversations with IC we saw a common theme emerging. Internal communicators create and deliver content across an ever increasing number of digital channels (email, intranet, video, chat, etc) with no real insight into the value they were delivering for their customers (the business and its employees). Would a data driven approach work here too? Well, that led us to deliver a first of its kind product that provides indepth and accurate analytics for IC.
Using measurement to inform editorial decisions, improve results, and prove the value of communications means that ICs can deliver more value to the organization. Furthermore ICs will feel more engaged in their work as they are no longer pushing content out into the unknown. Using Cross-Channel Analytics, they receive fast feedback on the success or otherwise of their efforts allowing them to incrementally improve their performance.
Delivering this product really pushed us to innovate as a team. Previously, we were able to provide measurement on interactions with email, now we provide analytics across the primary digital channels – intranet, video, email, social, etc. This represents a huge increase in the volume of data that we have to collect, process and display. As a team, we have worked to showcase these results in a way that makes sense to the IC user.
This process led us to develop entirely new, cutting edge software built on a technology stack that includes Cassandra, Spark, Kafka and Kubernetes (used by the likes of Netflix, Twitter and Facebook). This stack gives us the scalability, flexibility and performance required to handle, process and present all this data to Internal Communicators.
We also adopted new approaches to organizing teams and planning development projects. Having small, cross functional teams with a high level of autonomy, and utilising techniques such as Microservices, Continuous Delivery and Kanban has allowed us to rapidly iterate on and deliver features. From at team leader point of view, these innovative ways of working have resulted in a very focused and engaged team of people who enjoy their work.
From a product point of view, when dealing with big data, it can seem overwhelming. It provides us with an abundance of possibilities. Luckily through working closely with our customers and adopting a data driven approach as outlined previously we are able to focus our time and effort into calculating metrics and delivering reports that provide real value to our IC customers.
As a result our users are provided with new levels of visibility into the value of their efforts, from knowing the overall reach of their campaigns, to the having ability to drill down into content performance and engagement by channel and segment (country, department etc). This level of immediate actionable insight is a world away from the manual and time consuming process of compiling ad-hoc reports in excel from multiple different data sources and trying to process and make sense of the figures. Using the new metrics at their disposal ICs can now target employee groups that are least engaged, identify what are the best channels to use for which type of communications, and work out which type of content works best on which channels.
Everyone loves ideas and in the presence of too many options, it is easy to get overwhelmed into inaction. Worse still you could develop frustration when you find out you have invested too much in an idea whose basis turned out to be wrong. I have seen on my team the freedom it gives to explore new ideas and innovate and how this process ends up with a product that is a better fit for our end users. We hope our Cross-Channel Analytics product will provide ICs with the same level of engagement in their work and end up with content and campaigns that are more effective and deliver greater value.