Sparking ideas at Microgaming

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In winning the recent Spark the Change award, Isle of Man-based Microgmaing finds itself in exalted – not to say infamous – company. Only in its third year, Spark the Change has previously honoured the UK’s spooks at GCHQ with its winners’ accolade but this year it is the games supplier which has been recognised for its own staff-powered innovation programme. Called the Idea Factor, it takes the ideas and innovations that originate within the organisation and presents them to the whole company, through a series of rounds, that ends with a decision panel deciding which of the ideas gets to go all the way through to implementation. GamCrowd spoke to the Idea Factory’s Lydia Barbara, who is head of innovation strategy at Microgaming, about how she came to spearhead the programme and about how it has engaged and enthused Microgaming’s staff to think about how the company can compete in the future. We also talk later in this article to one of the winning teams, Hannah Kennish, Kim Broad, Jeriel Bacani and Jamie Delaney from the compliance department, about how their compliance portal idea, which represented an overhaul of the due diligence process for onboarding new operators, came about.

GamCrowd: What was the original thinking for the Microgaming Idea Factory?
Lydia Barbara:
I think like a lot of large process changes, the Idea Factory began with a bit of wishful thinking. ‘I wish we could build a game that did this…’ and ‘I wish we had a more efficient way of…’ But that sort of thing stays wishful thinking without some elbow grease. With the support of our chief financial officer John Coleman and a number of volunteers, we turned this into a successful reality.

GamCrowd: What were the difficulties getting it off the ground? Was there a degree of internal scepticism?
Lydia Barbara:
In many ways, this was the easiest thing that I’ve ever done at Microgaming. Of course, it was a lot of hard work to set it up, but people here became excited about it from the start. I think that without the enthusiasm of everyone involved, it would have been a far tougher task.

GamCrowd: How gratifying was it to win the Spark award?
Lydia Barbara:
It is always hugely gratifying to win awards. And an international award that recognises innovation achievements across all tech industries was such a huge accomplishment. But having watched people and their ideas develop through this for over a year now, I already felt like we’d won the biggest prize in the world.

GamCrowd: What were the parameters for ideas to get a hearing? I've seen the process described as crowdsourcing innovation, can you explain this theory?
Lydia Barbara:
The whole contest is a highly-structured process, with three different filters of varying difficulty and two different groups judging the idea’s merit. It is a challenge to get an idea through the final round, but it’s not all that difficult to get the idea through the first. Anyone in the organisation can send through an anonymous idea, which gets voted on by a group of people called the Selection Committee. If half of them are intrigued enough to want to hear more, the person/team with the idea gets to pitch it in person. But that’s just the start of the process. If you want to describe the contest more broadly, we cast the net as wide as we can to sweep in ideas. These are then looked over by a committee who assign mentors to the most promising ideas. The ideas’ originators then get funding and time to trial, prototype and refine their ideas before presenting them to the most senior people in the organisation, who decide whether they get deployed. For many in the organisation, it was the first time they has presented to senior members of the company; a little daunting perhaps, but a fantastic opportunity.

GamCrowd: Why do you think that it is hard for innovative ideas to be heard in larger organisations?
Lydia Barbara:
Multiple books have been written on this very question. I don’t know about other organisations, but for us the problem was that we did not have a process or strategy dealing deliberately with ground-up innovation. We have some extraordinarily clever people in our organisation, but without a process it takes a huge amount of grit and a very understanding line manager for someone to get something entirely new from concept to build. And if the person does not have the skills to build the idea themselves, it has almost no chance of success. With the Idea Factory, we made it possible for anyone in the organisation to build something new.  

GamCrowd: What other benefits do you think the Idea Factory brings the company?
Lydia Barbara:
I expected that people would learn presentation skills, some degree of project management and how to be a good mentor, and all of that turned out to be true. What I did not expect was that people would showcase hidden talents or leadership capabilities, or that the mentor relationships would develop into long-standing professional networks. And of course, we’ve had some amazing ideas through, some of which will significantly improve our efficiency in key areas, and others which will bring us and our licensees new revenue.

GamCrowd: On the Compliance Portal, how do you think this will benefit the company?
Compliance team:
The Compliance Portal will benefit the company in a number of ways. Firstly, it will streamline current processes, with automated features considerably reducing the amount of administration work that the C=compliance team undertake. By creating a user-friendly portal, which provides real-time updates, it will greatly improve communication across the company and reduce the time it takes to approve due diligence for new customers. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the success of this idea in the Idea Factory, will encourage other teams or individuals who recognise opportunities for innovation within their day-to-day roles to step forward in the knowledge that their ideas will be heard.

GamCrowd: What has been the response of the licensees to the new process?
Compliance team:
The portal is not yet live, but it is being built and designed with the user experience at heart. We are confident that we will receive positive feedback from both our existing licensees as they maintain their respective and imperative compliance records and future new customers who are beginning their journey with Microgaming.