Roberto Roitz: Becoming “the partner of choice” through innovation

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Roberto started his career as a consultant working at Arthur D. Little as part of the Strategy and Innovation Practice working across multiple industries around the world. In the last 10 years, he has spent most of his time working in innovation as a consultant as well as driving innovation at large corporates. Currently at Humana, he leads the Discovery and Open Innovation Team. The primary focus of the team is to scout and identify the best external partners to help solve challenging business problems and bend trend in new, innovative ways. He currently manages a coordinated and deliberate approach to build a pipeline of external partnerships so that Humana continues to be “the partner of choice.”

As a leader, Roberto embraces differences of opinion and cultivate an open culture that inspires synergistic collaboration.

VINAJ: Please describe Humana’s innovation organization

ROBERTO: At Humana, we view innovation as the method to capture and create value through new growth. Our end goal is to improve our members’ overall health. To do this, we are driving an organizational shift towards a consumer-centric, health focused growth strategy.

Typically innovation is a one-year cycle within the business. Innovation at Humana is focused to prepare Humana for the future. This means more long-term strategy rather than focusing on short-term ROIs. To accomplish this while keeping the innovation framework, we have created a discipline and culture to build and iterate quickly.\

VINAJ: What do you focus on within your role?

ROBERTO: I focus on discovery and open innovation, which includes spearheading a disciplined approach to external and internal efforts. I look at what is happening outside of Humana and design how we can capture opportunities with external companies and entrepreneurs. This involves identifying new opportunities by aligning our priorities to the value proposition partners bring to the table.

I build thought leadership by looking at interesting companies whose products and ideas match Humana’s rationale. I also develop landscapes analysis across strategic areas for Humana as well as nascent spaces. The role of discovery is to identify and partner with best-in-class startups and companies to test drive and learn together.

VINAJ: What are the high level goals for the innovation group?

ROBERTO: Our high level goal is to drive the organizational shift towards a consumer-centered, health-focused, growth strategy while investing in ambitious initiatives to bend the cost curve. We look for new ways to create a better consumer experience and drive higher health care outcomes.

VINAJ: What is the internal and external ecosystem development strategy for Humana's innovation organization?

ROBERTO: An internal network is very important to drive an open innovation strategy. There must be a coordinated approach to share learning, deliver transparency, and produce visibility across the enterprise. An internal network also provides a way to have a more disciplined approach and bring in external folks for a better experience.

Developing an environment of learning with the external ecosystem is important. We favor an approach where Humana and startups test, journey, and learn together as opposed to treating them as a ready vendor that can scale within Humana.

VINAJ: What are the most interesting innovations that have come out recently within the healthcare industry?

ROBERTO: Unfortunately, not many recent innovations are at scale yet. Healthcare is a tough, fragmented industry. Incentives can be misaligned, and money doesn’t always flow with the value. This makes healthcare innovation difficult as we seek solutions to challenges. Healthcare investors must have a long-term view because of this. For example, digital is still at a nascent stage and requires enough proof points of clinical efficacy. Many interesting healthcare companies are at the beginning of this exciting journey.

VINAJ: What role do you see AI (Artificial Intelligence) playing in healthcare?

ROBERTO: A.I. solutions will provide advice for a triage solution such as, “Take a pill now. See a doctor. Go to the ER (emergency room) now.” As a second approach, avatars can deliver empathy to tackle loneliness and provide companionship to seniors. A third way you will see A.I. in healthcare is through robots. Robots will supplement activities of home health aides, provide care, and offer companionship enabled through A.I.

AI can reduce the administrative cost for providers and payers. Please note, we are not talking about replacements of doctors anytime in the near future.

VINAJ: What advice do you have for other corporate innovation groups to build from concepts through to deployment?

ROBERTO: If you build a sandbox, make sure what you are working on is close to the strategy and reality of the needs of both the industry and your company. Think of innovation as pipeline management and portfolio management. The pipeline is everything that happens at the front end (new ideas and concepts). As you evaluate which ones have legs and develop, they become part of your portfolio.

It is important to have a lens of what is core and what is transformational in each of your innovation activities. Clearly define the intent of innovation with senior leaders and executives in your company. What are the gap areas that you want to close? What is the timeframe?

This general approach allows you to have a strategic approach with a pipeline and portfolio aligned with company strategy and growth goals. Finally, make sure you establish a common innovation language and process that sticks in the organization. Innovation can be interpreted in different ways – whatever the approach you take, it’s essential to create the discipline and culture to make it sustainable and understandable by everybody.

VINAJ: Any other thoughts or comments you’d like to share?

ROBERTO: To be a good innovator, you need to be able to be comfortable with uncertainty. You should also be comfortable with healthy collaboration. You must challenge the team while balancing it with delivering results. It’s not easy.

Innovation is a disciplined process, but it is not linear progress with a well-defined path. Many people get frustrated or emotionally attached to projects that should be killed because they don’t make sense to continue. It requires a lot of iteration, learning and adaptation.

Iterate, learn, adapt.