Planting the seeds of innovation at DBS

We find out how award-winning Chief Innovation Officer, Neal Cross, is creating and nurturing an innovation-driven culture in his organisation.

By Nurdianah Md Nur
Sept. 13, 2016

"Another example was how we've used data analytics to increase the efficiency of our ATMs. We identified the peak periods for withdrawal and usage, when to replenish cash in the ATM to prevent incidents where it has run out of money, as well as identified when we needed to service the machine to prevent breakdowns. This has significantly reduced the number of complaints and breakdowns in the past year," Cross illustrated.

When asked what's next for his team, Cross replied that "their number one priority this year is to support DBS' project called Iconic Journeys, in which the bank uses human-centred design, experimentation and agile methodology to deliver a significant shift in how their customers interact with the bank." He added that his team will also be "learning how to effectively regionalise the innovation programmes" so that they can be extended to more employees and partners as the bank expands its footprint in Hong Kong and India.

What it takes to be a successful Chief Innovation Officer
As mentioned before, changing an organisation's process and structure - which is the responsibility of the CIO - is no easy feat.  To facilitate such changes, Cross advised CIOs to "educate employees about the changes which are going to be introduced, clear all their doubts regarding why, and why now." "Gradually make them understand the rationale and the urgency behind such a change. A true leader has to be exemplary; inspiring others to not only follow their footsteps, but also to create newer footprints along the way," he asserted.

When asked about the key traits a CIO should have, Cross replied: "Firstly, they should be a leader rather than a manager. Through this, they should be able to build and retain a world class team. Personally I do four things for my team: I give protection, education, inspiration, and most importantly, freedom."

"Secondly, they should have a sales and marketing mindset, especially if they need to convince senior executives to partner on an innovation programme, which is quite different from the way they normally operate."

"Finally, in this age where most innovation tends to end up as a technical implementation, a CIO needs to deeply understand the history and future of technology megatrends."

He added: "The three lessons I've held on to that have helped me to achieve the [most disruptive CIO] award are: stay humble because you can always continue learning new things, to give recognition to your people and team who have helped to support your ideas, and to always have a larger purpose in life."

"On that last note, being involved in setting up the Hotel Orangutan in Sumatra has given me alternate perspectives away from my everyday corporate life, enabling me to a better innovator and driver for programmes. That's something I'd like to encourage all innovators to do; to find a sense of purpose apart from their everyday job." 


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