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How EY is enabling its employees to innovate

So, wait, explain: you work at an “innovation centre”? It might seem extremely vague for some, for others the existence of such a department is an obvious fact. Three years ago, EY Belgium decided to set up its own ‘innovation hub’, called The Factory. This innovation centre enables innovators: ranging from people having their own startup, corporates wanting to innovate, to EY’s own entrepreneurial employees.

Vadim is core member of The Factory’s innovation team focused on enabling innovation within EY. “As an innovation enabler, I look for ways to improve and accelerate our end-to-end processes. It’s crucial that, within the company, we set up campaigns and facilitate innovation workshops.” 


Disrupting from within 

Many big innovative corporations like Google encourage their employees to focus on new ideas and side projects a couple of hours per month. “We take it one step further”, Vadim explains. “As our team is dedicated entirely on innovation within the firm, we lower the threshold for our EY colleagues to come up with innovative ideas.” 

The Factory fosters innovation in multiple steps. Vadim: “By offering an ‘Innovation Journey’ we impart a different mindset while looking into our clients’ and colleagues’ business activities. We train them into innovative thinking by conducting workshops in design thinking, agile and business modelling – to name a few. These innovation workshops give our clients and colleagues the power to think more creatively and out of the box.” 

Design Thinking, an innovation methodology practiced at The Factory

Next to that, The Factory frequently organizes ideation campaigns and brainstorm sessions in order to capture innovative ideas. “Last year, we conducted two innovation campaigns for EY, called ‘The Big Leap’ and ‘Challenge for Good’. These campaigns were focused on capturing our colleagues’ innovative ideas to pre-defined challenges coming from our management. These challenges ranged from finding new client solutions to finding better ways of working during Covid-19. In February 2020, we were still able to let our EY Belgium colleagues pitch their best ideas live at the wavespace in Antwerp. When the pandemic swept in, our team adapted to the ‘new normal’ and facilitated virtual brainstorm sessions. This way we connected colleagues from Tunisia, The Netherlands, Luxemburg, France, etc. It was eye-opening to see how many colleagues were eager to ideate for Good.”  

The Challenge for Good campaign within EY challenged employees to find innovative solutions for people, clients and society during the pandemic.

The Factory team is currently realizing the ideas of 7 business innovators who won the respective challenges in these initiatives.  

Market-ready solutions 

Creativity, the ability to generate novel and useful ideas, is the seed of innovation. However, without the right application and ability to scale, it’s just remains an idea. With the help of innovation workshops and campaigns, great ideas can be captured. The main goal, however, is to ultimately transform the better viable idea’s into market-ready solutions. Thus, helping EY’s clients become more future-proof and, hopefully, disrupt the market. 
It’s important is to start small, test out a business case with as few resources as possible and gather feedback. Think of The Factory as a ‘venture builder’ inside a corporation. It guides you from learning and capturing ideas, to drafting business plans, validating viability, feasibility, desirability, building prototypes and ultimately launching the products in a lean way into the market, while applying all best practices.  

“We’re creating minimum viable products – while pivoting if needed – using the strengths of our multidisciplinary team, consisting of developers, designers, business people and marketeers.” Vadim says. 

EY colleagues can be startup founders within the firm, call them EY intrapreneurs. From drafting a business plan to developing a first prototype. “Our colleagues’ solutions are mostly optimizations of processes, but they can even be new, disrupting services for our clients”, Vadim states. 

10 innovative ideas were pitched at the wavespace in Antwerp, in February 2020.

Innovation, a buzz word? 

“Often people talk about innovation as mere tools and technology. These are of course part of the puzzle. I think it’s important to remember that making changes at a cultural and organizational level precede the fancy technologies and products. We not only focus on the product but also on the mindset. At The Factory, we don’t see ourselves as ‘the innovators’, we are innovation enablers, helping others to find and build their innovation track. 

Photo taken February 2020, during The Big Pitch.

We always need to keep looking at ourselves from a critical point of view. We must challenge ourselves, renew ourselves, in order to foresee that, as a Big Four, we’re not lacking behind. This mindset is something every company should have, and that’s why our team is here to enable this way of thinking”, Vadim says. 

“The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else” – Eric Ries 

Discover more about innovation @ EY here.

Click here to enter the EY space for intrapreneurs (EY access only).