AIB International finds sweet spot with innovation efforts

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines innovation as “the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods.”

Susan Hancock, vice-president of innovation and product development at AIB International, defines innovation as “a more integrated approach to how we meet the needs of our clients.”

Susan Hancock, vice-president of innovation and product development at AIB International, defines innovation as "a more integrated approach to how we meet the needs of our clients."

Both definitions hit the sweet spot of AIB International’s strategic growth plan.

“Innovation is scanning the environment to look for new trends in the industry and to ensure that knowledge is brought into AIB International and first is appropriately disseminated to our own employees so that they can be state-of-the art in terms of knowledge, but also take that information and incorporate it into existing client offerings or design new ones,” Ms. Hancock said.

To capture this goal Ms. Hancock said AIB International has built a “new product development process.” This machine consists of a funnel of information coming in, a decision about what to do with the information, a design and build step, and then commercialization and roll-out. The objective of the process is to help AIB International focus its limited resources on developing the right number of new and relevant products and services.

“Kill-step validation represents one type of project we work on in innovation and product development, which is basic and applied research,” she said. “We do that for the industry — it’s not client specific. That’s a strength that our organization has is our position as third-party objective, to offer to the world appropriate research that they may not be able to do themselves.”

AIB International also is kicking off innovation around its learning products.

“We’re working with a software vendor Saba — a very mature market leader in learning management systems (LMS) — and what it will offer to us is a way to do integrated training for our clients,” she said. “So, we’ll be able to do needs assessment on-line so that a learner who comes to us will be able to self-assess and be able to determine a unique path for themselves in terms of what kind of training they need. It will also enable us to do prerequisites so a person can ensure that they are prepared for a course when they come to it. We’re also planning allowing the ability to test out, so if a person has a certain goal and they are intermediate to advanced, they wouldn’t necessarily have to go through every single basic course.”

AIB International’s new learning management system also will include a social media aspect allowing communities to develop, whether in the classroom or in industry, and around certain content areas, Ms. Hancock said.

“This is all pie in the sky, this is intentional, because right now we’re just rolling out the platform, but these are the capabilities we’ll have and the industry will begin to see them roll out this year,” she said.

Ms. Hancock said the goal is for AIB International to eventually enable its clients to use the organization as their outsource arm for not just training but also learning management.

“So potentially a client could come to us and say, ‘We want you to be our learning portal,’ and we could set up a micro site that is branded in their image, and they could come in and just see their own curricula and manage their own learners and their own employees,” she said. “That is a direction we could go if the industry is interested and buys into that.”

Another big innovation push has come from clients who have expressed a desire for a clearer career “path.” What they want, Ms. Hancock said, is to be told exactly what are the critical required learnings for baking and food safety.

“So from now on our training is going to be housed in what we call career paths,” she said. “So we built a competency model for the baking industry around what skills does it take to become a baking professional.”

Those skills are:

• Bakery product

• Function of Ingredients

• Process

• Quality

• Management

• Food safety

“This approach is fundamentally changing how we’re designing training,” Ms. Hancock said. “When we look at a career path, it’s competency based and based on the needs of the industry. It’s holistic in that it shows a path, and it’s blended in that some of the components will be instructor led, some will be e-learning, some may be on-the-job training, some may be just post evaluation. What this allows is great flexibility for our clients. So a person may just have one particular question they want to answer and they can come in and choose a product cafeteria-style, but if they want to get a certain designation, if they want to be known as a professional, they would take the entire career path. And then if they really want to go for the whole enchilada they would come to the BS&T.”