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IT trends spotted and checked by experts

Director of resources and innovation, Societe Generale Group

Françoise Mercadal-Delasalles has, since 2009, been director of resources and innovation with the Société Générale Group. She previously worked at the Caisse des Dépôts as deputy director of information...


Société Générale: Innovation is everywhere, from our partners to start-ups

11 Jan, 2016 10:01 am

How do you create a climate of innovation within a company as well as outside of it? Through teams immersed in a world of digital creativity, hackathons and innovation labs both in France and abroad. Société Générale has created a cross-sectorial breeding ground to respond to the challenges of the digital transition.

A far-reaching change in our societies has been unfolding before our very eyes over the past twenty years, and the pace of that change has accelerated significantly with the transition towards the digital age. Entering this new era has also changed the way we innovate. Innovation has evolved away from innovating with "products" towards relational innovation, from a closed form of innovation towards an open one, from incremental innovation towards ground-breaking innovation.

The banking sector now fully finds itself at the heart of the digital transition. Three of four years ago we were at the awareness and strategy definition phase. Today the commitments made have become a reality and projects are multiplying. All you have to do is look at the retail bank Société Générale's most recent adverts to see it - customer relations have truly changed. Now it's all about making the most of both human and digital resources to enhance the customer's experience.      

Nurturing an appetite for digital innovation within our partners
Measures implemented internally online have paved the way. Our large-scale brainstorming initiative Peps! (Experimental, Participatory and Stimulating Projects) brought all of our partners together to reflect upon the impact of digital technology on our sector. The "Digital For All" program, launched at the end of 2014, enabled us to equip workstations of all of the bank's partners with the latest in collaborative technology, and by the end of 2016 some 90,000 tablet PCs will have been distributed. Our well-equipped and secure internal "app store" already boasts 40 business applications.     

These are tools which foster the sharing of ideas and opinions, and promote a pooling of intelligence within the group in the name of innovation. We also need the relevant infrastructure to accompany this reflection. Wi-Fi is omnipresent on our work premises and even in our branches (85 to 90% of them). To innovate, we have also sought inspiration from the working methods of start-ups, with examples including "pizza team" exercises, design thinking and the test and learn method.

The workplace must allow for this type of collaborative work. In autumn 2016, Société Générale's main IT teams will be able to benefit from a highly equipped, completely connected, adjustable workspace at our Val de Fontenay site, which will be a veritable technology hub that embodies the group's digital transition. There will be no closed-off offices, only open spaces where teams with interests or projects in common can come together.

We have also set up a series of cross-cutting communities tasked with reflecting on twelve strategic trends which we have identified, such as big data, the concept of the block chain, cyber security, crowd lending and artificial intelligence.

Brainstorming at the heart of the "French Tech" initiative
Innovation is also present in  environments external to our own four walls, as Société Générale has been a resident partner of Player ever since its creation. Player is a laboratory that plays a fundamental role within the "Silicon Sentier" innovative business association and the innovation-based initiative "French Tech", and its aim is to detect and experiment with new forms of collaboration. Within this space dedicated to co-creation, we find not only start-ups founders but also designers, sociologists, futures analysts, coders and digital artists.

Our teams, which include people from different sectorial backgrounds, meet up and work in immersion to resolve specific problems. This enables us to brainstorm, create prototypes and see how our ideas stand up in contrast to those of stakeholders in the digital creation sector. Our aim is to end up with teams that are more creative, more agile and able to act more quickly when developing partnerships with these types of third party partners and communities.

Furthermore, we have recently formed partnerships with Le Tank (to speed up our project work and jointly carry out on-site work with the resident community on issues linked to design experience), SenseCube (to help develop our projects, inspired by accelerated methods used by start-ups who are members of SenseCube, and to immerse our partners in a different type of community), InProcess (to develop the use of design thinking methods when thinking about the client of the future: through ethnography, observation of service usage and imagining user experience scenarios) and Plaine Coworking (to immerse our partners and their projects in a budding innovative community anchored firmly in the digital sector).

Dealing with stakeholders in the digital creation sector
Our vision is not to mindlessly engage in acquisitions just for the sake of it, nor to launch an incubator - on the contrary. Our more unique approach is based on building partnerships both with our service providers and with third parties, and on acquisitions such as Boursorama's takeover of Fiduceo (the first example of a French bank acquiring a financial technology - or "fintech" - company). The aim is to increase our number of contacts and to bring our internal teams and digital sector stakeholders closer together.

We have set up relay teams in the US and in the UK (in San Francisco with Rebellion Lab, for example). In Israel, we are currently working on five to six POCs (proofs of concept) with local start-ups. We are also thinking of putting in place more integrated projects to mirror the work of our Innovation team in France, notably in Bangalore in India - which has become the world's second-biggest digital start-ups hub - and in Africa. 

Preparing for tomorrow and after tomorrow

Although we may be well equipped when it comes to digital uses and an understanding of society, banks remain exposed when it comes to disruptive technologies or concepts, which seem to be subject to constantly reoccurring cycles. My responsibility is to foresee what will happen tomorrow, after tomorrow and beyond that.

With innovation happening at multiple speeds, there will be a need to identify what is useful for our sector. Big data enables us to have better fraud detection, but it also offers us a better understanding of our clients. The following phase consists of offering clients a unique experience via whatever means, whether it be tablet PC, in one of our branches or through contact with our call centres, or via our personalised offers and services. Machine learning and, above all, deep learning, which "mimics" the human brain's nervous system, will perhaps help us achieve this.

Our partners have developed a real appetite for digital innovation. They are prepared for the challenges of the transition, they see what is going on around them and the changes in their own private lives. They would be worried if their bank did not react and did not dedicate large-scale investments to these issues.

Innovation is a strategic priority for our group, which benefits from a large level of involvement on the part of directors and top-level management. This involvement gave birth to the Learning Expeditions initiative that has been in place since 2014, as well as monthly updates regarding innovation at the group's board meetings. Indeed, it is no coincidence that, for the second year running, Société Générale has been ranked 4th among CAC 40 listed companies when it comes to digital maturity(*).

(*) According to the e-CAC40 2015 ranking compiled by Echos Business