Digital Labs Can Do More Harm Than Good

Oliwia Berdak

Exposed brick is replacing marble at many banks, insurers, and payment firms. Warehouses are deemed a better location for digital labs, digital centers of excellence, innovation labs, and innovation centers. But why are these spaces proliferating from Silicon Valley to Singapore?

A cynic could say it’s a marketing exercise aimed at making the respectable (if a little slow) financial institutions seem more innovative — and more attractive to both customers and developers. But it’s more than that. Frustration and ambition are pushing business executives out from their traditional locations.

Digital labs promise speed by unshackling product and software development from slow business, technology, and compliance processes. They embrace new approaches, such as design thinking, customer centricity, and Agile development. They can drastically cut the time it takes to develop a proof of concept (POC).

But that’s where the dream ends.While these separate digital units aim to be disruptive, they often deliver just front-end apps or proofs of concept that are impossible to integrate and scale. Why? Because software-driven innovation requires a connection to systems of record, rigorous testing, an understanding of security and compliance threats, an analysis of impact on business units and revenue, and someone with the resources to own, love, and keep developing the product — all the things that made digital innovation so slow in the first place. All that labs achieve is to postpone these reality checks.

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