The Great Innovator Challenge

Published Mar-24-10

The Royal Bank of Canada's open innovation competition yields a novel intranet application designed to transform the workplace.

Royal Bank of Canada, Canada

The Story:

The Great Innovator Challenge Many companies realized long ago that internal R&D is only one part of their innovation portfolio, and it may not even be the driving force behind research efforts. The pace of change is so quick, and the desire for novel products or new ways of tackling problems is so insatiable that they have turned to open innovation to keep them ahead of the pack.

Great Innovator Challenge

The Royal Bank of Canada has been experimenting with open innovation for a number of years with its Great Innovator Challenge. The competition is designed to yield new ideas or concepts, allowing RBC to “tap into new points of view and new ways of thinking.” It is open to Canadian University and College students and offers cash rewards to the winning teams.

The 2010 challenge required students to suggest new methods or tactics to transform the workplace so that it can meet the needs of an evolving and diverse workforce.

Recognizing that the workforce and nature of work in the financial services industry is changing the bank wanted to learn from people with vastly different experiences whose careers are just beginning. Students have grown up with the Internet and social media tools and haven't been bogged down by industry conventions and traditional practices. They can attack the challenge with open minds.

Open Innovation Advantages

Zabeen Hirji, chief human resources officer, RBC, and a judge of this year's competition was in no doubt about the benefit of open innovation to her company. "RBC has an increasingly diverse customer base that is reflected in our workforce. We're excited about how this year's ideas can help us accelerate the sharing of diverse viewpoints to positively shape our workplace of the future."

More than 100 submissions came in as teams from 18 universities answered the call. They were whittled down to the top 15 proposals by a diverse cross section of RBC employees. Then a panel of RBC executives picked four finalists and a fifth finalist was selected by a peer voting system. All five teams were then invited to pitch their ideas in person to a top group of RBC executive judges.

We Have a Winner

The grand prize winner of the 2010 RBC Next Great Innovator Challenge was a team from the Schulich School of Business at York University who picked up a $20,000 cash prize for their RBC Connect intranet site idea which is designed to “enable real time employee interaction, foster collaboration and facilitate sharing of expertise.”

There was also a $10,000 award for the second place team, and $5,000 for the 3 runner-up teams.

RBC is serious about open innovation and the Great Innovator Challenge is no PR puff or platform for theoretical what-if scenarios. The best ideas are thoroughly examined and tested by the bank’s Applied Innovation Team and various business units to see how they can help it change the way it does business.

In an address to competition participants Zabeen Hirji explained just how useful previous open innovation competitions have been to RBC. “In many cases your ideas have influenced real business decisions and been brought to life here at RBC”.

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