Want to innovate? Then collaborate!

Want to innovate? Then collaborate! Photo: pathdoc,
Written by Oliver Bussmann

Being open to new ideas when it comes to digital and business innovation is so important, says Oliver Bussmann, and being able to collaborate is key.

During the course of my career, I have learned that innovation has to be open and collaborative. Gone are the days when companies worked behind closed doors to develop the “next big thing”. Today, you need to be part of an ecosystem, to collaborate and partner with the broader community in the area of innovation relevant to your organisation. This means being transparent: sharing your ideas, learnings and results with others. It also means being open to those that others share with you.

As a senior executive at two global corporations, I championed the setting up of small innovation labs and teams in order to be able to quickly and efficiently develop, prototype and test new ideas. I insisted on them being located outside the company, preferably in a collaborative environment with startups or others working on the same topic, so we could foster collaboration and exchange with members of the broader ecosystem.

As an example, when I was Group CIO at UBS, we became the first global bank to join the Level39 accelerator in London. This allowed our innovation team to work together in an open and collaborative environment with some 150 other startups, and to be full participants in an exciting innovation ecosystem.

This kind of transparency isn’t always easy for people to embrace, however, especially in competitive industries. I can fully understand this. But in my experience, it’s a hurdle I think anyone facing an innovation challenge must get over, and here’s why.

Rubbing shoulders

Firstly, today’s tech environment is both highly complex and very fast moving. That makes it increasingly difficult for people to innovate on their own; there is a risk that you will miss important developments.

Secondly, people increasingly recognise the value of crowd intelligence: the idea that large groups of people make better decisions, or solve problems in a better way, than individuals do. Of course, crowds can make big mistakes too, but it’s no accident that, even in our highly interconnected world, industries still tend to congregate in specific locations.

The tech industry in particular has embraced open source, collaborative approaches, and with great success. We have Silicon Valleys, and Alleys among other things, because technologists see a clear net positive value in rubbing shoulders, even if they’re competitors. Other industries can and should learn from this.

Third, collaboration, especially between companies in different fields, fosters cross-pollination of ideas. We see this very clearly in fintech, where banks gain insights from tech companies into what’s happening with the technology, while they enrich technologists with their perspective on banking and finance.

Fourth, working in a collaborative environment with potential competitors provides a natural platform for testing your ideas. Either through direct feedback or observation, you will be more quickly able to judge what you’re doing if you do it as part of a larger community.

Finally, and in my opinion not to be underestimated: being willing and able to do your innovation in an open way can be good for your organisation’s reputation. As members of the ecosystem, you can increase your credibility among potential partners or suppliers. You can also demonstrate to your clients your continuing efforts to improve. And if your company gets positively associated with an important technological trend, you can increase awareness of your brand among the general public.

So while working in a vacuum may be tempting on some levels, I think it’s an increasingly ineffective approach. My experience is that openness can turn good ideas into great ones, and that great ideas benefit all.

READ NEXT: UK regulator fosters innovative collaboration in financial services

– This article is reproduced with kind permission. Some minor changes have been made to reflect BankNXT style considerations. Read more here. Photo: pathdoc,

About the author

Oliver Bussmann

Oliver Bussmann has a reputation as a technology thought leader and driver of large-scale transformation at global organisations in the financial services and hi-tech industries. As group chief information officer of UBS, he successfully led a major IT transformation effort, instituted a new IT innovation framework, and established UBS as a pioneer in the development of blockchain for use in financial services. Prior to this, Oliver was global chief information officer at SAP for four years, and was CIO for North America & Mexico at Allianz. Previous roles include executive positions at Deutsche Bank and IBM.

Leave a Comment