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Kodak. BlackBerry. MySpace. We’ve all seen it before – the market leaders that suddenly become market failures. But is it sudden, and could it have been avoided?
For large, established firms, the challenge comes down to innovation – and solving the innovator’s dilemma. The innovator’s dilemma is a concept that was coined by Harvard University professor Clayton Christensen in 1997. In his book The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail, he explained how successful companies can do everything "right" and still lose their market leadership – or even fail – as new, unexpected competitors rise.
It's human nature, really. Once you establish yourself as a leading player, your investment and CapEx tend to focus on what the customers want, and you modify your existing product for that. Meanwhile, a smaller firm appears in the bottom tier of your market with completely new technology. As they get traction, they move up to the next tier, and you start hearing about them in sales conversations. Then they scale up their technology into your core market – and start taking away your customers. Even if you start to take them seriously, it might be too late.
What big companies must remember is how to balance the investments they’re making to keep their customers happy with investments in the new and innovative.
How do you do that? First, you have a large, talented workforce. You want to draw on their ideas and intelligence. So, foster an environment of innovation by inviting ideas and creating cross-company discussions on the best approach to the problems facing different areas of your industry. Whatever role they’re in, your employees know the industry, and they can tell you what’s happening on the ground.
Second, facilitate forums to percolate up the best and most innovative ideas. Look for the ones that solve the market problem you’ve identified, backing it up with research around data such as client demand, potential growth, competitive landscape and so on. Then you can make an informed decision about whether to move forward and how to prioritize the investment.
Third, decide how to develop that new offering. It’s always wise to create an innovative build culture, but you also want to keep an open mind about whether buying or partnering with innovative disrupters or start-ups makes more sense. In fact, in many cases your smartest move is to buy or partner because you can give your customers a leading-edge solution or service that already exists – but which they might not take a risk on if it didn’t have the backing of a large and stable provider like you. This brings your customers the best of both worlds – ground-breaking technology and stability.
Finally, remember that innovation doesn’t stop at technology. It should foster new ways of doing things – and not just by embedding innovation as product development. Innovation can improve your operations themselves.
The very nature of capturing innovative ideas, especially for technology, means you have to be innovative in how you work. You have to think bigger and be more all-inclusive and encompassing with the workforce to give them the opportunity to bubble up ideas. You want to encourage the entire workforce to give ideas to the product managers and also inspire your product managers to be open to new ideas, even if they’re different from how you or they normally work.
It’s a big change for a large firm. But even putting aside the benefits in terms of the innovations themselves, it also makes a big difference in employee engagement and satisfaction.
At FIS, we’ve built Impact Labs, a team dedicated to pursuing disruptive innovation. We’ve also set the goal of a pervasive culture of innovation throughout the company. For example, within our Capital Markets Solution business, we’ve created an Innovation SteerCo that is inclusive, reaching all levels of the business. We’ve structured it around Product Innovation Days, which anyone from the business can participate in.
It’s a truly exciting and rewarding process because it engages every level of the Capital Markets business and up through FIS’ C-suite. It enables us to not just turn innovation into reality – but to create real payoffs for our clients, from reducing TCO to improving their customers’ experience. And after all, isn’t that what drives us all?