Equifax Innovation Leader Jeff Anop Shares Why Innovators Need Openness

Equifax Innovation Leader Jeff Anop has spent more than a decade in corporate innovation. We recently talked to this innovation veteran about how the priorities of corporate innovators have changed, the challenges and opportunities facing intrapreneurs and how the industry will change in the coming years.

Enterprise Innovation: What was the role of corporate innovators 10 years ago?

Jeff Anop: When I first started in corporate innovation at Autotrader.com, our goals were simple: to get the organization to focus on new technology. Specifically, we were tasked with tracking what was happening within the “Internet space,” so that the company could get ahead of burgeoning trends and maintain a competitive advantage. Our work included a lot of tasks that are commonplace today, like SEO. In fact, one of the biggest highlights of my time at Cox was successfully optimizing the Autotrader website for organic search. Today, organic search optimization is a no brainer for any company that has a web presence — large or small — and there is usually a vendor involved to support this critical effort.

What are some ways in which corporate innovation has evolved?

Over time, corporate innovation teams have become much more strategic and less tactical. Today, many corporate innovators are tasked to discover and frame what transformational revenue opportunities exist to move the company forward. The gaze of innovators is also much wider and not just focused internally. These opportunities could derive from partnerships, acquisitions, or in-house innovation teams and labs. Corporate innovators are held accountable by the C-Suite and Board of Directors to recommend unique and differentiated ways to positively affect the bottom line.

What fears or challenges are driving investment in corporate innovation?

The pace of change is quickening: consumers are changing and markets are adjusting. Corporate leaders are concerned about tech startups or smaller companies adjusting faster to market opportunities. With the interest in entrepreneurship at an all time high and the barrier to entry for launching a company at an all-time low, new companies are constantly looking to disrupt the status quo exist. Therefore, one of the primary functions of my innovation team, and others, is to keep up with all the startups influencing the industries and people that we serve. It is essential for us to monitor what startups are doing and to understand what market needs or problems that they are trying to solve. By keeping a close eye on the startup community, we can make early decisions on partnerships; investments and even acquisitions that our customers will deem necessary for us to continue to provide value to them.

Can corporations work at the fast-pace needed to innovate?

Yes, they can. Often times the stigma of corporations being too slow to innovate is well-deserved. With thousands of clients and stakeholders to serve, corporations have much more to lose than a scrappy startup does; which is why larger companies are traditionally risk-averse. However, corporate innovators are working hard to educate larger corporations about the very real risks of acting too slowly to innovate. Whether it’s digital transformation initiatives for internal benefit or technology advancements for our customers, we risk losing to startups and other enterprises if we are too slow to embrace innovation. It’s simple; we need to be able to compete, and we are making progress in showing the importance and ROI of innovation expedience.

How can corporate innovation continue to mature and prosper?

I believe, in order for corporate innovation teams to succeed, a culture of openness must proliferate throughout the organization. There must be an openness to challenge existing norms, some of which have existed for decades. There must be an openness to form partnerships with companies that just a few years ago would not have been considered. There must be an openness to reflect on what the market is telling us, and retreat from the strategy of telling the market what and how they should be thinking and acting.

In the years to come, openness will become even more core to how companies do business. Innovation and partnerships will merge together to have strategic innovation. Companies that will win are companies that will work well with other companies. If you can partner with one company and create something unique, you have a defendable position. Corporations stuck in their own worlds will miss something big, and it will cost them immensely. The work of innovators is just beginning, and corporations have tremendous opportunities if they listen and act.

This interview was originally published on Enterprise Innovation, a leading publication for corporate innovation profiles, news and insights.