Driving Product Innovation > The Role of the CFO

Interview with Sujeet Jena, CFO, National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA)

Creating new revenue streams is a common strategic goal for many organisations and one which is now involving greater involvement from CFOs.

Last month, the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) launched an innovative new product in professional development inspired by the learnings and insights of their popular NIDA Corporate Training division, who’ve been training professionals in effective communication and presentation skills for 30 years, Prologue by NIDA is a self-directed soft skills training program that aims to redefine the genre. It’s a multi-platform take-home kit that contains a hardcover book doubling as a journal, card games, and an app containing videos, audio guides and interactive tools. The launch follows rigorous product development and testing to create a unique training solution that addresses some of the key workplace challenges faced today by employers and employees, across the country. 

CFO Magazine A/NZ Editor, Richard McBride spoke with Sujeet Jena, NIDA’s Chief Financial Officer, about driving innovation as a CFO and creating a ‘start-up’ within an organisation.

RM: Sujeet, let’s start at the beginning, why did NIDA want to create a new product offering?

SJ: We had the strategic goal to diversify and grow our Corporate Training offering.  The short courses offered by NIDA Corporate Training are very popular, and in thirty years, this has not waned, however we wanted to see how we could grow this offering and attract a new, untapped audience. A strategic goal for many organisations!

Despite the appeal of NIDA Corporate Training courses, we knew that there were certain barriers to entry.  We are limited by geographic location as not all people can physically attend our workshops at NIDA locations in major capital cities.

Plus, the course and workshops are intentionally high touchpoint, small in participant numbers, and at specific times and locations.  Whilst these features fuel their popularity, we recognised that they were also the limiting factors for growth. 

When COVID hit and we moved many courses online, they proved successful – and we saw that it also fueled a bigger appetite for this mode of learning.

RM: So, you were looking to grow your online offering?

SJ: The DNA of NIDA is creativity and creating a culture that fosters entrepreneurship and innovation and we wanted to offer something uniquely different.

It was important to remain true to what we are known for: immersive experiences. We wanted to create something – a technological innovation – that still offered the ‘experience’ of NIDA yet didn’t require us to be physically present. Online learning worked well during COVID but we didn’t think it was the final solution. Prologue by NIDA is a digital and tactile, multi-sensory experience!

The CEO and I knew that we had expertise in-house to create a new learning system but knew that we would need to look at an external partner who specialises in product innovation to help bring it to life.   Nakatomi is an agency that consults tech start-ups and upon briefing them on our challenge, it was clear that they understood the brief.

Working with Nakatomi, we identified the need to create a sub-brand that would have scalability and reach and be in a format that would appeal to a younger audience of entry and mid-level executives and managers, who we hadn’t previously focused on prior.

RM: How did you get buy-in from stakeholders, such as Board members?

SJ: Developing a new product is a multi-phased process.  At the beginning, you don’t know the complete picture because you have to test, refine and remodel. So, we broke it down into phases, with expected outcomes.  This was backed by data through targeted surveys and other data sources.

It was made easier by the fact that the team had developed a product concept that was not only going to address barriers to entry, but also address a gap in the market (self-directed, memorable, and fun learning via a book and an app) and a training need of many business departments (soft skills training).

RM: So, once you have a prototype of a new product, where to from there?

SJ: Testing! We did focus group testing and survey testing to get feedback and fine-tune the product. This also allowed us to determine how the product should be priced and marketed.

RM: You mention the final product is soft skills training, so is it also suitable for finance teams?

SJ: Absolutely! The first course, Act Natural, teaches effective communication and interpersonal skills which are fundamental for any high-performing finance team. Often finance teams are siloed and the data they receive is only part of the story.  Having trust, relationships and open and impactful conversations with colleagues across a company allow them to get the whole story, to understand the bigger picture beyond spreadsheets, and this is critical to not only making sound business decisions, but also creating job satisfaction and a culture of respect and innovation.

RM: What tips or advice do you have for other CFOs who want to drive new product innovation within their organisation?

SJ: First look for the answers within the organisation – as the CFO, you know what expertise there is across the teams. Leverage the insights and intelligence of team members to understand where there is a gap or barriers to bottom line growth.

Create a framework to work within, and break down the project by phases, with each phase backed by evidence and data – It is essential that the project is managed separately from your business as usual and follows the product development life cycle phases. Each phase provides you the stage-gate to evaluate the direction and investment. Ensure that you get formal and informal feedback from stakeholders on each phase.

Be in the trenches – Work with the team every step of the way. Attend meetings, be accessible, provide counsel and ask the tough questions so together you can iron out any challenges ahead of launch.  Developing something completely new and unique is a team effort!

RM: Thank you Sujeet, always a pleasure to catch up and anything final thoughts?

SJ: Yes, please be sure to check out more information on Prologue By NIDA via the website https://prologue.edu.au/