From hardbacks to multi-device, but the digital tsunami hasn’t hit yet
Federico Rampolla, Head of Innovation at Mondadori - Italy's biggest book and magazine publisher - shares his expert insights into innovation within a large company.
One of Europe’s leading publishing and media companies is Mondadori, a conglomerate with roots dating back to the early 1900s. The company has traditionally utilised the standard channels (print, books, journals, websites, radio) to disseminate content but is placing more importance of the creation of multi-device content, accessible both offline and online. The group itself states that 2013 was a turning point for the company, allocating more resources into digital R&D.
Federico Rampolla joined in April 2013 as Head of Innovation, and was assigned the mission of leading the digital innovation within Mondadori. One key focus of his is coordinating the company’s several functions with the aim of creating growth in their overall digital presence. This involves a range of tasks such as structuring processes and promoting innovation to identifying new opportunities for business development.
“We live in a world that is moving very quickly, and the lifespan of a company is becoming shorter than before. Innovation now has to be in the backbone of every company, for them to be able to adapt to the ever-changing environment”, Federico says.
New business models have re-shaped multiple industries already, with Uber, AirBnB and JustPark as a few commonly used examples. Start-ups come into the picture with an idea, which inevitably stirs up the market. As this happens, more and more companies realise that they have to innovate - or die (as the saying goes). Federico comments, “To be honest, innovation in general can be misunderstood in a lot of companies”.
He continues, “Innovation can either be a key priority or be a natural feature within the organisation. However, from what I’ve seen most companies feel this is a forced focus resulting in misconstrued products rushed into market”.
Federico is keen to emphasize that with innovation comes knowledge and it’s the learning process that should be valued. He further explains that his role involves leading the company through the transformation of embedding innovation in all divisions. A job more difficult than it seems.
However, Federico is of the firm belief that innovation is a management issue first and foremost, as he describes innovation to be a central cost investment.
“In my opinion innovation flows top-down, it’s a matter of the management team as at the end of the day someone has to pay for the R&D. In an organisational context it’s a matter of costs and processes. Being agile as a start-up is a wishful dream, and reality is always complex”.
He admits that he previously believed that innovation comes from the grassroots of the organisation, but acknowledged that especially within a company with legacy – the ideas will vanish along their way up towards the top. So having a management team who recognises the importance of innovation, and actively works to incorporate it throughout the company is crucial.
“As a bigger company it’s important to safeguard yourself, and I believe the best way to do so is by coordinating our teams and integrate innovation throughout the organisation. In the next ten years society will change completely from what it is now. So the quicker the plaster is on, the safer are the revenue streams which enables for the company to join the digital evolution and embrace new technologies such as big data and programmatic”.
As society is getting more interconnected, with the up-rise of machine-to-machine technologies, Federico is anticipating that the biggest changes are yet to come. “The digital tsunami hasn’t hit yet”, he says.
He continues, “Just look at the start-ups in Artificial Intelligence creating algorithms more efficient and accurate than today’s doctors”.
Start-ups will continue to disrupt our business models and cut the fixed costs, in new innovative ways. With several unicorns proving that it’s possible to scale without having any physical assets, more will come and slowly turn society into a more collaborative space. So, how will the larger publishing companies survive?
Federico believes it’s quality that will make the difference. “Know your consumers, build close relationships and communicate to find out what they might want. Deliver what you need to deliver.”
Maybe it’s this understanding that has helped the publishing and media industries to stay on their feet throughout multiple attempts to be shaken over.