How do you bring customers into your innovation process?

… it’s the exciting comradery that makes this a great initiative for all involved. It’s really motivating and great for team morale. …

Mncedi Maila, Channels & Platforms Lead at Standard Bank

Picture this: a day of getting paid to work on something that you think is cool and interesting, working with your friends, beers, pizza and no one telling you what to do. 

Sounds too good to be true right?

Well, it’s akin to what we do twice a year at Caplin. And it’s amazing how it boosts creativity, contributes to morale, and gets everyone refreshed. 

And from a Product perspective I think it’s the best way to bring new ideas into our innovation process for our electronic trading platforms. I’ve been asking myself: how can we bring our customers on this journey and involve them in our innovation process?

Then finally this year in May 2022 I organised a customer hack day at Caplin to innovate collaboratively with a long-standing customer of ours where we got our engineering teams to contribute ideas to the product roadmap and our client to start thinking about innovative new projects.

First let me tell you about innovation at Caplin 

At Caplin innovation is part of our core values. 

We dedicate a day a month to innovating, whereby anyone in the organisation can use that day to work on something they find interesting. We also organise what we call “Hack Days” a couple of times a year. 

Even during the pandemic we have stuck by this tradition and brought it into a virtual environment. 

Hack days are a well-known way to fuel innovation at tech companies. You might have heard the likes of Facebook, Google, even NASA call it a “hackathon” or a “code fest”. We essentially get ourselves into teams to innovate around a specific theme or problem statement during a time-boxed period, typically 24 hours.

The word “hack” is used in a sense of exploratory programming where the purpose is to allow ideas to flow freely and participants to innovate without typical constraints around requirements, tooling, ensuring maintainability of code, writing automated tests etc. It is known to improve collaboration, encourages teamwork and enhances creativity

In the words of Thomas Edison: 

“The real measure of success is the number of experiments that can be crowded into twenty-four hours”. 

Thomas Edison

Hacking the customer divide

I mentioned that one of our core values at Caplin is innovation, the others include curiosity and collaboration. So, I have long thought that I’d love to bring all of those together and innovate with one of our long-standing customers. 

At that time, we were having relevant discussions with Standard Bank, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity. 

I raised the idea of running a joint Hack Day to Standard Bank at one of our regular account management calls. They were immediately sold on the idea and recognised how this could help spark innovation within their own engineering teams and bolster the roadmap with creative new ideas.

As such we set out on a journey to see how we could start innovating together. 

First step: set the theme 

In previous account management meetings, we had discussed Standard Bank’s vision for their electronic trading platforms and agreed it was well aligned to our own internal product roadmap at Caplin. As such it seemed to make sense to extract five key themes from the product vision and centre the Hack Day around those. 

I can’t share all the details but think cross-asset journeys, data and mobile – you’ll quickly get a sense of where we were going with it. 

The themes were purposefully kept quite broad as we didn’t want to limit participants’ creative thinking. 

Fast forward to D-day 

Once the day came in May, all environments had been sorted, presentation tools, Slack channels and teams had been arranged – we were ready to kick off. 

I was excited to see what the outputs would be! 

My hope was that we would get new ideas that we had never thought of before that could influence our product roadmap and spark conversations about the future of our products with clients. 

(The idea “Condensing Vapour” from a Hack Day in 2018 ultimately led to Caplin Discovery, and if you don’t know about this product please get in touch with us so we can arrange a demo.)

Once the 24-hour period was over it was time for the teams to present their outputs and ideas. 

I assembled representatives from Caplin and Standard Banks’ product, IT, and business teams to take part in the judging panel. 

The judging panel had a tricky choice to make after all the presentations. Mncedi Maila (Channels and Platforms Lead) at Standard Bank said it best: “Wow, what an epic fest of creative ideas.” 

We didn’t know where to start to rate all 21 teams that took part!

The result: amazing ideas

We saw presentations ranging from chat integrations, crypto trading, bots, power user interfaces, commodities integration, margining GUIs, extracting payment schedules into block trading, tag managers, new server-side rendering ideas, and plenty more!

I loved seeing teams think about how we could integrate Xero accounting software into a trading workflow, looking at new charting libraries to add more data visualisation into some of our products, tracking user activity using Google Analytics, and even just innovative ways of making improvements to our existing products like Refiner. 

It was really hard to choose a top five, let alone a winner.

Ultimately within the judging panel we discussed each idea and rated them against the following criteria:

  • Relevance to theme
  • Originality 
  • Technical innovation 
  • Business application
  • Completion of goal

The top 2 winning ideas were:

  1. Flexible components – fixing upgrade pains by releasing features rather than applications
  2. Margining – a new drag and drop interface to allow bank’s admin users to set different types of margins more flexibly and seeing it flow through to the final price offered to the customer

And the following deserve individual mentions too:

  • Desktop-mobile workflows (where one person can initiate a workflow on a desktop, and another can approve the action/trade on a mobile device)
  • Bots and chat functionality (allowing corporates to chat directly to their sales dealer during an active trade request for example)
  • Commodities workflows (integrating more asset classes into our existing product set)
  • Quick input field (supporting various quick inputs for initiating new trade requests on behalf of customers)  

You can read more about our winning ideas on our blog. 

And finally, a word from Mncedi Maila at Standard Bank:

“Everyone talks about innovation but very few get to truly do it, the collaboration between Standard Bank and Caplin during the hack-day was testament to how much value the 2 organisations place on innovation. Beyond the amazing ideas that emanate from the engineering teams, it’s the exciting comradery that makes this a great initiative for all involved. It’s really motivating and great for team morale. Cheers to more of this in the future ”

Mncedi Maila, Channels & Platforms Lead at Standard Bank

What’s next

The joint hack day sparked some great ideas for Caplin’s product set and how we could enhance our offering for Standard Bank and all our other customers. Many of these projects will now be making their way onto the product roadmap to be prioritised alongside all our other interesting initiatives.

In fact, we have a new cohort of interns joining us at Caplin and they will be picking up doing a POC for the margining UI tool which won top place in the Hack Day. 

And the best part is that Standard Bank loved the ideas so much that we are discussing commissioning some of them into mini projects in order to accelerate them on our roadmap! 

I can’t advocate for hack days enough. They support in building an innovative culture that fosters learning from failure, taking risks, and supporting an exploratory mindset. 

And it bolsters our product roadmap with creative ideas that we might never have thought of otherwise.

And the best is it doesn’t end there, there’s plenty more where that came from!

So now here’s your Call to Action

Do you want to take part in a collaborative innovation day with us? 

Maybe we could get your development teams and ours together to think about topics like:

  • Automation – what sales/customer flows can we automate or predict?
  • The future of tech – what technologies do we think will take over development in the future? How can we integrate these into our workflows? Think Low/No Code, SaaS, Cloud etc 
  • Visualisation – how can we bring data to the sales decision-making process?
  • Or anything else

Contact your account manager or myself directly to discuss how we can help you get the creative juices flowing!

Author: Serena Koivurinta

Product & Design Lead

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