How enterprise IT gets creative

Creativity is the driving force in top-tier organizations. Here's how five are capturing opportunities for innovation and pulling in fresh new ideas.

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CapitalOne: When staffing its labs, CapitalOne combined "the best of the best" from its internal teams and then hired people with business or technology backgrounds and expertise in areas such as startups, rapid prototyping, agile processes and technologies like mobile, big data and the cloud, Shivanandan says. CapitalOne has also acquired several startups to seed its labs with specialized technology or business skills, such as mobile coupons or data analytics.

Lab staffs are kept small, Shivanandan says, with 20 to 45 team members in each lab, including technology and business experts. Additionally, people from business units typically get involved in projects aimed at their particular area. "We are one of the best data companies in the world, so we have a lot of people who understand how to use data," Shivanandan says.

Because of the lean staffing model, the labs find that their services are always in demand, but they're also able to respond quickly. "They're viewed as a necessity, not a nice-to-have," Shivanandan says. "When people get something out of the lab, it's seen as a privilege and a great opportunity."

MasterCard: Lyons says he looks for smart, creative people "who have an appreciation of how technology can make people's lives easier." They don't necessarily need to have a background in the payments business; in fact, Lyons prefers candidates with different backgrounds and perspectives. "I have access to a lot of phenomenal payments knowledge at MasterCard, so I want to hire people with other skill sets," he says. "I believe that if you know too much about a domain, you either start with the premise that something isn't possible or you can only incrementally improve what already exists."

Grange Insurance: Grange's innovation group includes programmers and business people at all levels, Fergang says. "It includes myself as CIO, down to relatively junior programmers," he says. People rotate in and out of the group every couple of years -- an approach that helps up-and-comers get to know higher-level managers.

How do you establish processes and expectations for delivering ideas and bringing them to fruition?

American Cancer Society: After reviewing best-of-breed innovation processes, the innovation steering committee established specific processes for the core innovation team to follow, from encouraging idea submissions, to vetting ideas, to deciding which to pursue. Once an idea moves forward, it moves into the standard project management life cycle.

The innovation management platform ensures that these processes are followed without a lot of direct oversight, Ferro says. One of the basic tenets is focusing the ideation process on specific business issues. Workers from around the world can comment and vote on one another's ideas. The core innovation team reviews ideas that get a lot of thumbs up and also scores ideas itself, using criteria such as mission impact, cost savings, community outreach and risk mitigation. "This isn't a glorified suggestion box; it's about how to do things faster or deliver higher quality on a program," Ferro says.

The crowdsourcing approach yields fresh ideas with minimal resources, Ferro says. "You don't want to dedicate 100 people to innovation, but if you crowdsource ideas from people who might never have interacted before and then use a small core team to manage the process, a natural evolution takes hold," he says. "The speed of innovation is rapidly increasing."

CapitalOne: Within the labs, staffers are split into small teams that follow agile processes, such as frequent iterations and fast prototyping. The environment itself -- including whiteboard-covered walls -- encourages creativity and brainstorming.

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