Making the ROI Case for Digital Innovation Tools

By Alex Slawsby |  September 23, 2020

In early 2019, Maritz Global Events asked Amy Kramer to build an innovation, experimentation, and acceleration practice. Amy accepted the position and by early this year, her practice had begun to deliver results. And then the pandemic decimated the global events business.

When InnoLead connected with Kramer for an update, she shared with us the Executive Dashboard structure she uses to clearly communicate the value her team is creating in the current climate. “The Dashboard describes the progress we’ve made since we started. It looks at the investment that’s had to go into our activities, including into myself and any tools that we use. It also presents the return we’ve gotten already from some projects.” Amy went on to explain that the qualitative and quantitative data the Dashboard presents helps her easily justify the focused investment she seeks. 

Kramer is Maritz Global Events’ Market and Product InnoLead. We spoke with Kramer as part of our research report, “Digitizing the Innovation Team.” Edited highlights from the conversation are below.

What has it been like to lead innovation within an events business during the current crisis?

About 18 months ago, I accepted this role to build a practice for innovation, experimentation, and acceleration within Maritz Global Events. It took me a little under nine months to really understand the organization, build out some initial processes and frameworks and to start aggressively planning a pipeline. I then spent the greater part of last year accelerating things and identifying new opportunities to pursue. So, fortunately, when the pandemic happened, we were able to pivot pretty quickly because we were already thinking a lot about digital opportunities and we also had a pipeline of digital things in development.

Now, unfortunately, our whole business is based on face to face events and the pandemic hit us and everyone else in the travel and hospitality industry. We’re very fortunate because Maritz has been around for 125 years, and we’re very stable financially. It’s therefore been really important that we focus our innovation activities on developing new digital event solutions that we can provide in the short-term and also on activities to make sure we’re well positioned when demand for face-to-face events begins to rebound. For example, we’re now hosting hybrid meeting models where a small group gets together face-to-face, and we broadcast that meeting to different regions of the world at different times. I’m also leading an initiative called “Plan Well, Meet Well” where we look at ways to improve safety and security through all aspects of the face-to-face event experience. 

How are you using digital tools and platforms to help generate these new ideas and insights?

We’re using an innovation-focused SAAS platform to crowdsource ideas, a general purpose tool to manage the project pipeline, and we also developed our own toolkit to help people profile and structure new idea submissions. I know that there are additional features in the SAAS platform that we’ve yet to use and we’ll likely get into them as I enable more people in the organization to take ownership of different parts of the innovation process. I also know that there are probably other innovation-focused tools out there that could help us, but we’re just moving so fast that it’s easier to build some things ourselves.

You’re using an innovation-focused tool, some general purpose tools and also a toolkit that you created. How do you think about assessing the ROI of each?

So I’ve created what I call my Executive Dashboard. The Dashboard describes the progress we’ve made since we started. It looks at the investment that’s had to go into our activities, including into myself and any tools that we use. It also presents the return we’ve gotten already from some projects. I’ve organized it into three categories – innovation culture, engagement, and pipeline. 

The first category is focused on the progress we’re making to create a culture of innovation within the company. When I joined two years ago, I wanted to have a benchmark for how people feel about innovation in the company. We asked basic questions on things like perception of how innovative the company is and also if people feel rewarded for supporting innovation. For the past two years, we’ve been asking those questions again to measure if there’s been an improvement over the baseline. I also survey our clients to understand how they feel about our innovation activities and if the innovation we’re sharing with them is changing their perspective. 

The second category is focused on engagement and in particular, use of our SAAS tool. We track things like how many innovation challenges we’re running, how many people are participating and voting and commenting and then how that changes over time.

Finally, the third category is focused on our pipeline and describes things like how many ideas are submitted and vetted and validated, how many projects are in the pipeline, how many of them are incremental, adjacent, or transformational, how many of those ideas actually go on to launch and then how many produce revenue over time. 

That’s a very comprehensive approach. How has that helped you get support from senior management?

Well, it’s research leading to data-driven insight that makes the case for us. I also try to act very much like a startup that doesn’t need very much investment to show results. We sketch things on napkins and show them to clients. Even if we don’t have a fully baked concept, we’re building credibility just by bringing ideas to them. When they hear that we’re in the business of constantly pushing things forward and trying new things, they want to partner with us even more because we’re on the leading edge – we’re not just offering them the same old stuff. So management gives us the space to shift and pivot as needed because we’re not asking for much and what we are asking for, we’re showing both qualitatively and quantitatively just how much value we can create with it.