More than just a space in the Star Wars galaxy

Situated within the heart of Singapore’s start-up ecosystem, amid the palpable buzz of discovery and experimentation, lies DBS’ first purpose-built innovation space. Named DBS Asia X (DAX), the facility was set up in 2016 at the famed Sandcrawler Building, in the one-north district’s Fusionopolis cluster.

With features such as project pods and spaces, journey rooms and co-working spaces, the 16,000 sq ft space was set up to design iconic customer experiences and foster greater collaboration with the fintech eco-system.

Head of DBS Asia X Annie Ye shares more about the innovation facility.

X marks the spot

I was asked by a visitor at DAX if the bank always had an innovation centre.

“Not at all.” In fact, our innovation team used to occupy just a few tables along a narrow corridor on Level 8 at the Marina Bay Financial Centre. That was before the idea of a dedicated innovation centre was mooted.

Then, Singapore was abuzz with news that Star Wars creator George Lucas was setting up shop at Fusionopolis. In 2014, CNBC headlined the move as “George Lucas unleashes 'Sandcrawler' in Singapore”. Fast forward to November 2016, DAX joined the Star Wars galaxy and was launched on level seven of the much-hyped Sandcrawler building, named and modelled after the mobile fortresses in the Star Wars films.

Why did we need a space away from the mothership? Shouldn’t an innovation centre be located near the core teams within the bank’s premises? The pros and cons were thoroughly deliberated, but among them, the idea of having a space at Singapore’s very own Silicon Valley stood out.

I joined DAX when it was about three months old. My first impression was how “unbank” the space looked. It was very open and flexible. There was good natural lighting throughout, conducive for ideation or experimental activities. There was a good juxtaposition of elements of Singapore’s history against futuristic looking icons – making it a place where you’d feel both the sweet nostalgia of yesterday and the thrill of what’s to come.

Ensuring good design was, in fact, one of the first challenges the team at DAX faced. There was an unsightly structural pillar right in the middle of the entrance. That became the team’s first innovation test. A kaleidoscope installation was eventually created around the pillar so that it would be (and it truly has been) a conversation starter about constant reimagination.

However good design aside, DAX must be a community where people feel they belong.

When we made the conscious decision to move to one-north, we wanted to bring our colleagues out of the financial district and into Singapore’s Silicon Valley so they could live and breathe the spirit of innovation.

However, one of the challenges was that some people felt it was too far away from their stakeholders who were mostly located at MBFC!

We then started bringing in other people who were keen to be based at DAX, aka our DAXters. We started to bring in social enterprises, fintech startups and university students in addition to DBS staff. After all, innovation arises from the amalgamation of people from different backgrounds, skillsets and culture.

Our employees saw how fintechs and social enterprises were problem solving to meet customer needs or address social issues. They worked with these start ups to solve financial issues together in an agile and fluid manner. It might have been uncomfortable initially, but that’s how we form and develop communities.

Barely two, DAX now has a substantial community that is familiar with the concept of innovation. More than 30,000 people have visited and participated in workshops, talks, bootcamps, hackathons and multiple other programmes since the centre was launched.

Together with different teams across the bank, we launched accelerator programmes that resulted in solutions such as AI-driven smart bots and virtual assistants with deep banking knowledge, Southeast Asia’s first virtual bank recruiter for wealth planning managers, and the world's largest banking API (application programming interface) developer platform.

DBS Asia X is more than a space. It is where we create and promote the culture of innovation, and eventually ignite solutions.

We stay nimble, behave like a start-up and actively engage thousands of DBS staff. We venture beyond the bank to build an ecosystem by connecting with our neighbours at Sandcrawler, developers, fintech start-ups, and the larger one-north community.

DAX is a mindset; a community where we support each other, encourage quick experiment and celebrate failure.

I hope DAX will become the home for passion and innovation for the larger creative and innovation community; that it will facilitate DBS’ reimagination of banking; enable DBS to keep evolving and redefining the D in DBS – from Development, to Digital, to Disappearing, so we can truly make banking invisible and help customers live more, bank less.

 

Annie promotes the passion and culture of innovation at DBS Asia X and across the bank’s ecosystem. She manages the operations of the innovation centre and runs marketing, community and co-creation programmes.

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