Inside Oracle's ideas factory

Read time 3min 20sec
Neil Sholay, head of digital at Oracle EMEA.
Neil Sholay, head of digital at Oracle EMEA.

Neil Sholay, head of digital for Oracle EMEA, is in the ideas business.

As he told reporters at his company's OpenWorld conference in London this week, he is in charge of Oracle's innovation programme, which aims to roll out solutions to customers' problems.

His team of experience designers (people who are good at designing physical experiences or conversational or user interfaces), business modellers and agile developers ask a client one question: Do you have any challenges that are currently unmet?

The answers start the team thinking, and in a little over two months, they 'frame' the business challenge, ideate some use cases, and build a working prototype which can be presented to the board of directors.

Oracle does not charge for this service, but gets the bragging rights for any initiative it develops.

For example, Sholay's team worked with Meliá Hotels, which has 450 branches around the world, to roll out a "connected guest experience".

Meliá's COO paid a visit to Disneyland, and noticed holidaymakers using electronic bracelets to pay for soft drinks, snacks and rides. Sholay's team got to work, and now, guests that stay at the Meliá in Majorca receive a thin bracelet instead of a plastic card room key.

Guests use the bracelet, which is waterproof and into which a Bluetooth near-field communication chip is embedded, to open their room door, buy drinks and pay for a massage at the spa. They can also walk out of the hotel and use the bracelet to pay at a nearby mall in shops like Zara and Starbucks.

Customer data can also be gathered, such as a taste for rum and Coke, which will then be offered when the guest is next at a Meliá hotel.

Sholay says the solution was built in 11 weeks, and is now being rolled out across Spain and the Canary Islands.

Cultural issue

Many enterprises have figured out they need to become digital businesses and are increasingly realising their revenue from digital initiatives, he says. They want to become an innovative digital business and are not lacking ideas, but rather the structured and practical process to make things happen.

They also realised they need to bring products to market much quicker, as most organisations, he says, take between nine and 14 months to introduce a new product. He singles out banks as being particularly poor at planning and rolling out new products, which take, on average, a year to bring to market.

What he finds surprising is that two-thirds of clients he and his team work with do not have a formal, documented innovation process. These companies also have not trained staff, or improved compensation to motivate staff to be more innovative.

"These are the things that are slowing people down. It's not the technology; the tech is out there, but it's the culture, discipline and mindset that's holding people back."

It's also not enough to just have a good idea. He says Oracle's research shows that only 3% of ideas, on average, reach the market. The other 97% are left lying on the floor because, he says, they are not solving a problem or meeting a customer need, and there are no resources to execute an idea.

"We spend a lot of time counselling and advising clients how to become a business that is not going to throw 30 people at a problem." Sholay says. "It's going to solve the problem with algorithms and autonomous technology, and it's going to grow those 30 people to figure out their data strategy."

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