A Journey Of Digital Innovation: Strategies To Embrace Digital Culture

Tackling disruptive innovation calls for embracing a digital culture. DBS’s Group Head of Technology & Operations DAVID GLEDHILL shares his strategies.

Many industries are challenged by digital platforms — GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple), and the likes of Alibaba. The Chinese juggernaut’s Alipay has emerged as a giant online payment platform, a force to be reckoned with. DBS CEO Piyush Gupta has said that digital is the new battleground for banks.

For the last few years, DBS has been on a digital innovation journey. When we started, I felt like a kid in a fancy store with new toys to play with. But I think we all recognise that innovation is not about acquiring the latest gadgets. It is about having a digital mindset. I am deeply passionate about empowering people to embrace the culture and habits of digital native organisations like Google.

Celebrate failure

My teams are encouraged to be multidisciplinary, to experiment and accept that some projects will fail, especially if we set challenging “moonshot” goals. Celebrating failures may be hard in certain cultures, including in the UK, where I come from, despite our rich history of innovation. However, I believe it is the stretch goals that will help transform businesses. At DBS, for instance, we set an ambitious goal to launch a mobile-only bank, digibank, in India within 18 months. We successfully delivered on this in April 2016.

Getting our hands dirty is part of the process. A few years ago, I learned to build mobile apps. It was uncomfortable because the last time I coded was more than 20 years ago. The interface I designed was not great, but this experiment has made me better able to guide our digital bank initiative as a developer and user.

Embed yourself in the customer’s journey

To manage experiments, we adopt agile and human-centred design methodologies. We speak to customers before developing any products to understand what they really need or want to do. Then we prototype, test and iterate quickly. That way, we fail early and inexpensively to learn faster.

Employees learn what it means to be agile in an immersive way. You cannot lecture on digital innovation and expect people to change. So we started doing hackathons in 2014. Employees are given a framework and tools to innovate. The teams have gone on to launch digital offerings such as DBS PayLah! and DBS Home Connect that you see in the market now.

In my first human-centred design session, I had to discuss with a colleague the journey of buying a gift for our wives. We had to consider the pain points we would experience and what would make our wives happy. As you can imagine, the conversation between two men started out rather awkwardly because as colleagues, we usually do not talk about such personal matters. Often, we hide behind spreadsheets. Talking about emotions, however, helps us develop empathy and uncover unmet needs. At the end, I had a lot of fun and learned to see problems in a new way.

Create a platform to bring people together

Digital native organisations like Facebook are masters of creating globally scalable platforms that bring people together and integrate into their lives. DBS has begun thinking in similar terms. The job to be done is to deliver joyful experiences.

At digibank India, we built an ecosystem of partners comprising artificial intelligence (AI) experts, data scientists and developers. It is the country’s first mobile-only bank that is branchless, paperless and signatureless, and incorporates technologies like AI. Our success means we could replicate this platform in other markets.

Engage with communities-in-need

Being the former Development Bank of Singapore, and with POSB an integral part of our franchise, serving communities is part of our DNA. For example, we offer banking packages and grants to social enterprises. One of my teams assisted SOSD, an animal welfare group, to revamp their online pet store as well as their database system.

History has shown that extraordinary leaders are those who look beyond short-term interests. Business leaders should likewise think about the impact they can make as well as their contribution to humanity. I believe it is when we become more purpose-driven that we start to create breakthroughs.

Mr Gledhill will speak more about DBS’s innovation at the PS21 ExCEL Convention on November 11.

    Sep 1, 2016
    David Gledhill
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