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Driving innovation at Fidelity Investments

John Dix | March 28, 2014
Fidelity Investments is one of the world's largest providers of financial services, with assets under administration of $4.7 trillion, and it didn't get there by using yesterday's technology. In fact, the company has a standalone group, Fidelity Center for Applied Technology – more commonly referred to as Fidelity Labs -- whose job it is to take the long view, to examine technologies years before they become mainstream and help the firm get a leg up.

How is the group organized?

We have a number of different functions. We have technology researchers, and their job is to identify new and emerging technologies and bring them in-house, do research, and then recommend an action. We have development teams who are responsible for building early prototypes and pilots. We have people who are responsible for managing various, what we call, innovation ecosystems. For example, we have a woman who is responsible for San Francisco's Silicon Valley, and a gentleman in Dublin who is responsible for Europe.

And then we have some horizontal capabilities. So, as an example, we have a big practice with our partnership with Stanford University's D.School around design thinking. So we hire people who either were students at the D.School or have a design thinking profile that may help our businesses by approaching a project and asking things like, "What is the real customer problem here?," or "How can we create lots of prototypes to iterate with customers?" So they're almost like customer researchers. 

We also have folks who help scale innovations. So we have a patent office, as an example, with people who help fill out patent applications and decide where we want to protect our IP. And we have a group that runs what we call Idea Management. We use a platform to be able to run idea campaigns across the firm and externally. Their job is really to catalyze innovation throughout the rest of the firm's 40,000 employees. 

So it's a range of skill sets.

How do you work with enterprise IT? 

It depends. We have enterprise IT and we also have business unit IT. In business unit IT we have one group called Personal Investing, which is the thing most people know, like or an Investor Center. We also have Workplace Investing, which is 401(k)s. And we have Fidelity Institutional, where we work with banks, brokers and insurance companies to be their back office and middle office. So in those cases we work directly with the technology and the business folks to build out pilots and applications. With the enterprise IT folks, we work on things for the broader firm. So, as an example, we did a pilot of Jive Clearspace six or seven years ago which turned into our social platform. We've done some work around video that turned into some of our video strategy. We've done some stuff in cloud computing using public and private cloud. 

Can you give me some specific examples?

Take Google Glass. We initially were looking at that as a kind of consumer application. But then said, "Hmm, are there applications in the enterprise? Would it be useful if we could have one of our associates be able to watch what's happening through the eyes of a remote contractor through Google Glass? We would try to take any emerging technology and say, "What are the use cases that really make sense here? Is there a consumer case, a B2B use case, an enterprise one? Sometimes there is, sometimes there isn't. Sometimes we think there is and there isn't. 


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