Innoboard: There is no consistent definition for innovation. Every industry, every company and every department has their own definition. How do you define innovation at comdirect?
Dr. Smolinski: Indeed, there are many definitions of innovation. The simplest is the one proposed by the father of innovation: Joseph Schumpeter. According to Schumpeter, an innovation is a sustainable change of the production function. More pragmatically, we can define innovations as monetized ideas.
For us it is important not to stand still. We are well known in the banking industry for being innovative but we do not take it for granted and try to earn and deserve it all the time. We strive to create and establish capacities and processes which help us stay innovative and competitive in a very dynamic market. This is one of the reasons why we believe that comdirect is “Bank. Neu gedacht.”
What do you do to stay innovative continuously at comdirect?
We keep on developing our corporate foresight. We keep on looking ahead of us and try to identify the developments which maybe are not relevant today but which might become relevant tomorrow. This is the beginning of our innovation management process. It is very important to us that we not only continuously optimize our current product portfolio and focus on efficiency but above of all that we do not miss the train in terms of technological developments or customer needs.
What are your sources of corporate foresight?
Our main sources are people with profound knowledge of the banking industry and its newest developments. Our goal is to make sure that we know these people and that they belong to our network. Furthermore, we try to actively interact with the FinTech startup scene and find out quickly whether ideas or technological developments have already been turned into a sustainable business model. We also try to stay connected with the academic community and inform ourselves about the relevant developments at a very early stage. So we look around and ahead – not just domestically but also internationally.
What players do you integrate internally in your innovation process?
One of the most important sources of innovation for any company are its employees. We keep our innovation process open to everyone and encourage all our employees to participate in it. Every employee has the possibility to submit his/her ideas. Those ideas are aggregated and evaluated by the experts and the best of them end up implemented. We encourage explicitly everyone to participate in the development and growth of our company and reward those who contribute to it.
How do you make this possible for everyone?
The simplest way is to set up an open idea management system in which the employees can submit their ideas and observe what happens with them. This system should be transparent and help the management track and prioritize the ideas as well as select the most relevant ones for implementation. It is very important that everyone has access to the system and that the management encourages the employees to participate in this process. We also regularly collect the ideas on a particular topic and/or for a particular project in an “innovation speed-dating” format.
Who is the innovation driver for innovation projects?
The main role of driving innovation in the organization has the management. This is where the example and the incentives for the rest of the organization have to come from. If it doesn’t work there, it won’t work in the organization either.
It is also important to assign the responsibility for driving innovation projects to a particular person or a team. At comdirect my team (Business Development and Innovation Management) is responsible for driving innovation, defining the process and making sure that we get more out of it than we put in. But regardless of who drives the innovation projects at comdirect the customer is in our main focus.
You mentioned your innovations process. Can you describe it generically?
We try to establish a direct link between the foresight process and the tangible result of a pilot project. The developments we identify as relevant to our business go through various evaluation stages until some of them end up as pilot projects. We’ve established a funnel and try to make sure that it is always full with ideas. The goal is to develop products at the end of the funnel which we can test in the market and check whether they indeed have the estimated potential or not.
What are the most important success factors in terms of innovation management?
One of the most important success factors is having the right attitude. It is necessary to be optimistic and work in a future oriented manner with an appropriate level of positive energy. If we do not believe in a better future, it will not happen.
The second success factor is the example from above: Innovations have to be recognizably important for the management. They have to value, appreciate and reward innovation and idea donors.
There are many other factors that influence the success of innovation management:
- knowing what is coming up and what will be relevant in the future
- assigning clear responsibility for driving innovation to the right people
- equipping them with the necessary resources for prototyping and testing
- having the ability to implement innovative solutions fast
What relevance have business model innovations for comdirect?
We do not differentiate between different types of innovation. If during the foresight process we identify an interesting idea which is close enough to our business model, we would chase it through the same evaluation process as all other ideas. Business model innovations are just as important as all other types of innovation.
Dr. Remigiusz Smolinski is responsible for growing business and driving innovations at the comdirect bank in Hamburg. Before joining comdirect, he has worked at the Otto Group – a 12 billion Euro multi-channel retail company, eBay International, mobile.de, and Lycos Bertelsmann. He has also taught and/or researched at Leipzig Graduate School of Management, Harvard’s Program on Negotiation and Aarhus University.
ILI CONSULTING thanks for this expert interview.