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Innovation is everyone's job: DBS' Neal Cross

Nurdianah Md Nur | Sept. 14, 2015
The Singapore bank's Chief Innovation Officer shares tips on how to encourage innovation across an organisation.

At the Singapore leg of the CIO Summit 2015 last Thursday (10 September 2015), Neal Cross, DBS Bank's Chief Innovation Officer, provided tips on innovation in his presentation titled "Jungle Innovation". The tips were drawn from a side project that he recently embarked on, which involved the setting up a social enterprise, called Hotel Orang Utan, in Sumatra. We caught up with him just before his presentation to find out more about his thoughts on innovation.

Play the above video or click here to watch the full interview with Neal Cross, CIO of DBS Bank. Below is the edited transcript of the interview.

CIO Asia: How do you define innovation?
Neal Cross: To me, innovation is simple but people usually overcomplicate it. First off, innovation is not about apps or technology, but it is to do something different that is successful. So, innovation shouldn't be limited to big and disruptive changes; it also includes small changes, as long as it is different and successful. But innovation, at its core, is not about technology and apps, doesn't have to be big — it just needs to be different and successful.

Unlike DBS, not every company is fortunate to have a leadership team which is keen on digitally transforming the business to encourage innovation. How should IT leaders in such companies get the board-level buy-in for digital transformation?
Every industry today is faced with disruption. For example, taxi drivers wouldn't have imagined themselves to be digitally disrupted a couple of years ago but today, the world's largest taxi company Uber doesn't own a single physical car. Same goes for the hotel industry, in which it is being disrupted by Airbnb even though the room sharing platform doesn't own any of the rooms listed for rental on its site.

Since disruption is happening everywhere, you need educate your board. To do so, you could take them through the different waves of disruption that have already occurred in the books, financial services, and telco industries. Following that, look for early signs of disruption in your industry to gauge/forecast when your industry will be disrupted. Thereafter, encourage your thought leaders to embrace an innovation mindset. If your board doesn't still get it and refuses to change, it's time to find another job at another company because that company will succumb to disruptions and may cease to exist in future.

Having a digital or innovation mindset can't be easily taught in classrooms. How should IT leaders encourage its employees to think digitally and be innovative?
The important thing about innovation is to do something different that is successful. This means that it has to be inclusive — everyone can innovate. So, whenever I am asked how big my innovation group at DBS is, my reply would be the bank 's entire staff count.


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