Real Innovation Culture with Eric Conway, BearingPoint

Instead of bandying it about as a term, BearingPoint has made innovation a core part of its identity by both thoroughly involving its people and developing its own intellectual property and unique methodologies and techniques.

The term ‘innovation’ is becoming more and more common in how companies describe themselves, how they work and what they offer to their customers. For Eric Conway, Partner and outgoing Country Leader for Ireland at BearingPoint, it’s actually becoming an irritant. “People just throw in words such as innovation, change and digital transformation for sport, when they don’t really know what real innovation is, how to promote it, measure it or track the benefits,” he says.

“Often innovation is not the idea, it is the technique to get there. An obvious example is looking at the internal operations and functions of a well-established organisation and asking them to consider how a new, rapidly growing technology firm would and does perform the same tasks. The established firms have much to learn from new companies that were able to design processes with a blank canvas, allowing for new technologies and fewer barriers based on their ‘this is how we do’ attitude.”

Employing over 4,300 people globally, and 300 in Ireland, BearingPoint is an independent management and technology consultancy with European roots and global reach. Its clients include many of the world’s leading companies and government organisations.

Led by Conway, the senior management team at BearingPoint in Ireland has made a conscious effort to create a culture and environment that allows for continuous improvement – which is essentially the backbone of its approach to driving innovation.

“Every now and then you will completely innovate and change and improve how an activity, process, technology or product is created or delivered. However, most of the time you’re just trying to figure out how to make significant continuous improvements that justify the ways you’re working and the fact you’re breaking tradition, questioning the norm and not accepting that what you’re improving is already optimised,” Conway explains.

BearingPoint goes about creating the ideal environment and culture to support this in various ways. Teams are given the headspace to think, explore, debate and reflect without predetermined outcomes being forced.

“It is not a case that ‘no idea is a bad idea’, it is more that we allow staff the airtime to express their thoughts, ideas and opinions. We value everyone’s input and encourage participation,” says Conway.

“We don’t just listen to ‘the expert’ or accept ‘if it’s not broken don’t fix it’. We promote diversity and alternative thinking. Quite often, we add people to a project that have less knowledge on a given topic, process or industry to bring a perspective from another angle.”

BearingPoint measures, quantifies and rewards innovation. Its people are encouraged to get involved in communities of interest, innovation workshops and idea generation sessions. For example, it runs monthly ‘shark tank’ innovation forums where teams work together to come up with an improvement that can be used internally or for clients, or to suggest a new product or service.

“We select and reward the winners, bring the new ideas to market and seek feedback from staff on a very regular basis,” says Conway. “It’s one thing to talk about innovation, but it works a lot better if your staff are familiar with the use of modern techniques to facilitate it. Most of our staff are more than comfortable with techniques such as design sprint, design thinking and Lightning Decision Jam.”

Intellectual Property Push

Around ten years ago, BearingPoint got serious about intellectual property (IP) and progressing its innovations into software products. It has a dedicated business unit called BearingPoint Business Services (BBS), which is focused on the creation of new IP, software products, solutions and technology accelerators. Ireland has recently been added as the firm’s fourth centre of excellence for technology IP development.

Having its own IP and a catalogue of technology enablers has changed the game for the firm, according to Conway. “Not only has this made us more creative and ambitious in nature and mindset, it has also allowed us to differentiate from our competitors,” he explains. “Across the firm we have seen double-digit growth in all of our metrics in the past five years. The Dublin practice is no exception where we have over ten customers in Ireland using our international RegTech software, for example.”

In the BBS unit, BearingPoint has around 25 software solutions with typically 10 to 200 customers each. First created over ten years ago, the Emission Calculator solution is part of this suite of products. It allows an organisation to calculate, report and model all of its carbon footprint in the full life cycle of a product or all carbon emissions related to business activities such as travel or supply chain. The tracking can be done right down to every minor component of a product where the customer can model changes and adjustments in real time on an advanced analytic user interface.
Implemented by some of the best-known global brands that are leading the charge in sustainability innovation, such as Ikea and Nike, the Emission Calculator has really taken off across Europe. BearingPoint is now starting to position it in Ireland with a local team recently trained up and educating the target market here.

“The product meets the new EU regulations for carbon calculations. Therefore, in Ireland we are working to make the solution a utility where multiple companies can use it to centrally report and present summary reports to regulatory authorities,” says Conway.

“The Emission Calculator is a unique offering in the market. There is no other solution that provides the same range of functionality. Other well-known software firms are now starting to develop pilot solutions for sustainability and carbon emissions management but have some way to go.”

Embracing the Future

Looking ahead, BearingPoint plans to continue to grow its presence in each of the 23 countries it operates in, in particular China and the US, and to expand into a select number of new countries. On 1 January, Conway took on the role of Regional Leader at BearingPoint, with responsibility for seven of the firm’s well-established European countries: Ireland, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK.

“While BearingPoint is quite progressive in terms of knowledge and people sharing from one country to the next, my ambition is to further align the seven countries and continue to improve collaboration. Since Covid-19, our customers are starting to place less of an emphasis on having our consultants onsite and in the room. This means it is far more acceptable and welcome to engage people from other BearingPoint countries,” he says.

When Conway took over the management of the Irish practice over three years ago, he had a genuine ambition to make it the best possible place to work for the staff. An example of this in action was during the Covid-19 lockdown, when the firm really turned up its focus on staff wellbeing. In addition to sending all employees items such as new desks, chairs, monitors and hampers, it started activities including online cooking classes, Zumba classes and boxercise fitness sessions.

“The boxercise was a bit special as we made it available to staff in all 23 countries and engaged professional boxing and health and wellbeing coach Eric Donovan to take the classes. It was pretty cool and motivating to complete three months of lunchtime fitness classes with Eric and then watch him fight live on Sky Sports Box Office with BearingPoint’s brand on his gear,” says Conway.

Donovan has since become BearingPoint’s official ‘Health and Wellbeing Brand Ambassador’. Conway notes: “Eric’s focus on continuous improvement, ambition, innovation, hard work and honesty match very well with our values, ways of working and inclusive mindset.”