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Ready, set, compete: The benefits of IT innovation

Stacy Collett | Jan. 15, 2013
Welcome to 2013. As IT budgets loosen up and new projects get queued up, IT is learning to quickly tap into creative ideas for competitive advantage in a cutthroat marketplace.

At Capital One, Monique Shivanandan, senior vice president and CTO, relies on a new innovation lab team and trusted partners in the startup and university realms to bring new ideas to market fast.

In 2010, Shivanandan launched the Capital One innovation lab and staffed it with 20 "hard-core developers and product managers" in San Francisco and Washington. She then partnered with the FinTech Innovation Lab, a development organization that brings together New York area startups focused on banking applications, to tap into ideas and expertise from the outside. So far, the partnership is credited for new offerings such as Capital One's Mobile Deals app.

"It's been an incredible opportunity for both of us," says Shivanandan. "We've been able to get into the marketplace a little bit quicker because we have these relationships, and we've been able to help some very small companies really advance their agendas and frame the product or service so they're more realistic and more marketable."

She also partners with research groups at MIT, Georgia Tech and Stanford.

The lab works on just three to four projects at a time, and a steering committee made up of business and IT leaders meets quarterly to develop a list of promising ideas to work on in the next two to three months.

"If you have the product people sitting next to the developers sitting next to the testing folks, and you're all just working through it in a very rapid and iterative cycle, you will get something very good in 60 to 90 days," says Shivanandan. "It may not be perfect, but you will have such a good idea of what it is."

Sometimes, ideas that might have been scrapped by one business unit may turn out to be valuable to another part of the company. Capital One's team discovered, for instance, that a credit card project that was about to be killed was well suited for the small business banking group. Now in incubation, the project is a big bet for 2014, she says.

Not every project makes it to the finish line, and that's OK with Shivanandan. "A failure is sometimes the biggest success because you didn't spend $10 million finding out that it didn't work," says Shivanandan.

That's also one of the biggest challenges of leading an innovation team, she adds. "If you get one out of a thousand ideas implemented, that's a good rate. Just make sure that people on the team understand that not everything is going to be implemented, and that's OK. We've learned from that, but the individuals sometimes don't feel that way."

A Second Life

Sometimes projects fail fast and then sit on a shelf until technology catches up to the idea. For instance, in late 2008, Hertz tried to launch car rental kiosks similar to those used by airlines. "It failed pretty fast," Eckroth recalls. "Our process is so much more cumbersome than just checking in for your boarding pass and picking a seat. There are so many added things we want to sell, so it really didn't take off."


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