What is innovation? It’s an idea that is also bandied about today. Launch a phone in a different colour? Let’s call it innovation. How about a longer chip? Yup, that’s innovation. Well, it probably isn’t. To me, innovation should be a treasured word. To me, it implies the introduction of a new product or service that results in a transformation, upheaval even, in how we think or act. A simple example could be the car, the internet, or the mobile phone. The point is that innovation keeps us improving and moving forward.
I had the pleasure of meeting a person who does innovation for his day job. Fraz Chishti, who works for Noor Investment Group, is the first Chief Innovation Officer I’ve ever come across in this region. While his CV is impressive – he has a Phd in chemical engineering and has worked in communications, marketing, information technology and project management – what’s different about Fraz is his willingness to question and probe and not accept the status quo.
His opinions, especially for someone working in the financial sector, are different from what you’d expect. For example, Fraz worked with his CTO, the technology department and internal stakeholders to implement an open source application for the bank’s Human Resources department. Open source is a taboo in the banking sector, due to the risks associated with security and the lack of supplier accountability. However, Fraz and his team innovated and worked to develop a solution that met the requirements of a number of parties. Instead of going with an established provider, Fraz stepped out of the box and delivered a tool which, as he puts it, “gets the job done.”
In markets and industries which are becoming increasingly crowded and competitive, companies need to find better ways to distinguish themselves. They can either do that through marketing (which most do), or through a product and service focus. Add to that the disruptive nature of our digital age and consider how rapidly our world is changing.
Just talking to Fraz is an experience in realizing opportunities and unlocking potential. He’s disarmingly honest – Fraz worked with Noor Islamic Bank to understand the potency of social media rather than just jumping in blindly – with a touch of common sense (just ask him about e-commerce).
What’s clear is that Noor Investment Group has a person on the top table who isn’t afraid of floating ideas, concepts and thoughts which he will then take and mold into a functional model. He is the rare individual here who understands different functions of a business, who knows how to get ideas accepted by different stakeholders, and then collaborate to transform those ideas into processes, products or services that will add to a company’s bottom line as well as improve a customer’s perception of his organization.
In the US, the innovation officer has become an accepted position among blue-chip firms. But we’re still lagging behind in this region. If we’re looking to create rather than copy, innovate rather than import we’re going to need many more Fraz Chishtis. I for one wish Fraz and his future innovation colleagues the best of luck.
* This piece was first published on the Kipp Report news portal.