From megatrends to micro-trends, trends are one of the hottest topics in business and society today. And there’s good reason. By monitoring and analyzing them, people and organizations hope to gain the intelligence to navigate change in a disruptive world.
After taking a look at the most topical types of trends, we share a conversation captured in the Wolters Kluwer’s first Executive Insights podcast. In this podcast, Nancy McKinstry, Wolters Kluwer CEO, speaks with Michael Cleary, Vice President of Product Solutions in the company’s Global Platform Organization (GPO) - which co-creates state-of-the-art digital solutions with company businesses around the world - on the three structural trends directly impacting our own customers, and how the company is positioned to respond. Ultimately, these trends are helping drive the ongoing transformation of Wolters Kluwer towards an ‘expert solutions’ company.
From analysts such as Forrester and Gartner, the Big Three and Big Four, through design consultancies such as Frog, to Ray Kurzweil and other noted futurists - everyone is talking about trends nowadays, including:
- Megatrends. These are the great forces in societal development very likely to affect all aspects of society over the next 10-15 years. They include our knowledge on globalization, the ageing world population, global mobility, accelerating flows of data, and the pace of technological change.
- Business trends. These are the explorations into future movements in specific sectors and industries: information technology, industrial manufacturing, fintech, healthcare, accounting, and corporate governance. They tend to focus on a period of 1-5 years.
- Professional trends. These trends are focused on specific disciplines: leadership development, digital marketing and content marketing. Typically published annually, they are often used as marketing tools
- Consumer trends. These explore the needs and preferences of consumers. Also often published annually, these are popular with professionals looking to design better products, services, and brand and marketing strategies.
So, why are trends so topical?
Sense-making and decision-making
“Disruption is everywhere and the future is uncertain — no one knows what the world will look like even a decade from now” — Uschi Schreiber, EY Global Vice Chair
The notion of ‘disruption’ has become commonplace in business. As the speed of technological, societal and geopolitical change shows little sign of slowing, most companies know they must innovate to stay relevant.
But in order to innovate, companies need to gain intelligence on future opportunities, threats and potential disruptions, at global and local levels.
By monitoring and analyzing trends, companies hope to manage complexity and navigate change. By identifying past, present and future patterns in data and information, they hope to make more sense of their current environment, and better informed decisions moving forwards:
- By analyzing business and consumer trends, companies hope to gain deeper insight into customer’s current context and future needs
- By analyzing competitive and technology trends, companies hope to identify innovation risks and opportunities for their product and service portfolios
- By analyzing organizational design, business process management and workforce trends companies hope to re-design their operations to become more productive.
All of these are important to Wolters Kluwer. However, there are three structural trends in particular—persistent patterns our leadership has observed over the past few years—which are directly impacting our customers.
Down below we take a look at those three trends.
Tackling the Big Three Trends
Nancy McKinstry and Michael Cleary meet for the recording of the first Wolters Kluwer Global Insights podcast
Drawing on her experience from talking to the company’s leaders and customers over the past years, Nancy identifies three structural trends directly affecting Wolters Kluwer’s customers and, as a result, the development of the company’s portfolio, and strategic direction in Growing Our Value. Those trends are:
- The professional’s outcome and productivity challenge;
- Increasing volume and complexity of data and information;
- The pace of technological change and rise of artificial intelligence (AI)
Let's take a look at each one in turn.
1. The professional’s outcome and productivity challenge
“Almost every customer I talk with is under constant pressure to improve both outcomes, and productivity” — Nancy McKinstry
The pressure on professionals to improve outcomes and productivity is apparent across all four of the company’s divisions. But when it comes to healthcare, it could be argued the stakes are even higher. Mitch Higashi, GE Healthcare’s Chief Economist sees improving outcomes and productivity as ‘the next frontiers in healthcare innovation’.
In this interview, Dr. Denise Basow, CEO of Clinical Effectiveness at Wolters Kluwer Health shares a similar sentiment. She describes the challenge of providing actionable content - quickly and effectively - to a busy physician directly at the point of care. In this context, an improvement in outcomes can be critical.
Under her leadership, Wolters Kluwer’s UpToDate® solves that challenge. The best studied CDS (clinical decision support) resource in the world today, UpToDate is the only resource of its kind associated with improving outcomes.
To give an idea of its impact: researchers at Singapore’s National University hospital found that bedside use of UpToDate led to a change in investigation, diagnosis, or management 37% of the time. And, in 2016 alone, more than 130 million decisions were changed by health practitioners worldwide using UpToDate.
On the professional’s productivity challenge, Michael and Nancy observe that across all the company’s markets, workflows have become more complex. Customers are looking to simplify their work, and automate it wherever possible. “By taking steps out of the workflow” says Nancy, “you improve productivity”.
As you would expect, this focus on workflow optimization is apparent throughout the company’s portfolio: from CCH Axcess™ and ProSystem fx® in Tax & Accounting, ELM Solutions in Governance, Risk & Compliance, through to Cheetah in Legal & Regulatory, to name just a few.
However, this is not all. As companies in many industries begin advanced digital transformations in search of intelligent operations, workflows need to be further integrated across and between functions, disparate systems and geographies.
As a result, as Nancy describes, the company’s strategic focus in the coming years is not just on delivering single products, but rather, portfolios, or suites of products - delivered on global platforms - that address customers’ entire workflows.
