Innovation and the art of collaboration

By Sharon Gilburd, Business Consultant: Incubation • Visa Europe

February 04, 2016

The phrase ‘innovate or die’ is a good one. We can all think of companies, once leaders in their category, who are no longer around because they rested on their laurels, failing to understand and react in a timely manner to changes in their markets and shifts in consumer demand. We frequently talk about innovation in terms of growth; however, it is also important to simply defend and maintain position. Markets and customers evolve and a focus on innovation keeps an eye on the horizon, maintaining relevance and enabling businesses to support and drive that evolution.

Many larger companies find it hard to innovate for three simple reasons:

  • They are too internally focussed – Successful innovation projects are almost always borne out of collaborations, whether they be with customers, other corporates or external suppliers where the teams involved are taken out of their day to day environments to focus on the project in hand.
  • They can’t attract or retail entrepreneurial people – Many organisations accept that this is a challenge and foster partnerships with external entrepreneurs to provide this Talent as a ‘service’. Some have external incubators, set up and managed by entrepreneurs, who for fees and/or equity stakes in resulting concepts, build and run a fully operational incubator service. More common though is a combination of both.
  • They are challenged with turning ideas into reality, quickly, and at low cost – Large companies are usually quite accomplished at running scale IT projects. However, running small scale test and learn ‘as live’ with customers is a different discipline and requires different capabilities. There is no getting away from it – this stuff is hard and this is often the trickiest one of them all. This is very much at the heart of Incubation. Taking an early stage proposition and applying rapid test and learn techniques to determine potential commercial viability as quickly and effectively as possible.

Often, we think of the challenges for established businesses with legacy infrastructure being just in the technology space, but it also includes culture, skills and processes, to name but a few.

At Visa Europe, we have people in our innovation team with diverse experiences ranging from user research for the design and launch of the Sony PlayStation 4 to designing bedroom furniture for Barbie. We’ve got a small research and design experts team who are already actively involved in a number of projects within innovation, including Collab initiatives. We are also applying these skills to support Sales & Marketing with market engagement, launching an initiative with the markets to roll out a user needs research programme so that we can apply an end user lens to innovation across all of our markets.

This expertise has changed the way we build and deploy into something we can do in days, not months. We’re currently ironing out some of the challenges of connecting with ‘live’ systems so we can run small scale tests without compromising core systems. There’s always a bit of ground work to lay but once that’s done, we will, for the first time, be in a position to run genuinely ‘live’ pilots without significant cost or time investment.

For me, our success will be in establishing a model that proves our ability to build and deploy small scale innovation projects in partnership with external parties, be they customers, retailers, developers or start ups. Then to demonstrate that we can adapt what goes into Incubation ready for scale roll out into commercialisation without losing pace. The ultimate aim has to be to find new commercial opportunities for the company and our customers and to ensure that Visa remains the most trusted brand in payments.

We have 5 key areas of focus across innovation and there are a number of initiatives ongoing under each. Some of the most exciting are:

  • Crypto Currencies and Blockchain – Collab are running a Proof-of-Concept (PoC) at the moment and the next thing to do is to understand where there are any valid use cases for us to progress with into incubation.
  • Retail Journey – Collab have done a number of PoCs in this space though as yet there is nothing sufficiently mature to come into incubation. We have a number of great partners wanting to work with us and we’re establishing that network now.
  • Authority to Use – this is an interesting area and very ‘hot’ from a tech perspective. Again, we’ve done quite a few PoCs in this space and we’re now establishing what Visa Europe’s commercial position is with regards to taking any of these forward.
  • Data monetisation – we’ve mobilised a piece of work to accelerate driving some of these concepts into incubation. We’re partnered with an external entrepreneur network to do this and we’re anticipating initiatives to flow through from the first few months of 2016.
  • Growth from existing platforms – we’ve mobilised a workstream to look at how we can drive some focussed activity into innovating on core platforms, so getting more from what we already have.

So, 2016 is already proving to be an exciting time for us as we continue to develop and fine-tune the incubation process, turning the promise of Visa Europe Collab into a reality.

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