Big Data is transforming research in the social sciences. SAGE Publishing, which has supported new research techniques through its books and journals for more than 50 years, needed to evolve its business model, and so created an innovation incubator, SAGE Ocean to explore new products and revenue streams.
Executive Head of Methods Innovation Katie Metzler and Head of Product Innovation Ian Mulvany were asked to develop new products that would give researchers the skills to leverage data effectively. In creating SAGE Ocean, SAGE Publishing was making the strategic decision to explore products and services beyond content – and it needed a framework for lean innovation that could keep pace with a dynamic market.
Partnering with Thoughtworks was the critical factor in building that framework. Using tools such as Lean Value Tree portfolio planning helped Katie and Ian clearly articulate the purpose of SAGE Ocean’s innovation strategy – and enabled them to balance speed of execution with strategic rigour. “We had an abundance of ideas, but the knowledge that ideas are cheap,” explains Katie. “Thoughtworks helped us to prioritise our opportunities so that we could identify genuine business cases, launch prototypes for validation and ensure that we could turn ideas into viable products.”
Thoughtworks’ structured approach ensured the team focused in on the most important assumptions and risks for each idea, and developed meaningful experiments to test them. The insights gained from the invalidated ideas allowed not only for the right ideas to be uncovered quickly, they also focused the strategy around not just the most exciting concepts - but the most impactful business models.
For months, SAGE Ocean had been juggling a large number of ideas and were struggling to find an effective process for filtering, yet within four days, the Thoughtworks team had helped the Ocean team to test and reject one new product idea by showing there was no mutual unmet need for a collaboration platform between data scientists and social scientists. Instead, the team prioritised the goal of equipping social scientists with data science skills through online courses – an area that provided the most robust evidence-backed case for investment. Within a year, the beta launch of SAGE Campus confirmed these projections, beating financial targets for the beta period, and is poised to grow into a successful product line for SAGE in the future.
Thoughtworks has given us far more than just a new product launch. The business now has a clear understanding of why we innovate and how we can test hypotheses nimbly to make quick and robust decisions.