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Bright ideas spring out of OCBC's 'innovation lab'

Top management drops by sometimes, too, to listen to staff presentations directly

[SINGAPORE] To most people, it may seem like any other meeting room, but the spacious venue at one of OCBC's offices in Tampines is where some of the bank's best initiatives have been spawned of late.

This "innovation lab", which opened last June, is a regular hive of activity where staff at all levels, even interns, gather to brainstorm and incubate ideas.

Some ideas that have been realised so far include one called OneScreen, which allows staff to view and assess an applicant's information and background at one go, instead of having to toggle between multiple screens.

This has reduced the processing time for credit card applications by 74 per cent, while the simplified work steps have helped reduce the time needed to train staff by 65 per cent.

Another staff came up with an idea to set up a self-service kiosk at the bank's branches to allow customers to carry out non-cash transactions such as changing their contact details, instead of having to join the queue at the counters to do so.

This kiosk is now being piloted at OCBC's Thomson branch, and there are already plans to roll it out at more locations in future, says Praveen Raina, senior vice-president of the bank's group operations and technology division.

"We are promoting a culture of innovation for continued business success. We strongly believe that through innovation, we can differentiate ourselves at two levels: by providing value to the business and to the company overall, and by giving value to the staff," he told BT in a recent interview.

In his view, no idea is too big or too small - something which he communicates regularly to the bank's employees.

Since OCBC rolled out an innovation portal nearly three years ago for staff to chip in with their suggestions, more than 5,000 ideas have flowed in.

Many of them have gone on to be realised, said Mr Raina, even simple ones such as providing umbrellas in the office lobbies for shared use or having a daily shuttle service to ferry staff from one office to another.

"Staff at all levels are encouraged to become innovative thinkers who actively seek ways to improve their workplace and the way we serve customers by thinking out of the box, challenging the status quo, being resourceful and being unafraid to embrace change," Mr Raina said.

He hopes that the innovation lab will continue to produce new initiatives that will benefit all stakeholders.

On occasion, members of the senior management, including the CEO, drop by to listen to presentations by employees who have come up with ways to help boost productivity or morale at the workplace.

Mr Raina said: "It's very important to have the support of the top management. The staff can feel it when the division head or CEO walks in and asks to see what's new.

"The staff gets the chance to show off their ideas to top management directly, and that's a big reward in itself - much bigger than any monetary reward."