2. Dealing with data and complexity
“Any time there is change or complexity that is good for a company such as Wolters Kluwer because it allows us to reach out to our customers and inform them, and help them navigate through that change or complexity”—Kevin Entricken, Wolters Kluwer CFO, interviewed on CNBC, April 2017
More data has been created in the past two years than in the history of the human race. By 2020, around 1.7 megabytes of new information will be created every second, for every human being on the planet. However, these statistics tell only part of the story. Nancy and Michael see it on a daily basis in their roles at Wolters Kluwer. “There’s a huge increase in the volume of both information and regulatory complexity in today’s world,” says Nancy. “Our customers are contending with this every day.”
As you may imagine, Wolters Kluwer offers a comprehensive portfolio of information and workflow solutions that help customers with the heavy lifting of data and information head on. Just two examples include CCH IntelliConnect, CCH AnswerConnect. Specializing in complex international tax planning, compliance and HR issues, these products integrate world-class research and tools to enable the comparison of tax situations across multiple international jurisdictions and alert customers’ clients about tax impacts, well before they get this information from another source.
Still, as Michael notes, current changes impacting law and taxes in the US, elections in Europe, Brexit—all of these suggest that the volume and complexity of data and information is set to continue, if not increase. So how is the company positioned to respond to this on a global level?
As Nancy put it, Wolters Kluwer is ready; “Regardless of what your political point of view is, change impacts the company’s customers and they look to us to navigate these changes.” Helping customers navigate change has been a central proposition for the company throughout its 180-year history. And continual innovation is key.
As customer Jeroen Zweers, Innovation Director at Dutch law firm Kennedy van der Laan, co-founder Dutch Legal Tech and FT 2016 European Legal Innovator of the Year nominee, said, “Wolters Kluwer places great importance on innovation to serve their customers effectively and efficiently. As a customer of Wolters Kluwer, I experience first-hand the way in which they constantly seek to innovate and improve their products and services”
These innovations and improvements designed to help customers deal with data and information come in four broad forms:
1 Ensuring our customers have the very latest, trusted data and information embedded deep within their workflows;
2 Ensuring customers can easily and quickly find, interpret and act upon data and information in the form of actionable content;
3 Extending the integration of data and information to cover a customer’s full business ecosystem: both internally across functions and with third parties such as electronic medical record companies, for example; and
4 Assembling data and information in new combinations that allow the company’s customers to shift their own value proposition from ‘rote’ work, to strategic advisory roles.
This continual innovation is how the company grows its value for customers. Of course, the role of technology is critical throughout.
3. Technology and the rise of AI
“Rather than thinking, ‘Here’s a set of technologies, let’s go play!’, we look closely at our customers’ context, what they are trying to achieve, and identify exactly where new technologies will add new, tangible value”—Michael Cleary, Wolters Kluwer
When it comes to the three structural trends, Nancy and Michael agree that the most critical trend is the pace of technological change our customers have to cope with. The technology trend currently getting the most attention is AI.
In Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2017, Gartner observes that AI and machine learning are reaching a critical tipping point. They are set to increasingly augment and extend virtually every technology-enabled service, thing, or application.
However, many professionals find it hard to envision the direct impact on their work. But, as Michael and his GPO team know, by focusing on the exact tasks they are trying to accomplish, and the specific pain points professionals have, practical applications of AI and machine learning can be found, use-cases built, and quickly brought to market.
In other words, for Wolters Kluwer, AI offers the perfect opportunity to tackle both of the customer trends mentioned above: improving outcomes and productivity and dealing with data and complexity.
For example, in the tax and accounting industry there are over 300 substantial trigger events each year within Australia alone. These events occur from case law, legislative changes, ATO (Australian Taxation Office) rulings & announcements and other macro-economic events. For many small and medium sized practices, these events are a major burden on resources and decision-making.
Launched earlier this year, and already having garnered a prestigious Gold Stevie® Award for Innovation in Technology, Wolters Kluwer’s CCH iQ transforms the burden of trigger events into tangible business opportunities. Employing predictive intelligence, CCH iQ helps Australian professionals unlock the potential of their client database for business development opportunities, and offers them the opportunity to build more value added services by moving from retrospective compliance towards proactive advisory work.
It is this focused, practical application of the potential of AI and machine learning that Michael and his team work to identify on a global scale. Rather than saying, ‘Here’s a set of technologies, let’s go play!’, the GPO approach is focused squarely on specific use-cases that directly advance our customers’ work, and their professions.
Trends and Expert Solutions
Earlier in this editorial, we identified the value of monitoring and analyzing trends in gaining the intelligence to navigate change in a disruptive world. This is as true for Wolters Kluwer as for other companies. As Nancy says, “The direction that we’re taking to develop our expert solutions - and really become a solutions company - is really very much driven by these top three trends.”
So naturally, when asked by Michael which trends the company is best positioned to handle, Nancy replied that it is not in any one of the three structural trends, but at the intersection of deep domain knowledge of our customers’ work, strong workflow insight - and the coupling with intelligent technologies such as AI and machine learning. In short; Expert Solutions.
As Nancy puts it succinctly, “This is the future of where our customers are going, and this is where we need to be: at the forefront.”