In just over a decade, Appnovation has transformed itself from a website development start up into a global digital consultancy that generates revenues of around $50m a year. General Manager, EMEA, Andrew Dunbar talks to European Business Magazine about Appnovation’s passion for driving digital transformation for clients and its rapid expansion in Europe.

Appnovation has its HQ in Canada. Can you describe what the company does and why it has established itself in Europe?

Appnovation is a new breed of consultancy that specialises in helping businesses engage more effectively with key audiences through their digital ecosystem (websites, apps etc). Whether the client’s goal is to double sales through ecommerce, streamline their global web presence or grow brand awareness within a target audience, our core focus is on solving real-world problems and driving improved results. We do this by focusing on digital strategy and deep industry focus, with an emphasis on user-centric, design-led Experience and Open Technology platforms. Our key areas include financial services, life sciences, automotive, travel/tourism, healthcare/pharma, retail, media and government.

As for our expansion into Europe, we were looking to build on the great success we have been having in North America. Right now, we have 350 people working in 15 offices across the Americas, Europe and Asia. A sign of our ambition in EMEA is that we recently strengthened our UK and EMEA management teams by appointing former R/GA client service director Jez Proctor as UK managing director and award-winning digital creative, Amanda Glasgow, as head of experience for EMEA.

What is Appnovation’s USP? How do you position yourselves against big consultancies (Accenture, Deloitte, Cap Gemini)?

A key differentiator is the way we form our proposition. First and foremost is our focus on user feedback and the deliberate placement of user testing early on. This leads to proof points where we affirm our chosen direction before we commit time and resources to build. The second key point is that we have carefully selected every individual on the team to ensure the right fit in terms of attitude, competence and personality. Our culture is one of genuinely wanting to make a difference. The desire to do a good job, build a craft and leave customers feeling excited about the next stage is at the heart of what we do. It’s what our new brand is all about, inspiring possibility for our clients and their customers.

Regarding larger, more well-resourced companies, I’m a firm believer in the Steve Jobs mantra that ‘A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players’. One thing we certainly have on our side is that we are more agile and nimble. We don’t spend months in discovery – we find out what the client wants then give them a tangible solution fast.

It’s also worth noting that we have done a lot of work in financial services and pharmaceuticals – both high compliance sectors. As a result, Appnovation has a lot of experience in overcoming regulatory obstacles to help clients innovate quickly.

What are the opportunities for the business going forward?

The opportunities are primarily around clients that want a visionary partner to show them ideas that can disrupt and improve their engagement. Clients don’t just want a supplier – they want a team that is just as passionate as they are about their products, and that genuinely wants to help them advance their position. Of course, the fact that we are rigorous about delivering on time and on budget lends credibility to our advice.

Tell us more about the client projects you work on?

Recent projects include multinational enterprise platforms for the pharma industry, highly effective content-based reporting tools for the financial sector and robust, scalable portals for international trade organisations. In addition, Appnovation has also delivered a number of engagement-focused solutions such as an award-winning app and website to support smokers wishing to quit, using the power of their social network.

You have been GM for 18 months. Can you describe your role?

I lead the EMEA team, setting our strategic direction and leading the region in line with our global objectives. I am very hands on because I am passionate about the advances digital makes possible and I like to be part of the solution process with clients.

What’s your background and what persuaded you to join?

My background is in large consultancies – I was with Sapient for 10 years, where I built and delivered enterprise platforms for a variety of clients. I left to find out why we were losing on more creative pitches to agencies like AKQA and Wunderman – and then spent nearly 10 years working for marketing agencies in WPP and understanding their approach. I joined Appnovation because I saw an opportunity to create something new – something that draws from the best of both worlds.

Is there a big difference between the company’s North America offering and what you deliver to clients in EMEA?

We have a particular strength in Experience Design and Design Thinking in EMEA that is often used to support the other regions.

But Appnovation is actually designed to function very collaboratively across markets and regions. There is very much a ‘family feel’ to what we do and the approach we take – which makes sense when you consider that many of our clients are multinational and need consistent support across geographies.

What are your plans for expansion in Europe?

We recently secured a substantial injection of equity financing, some of which is specifically tied to our EMEA expansion. So, over the next 18 months, I expect our EMEA division will continue to expand both geographically and into new client areas. We have a number of clients in discussion that I am particularly excited about; not only in terms of digital transformation but because they give us a chance to make a positive difference to the world.

How important is the UK in driving business in Europe?

The UK is a critical part of our EMEA offering. The very best global creative talent can be found in the UK and the entrepreneurial spirit and desire to innovate here is one that lends itself very well to our 

approach and how we work with the rest of our teams. The arrival of Jez Proctor and Amanda Glasgow is an example of us choosing the best of the best – people who are strong enough in both their background discipline and their clarity of thought to help us carve out a new path and help our clients find ways to both differentiate and better connect with their users.

Finally, what challenges and opportunities does AI present?

AI and machine learning can transform businesses by giving them invaluable insights into customers. But a lot of companies struggle with innovation because of legacy tech. There is also a big challenge around the volume of data they work with. It’s complex to identify, generate and analyse data in a way that unlocks insights and innovation. But that’s where Appnovation comes in. We have helped many of our clients integrate their existing systems and leverage the wealth of data they have, to form meaningful and “ready for consumption” dashboards that can actively guide the business. When you pair that with a deep focus on Experience design and an understanding of the relationship between brand, audience and the machine-based interfaces we use to enhance the connection, you can get some very powerful results.