“Creating an innovation entity” by Richard Hababou, Chief Innovation Officer at Société Générale



Richard Hababou is Head of Innovation Group atSociété Générale (Banking industry). He’s an acknowledged specialist in integrating new technologies in Banking Information System, shaping innovative services powered by IT.

Following conversation on “elementary particles of innovation“, Richard tells us about the set-up and the management of an Innovation entity.

An innnovation entity, what for ?

Société Générale Innovation Division was created in 2009 while the company needed to transform itself. Setting-up an entity dedicated to innovation was a way to instill “innovation thinking” within the company. The main goals were as follows:

  • develop an innovation culture, make innovation thinking a natural habit through Collaborative Innovation activities including  set-up innovation contests and prize;
  • capture disruptive innovation through specific market intelligence andlab activities, and pass relevant information to business lines.

Moreover lab activities include implementing a network of innovation relais, set-up innovation contests and prize, develop prototypes, probes, pilot projects, and proof of concept, acting as innovation enabler.

How do you articulate innovation projects with business line activities?

Innovation is closely linked to business context and expectations: allinnovation projects are jointly funded by business lines and Innovation department. They own the innovation project, which involves them, and leads to cocreation. It’s not a sole lab’s innovation.

Our innovation framework is guided by a few key management rules:

  • We use fast prototyping to stage rapidly the new concepts.
  • Projects part of annual Innovation program are reviewed by a high level Innovation committee made of 12 people, and validated by top executive managers. The Innovation committee meets monthly, puts forward the annual Innovation workplan, and monitors its delivery by the innovation lab. It’s not the lab manager who decides on its own.
  • Each project is sponsored by a business line manager.
  • We provide oversight, business line supply with the resources.
  • Budget is assigned according to arbitrages completed with business lines and Innovation division.

How do you spread innovation spirit?

I see innovation diffusion like a spider web or a grid, based on several mesh points:
  • A central intelligence team scans trends and feeds the seeting committe with market analysis which shape the right decisions.
  • A small team works at the Innovation division, but a network of 600 people all over the world make the innovation spirit alive.
  • Each business line has a representative for innovation.
  • We leverage on open innovation approach, developing interactions with the outside market of innovation.

To sum up, we try to act as an innovation chain, supplying innovation DNA, rather than as a business division.

In your opinion, what is the importance of innovation portfolio management?

We are quite focus; we handle 4 to 6 projects a year,with different sizes and issues such as: mobile payment, augmented reality, marketing emailing …
Our innovation process is just one year old, but have defintely a logic ofportfolio management. We aim at reuse of innovations across the company and balance.We started with a collection of projects but enclosed in the vision of a global portfolio.

One has to keep the process flexible, with some latitude and liberty. Systemic approach has to be applied when it makes sense.

You’ve worked on a Design Thinking approach for financial services, what were the key learnings?

We created a club for innovation in financial services industry, designing a common thinking on innovation role in our industry.

One output was Design Thinking or Strategic Design. How could we leverage on Design Thinking to reshape innovation process in financial services? We followed the approach step-by-step, mixing competencies and disciplines such as ethnology, anthropology, sociology, design.

We started from chaos! We needed to draw a consumer cartography to detect expectations that would drive to innovation paths that we ultimately designed. To tell the truth, it was more user observation than collecting expectations: we looked at key moments in our customer life, breaks, accidents,moments of truth where the relationship with their bank is essential.

Customers followed their own way in the process, and selected two entirely different scenarios: a kind of “all-in-one” bank, acting like a butler, and at the opposite, a bank which develops customer autonomy. We designed  a mix of the two innovation avenues, combining bank branch office and online servive in a globally consistent relationship, and tested through a visual interface realizing the concept.

We have formalised this practice, and use it now for projects and prototypes.