Innovation has a different meaning for every organization. At Discover® Financial Services, it lies at the heart of the company’s business goals and growth. And it boils down to one core concept: a relentless commitment to improving the way people work and enhancing the careers of engineers.
"Innovation is about modernization, it’s about optimization," said Dan Gisolfi, Distinguished Engineer, Head of Innovation and Intellectual Property at Discover Financial Services. "It doesn’t necessarily mean creating a new invention, but perhaps new processes, new ways of working, and new technologies that fuel growth." In fact, for a fintech company, the concept of driving constant change and evolution is somewhat challenging. As Gisolfi said, "We have to balance strict adherence to regulation and compliance guidelines while enabling a safe zone for research and experimentation around new ideas, technologies, fintech industry trends, as wells as process optimization and modernization."
So, how does a digital bank like Discover empower engineers to continuously generate, test, and launch new ideas? With built-in resources that nurture innovation and push the industry forward.
Innovation squads to build out new ideas
Discover launched its Innovation Accelerator program to help designers and engineers flesh out new ideas across their entire lifecycle—from inception to launch and optimization. This starts with supporting design thinking: the non-linear process of solving problems through collaboration and creativity.
"Design thinking allows us to bring people together so that everybody has a voice," Gisolfi said. "It helps us share ideas, empathize with our customers, and come up with creative solutions."
To flesh out these solutions Discover builds innovation squads, or virtual cross-functional teams dedicated to tackling a common problem. It’s basically a forum for research and development, giving engineers the freedom to experiment, fail, succeed, and learn.
"They get to step out of their day job, drop into a virtual squad, and work on a problem for a couple of weeks or months," Gisolfi said. “Instead of working on the same tickets day in and day out, innovation squads allow you to imagine the ‘what if? or how might we?'"
Global hackathons with open source collaboration
Earlier this year, a designer at Discover created a prototype for a tool that improves accessibility across technology platforms. An innovation squad was created to flesh out the prototype. But the team knew that the tool could go further. So, they released the code as open source and invited creators from around the globe to contribute.
"Accessibility is not an issue that only affects Discover; it’s an area of regulation that all financial institutions and all industries need to deal with," Gisolfi said. "But we approached it from a Discover point of view, and we invited other institutions to collaborate with us in an open source project to solve this common problem."
This challenge was launched as part of the Global Accessibility Awareness Day Hackathon from the Fintech Open Source Foundation (FINOS) and Discover—an event spanning 27 countries and 200 participants.
"We wanted to make it clear that anybody can and should be involved with innovation," Gisolfi said. "You don’t have to be an engineer to be in a hackathon. In fact, the best hackathon teams are ones that incorporate marketers, business development professionals, designers, and engineers all working altogether."
Patent program to protect IP
Discover also protects its intellectual property (IP) with a patent program that includes monetary rewards. In fact, just the process of applying for patents helps designers and developers take the time to fully flesh out their ideas and build more general, reusable solutions for broader application. After launching the program in June 2021, the number of patents within the organization increased exponentially.
Several hackathons, for example, have produced patents even for teams that didn’t win the events.
“I’ve told many teams, ‘Even if you didn’t win the hackathon, your idea is still viable and worthy of being protected,’” Gisolfi said. "As Discover evolves, our patent program continues to motivate and recognize engineers for their innovative contributions."