Six Sigma Driving Innovation at Irish Life Corporate Business
Paul O’Neill, Director of Innovation, Irish Life Corporate Business
Director of innovation in the corporate business division at Irish Life Paul O’Neill explained that 40 of the 300 people in the division are focused on information technology and transforming the business – in other words innovation.
“We look for those 40 people to lead and drive change across the business. There are lots of suggestion schemes that drive out ideas from the entire division but my team is dedicated to picking up these ideas and implementing them.”
Six Sigma was made available to all 300 people and all are now qualified to yellow belt level; 10pc are trained to green belt level and there are three or four people with black belts.
To achieve yellow belt status involves only one day of training, whereas black belt status requires a commitment of several months.
“We have found that Six Sigma training has meant that a lot more ideas are churned out and the opportunities and problems are then picked up by the innovation team. This combined with market and customer research has helped to drive out specific innovations such as our smartphone app as well as bringing about innovation in how we do things, for example using very little paper in the organisation,” O’Neill said.
“Six Sigma is very much a manufacturing thing. In Ireland lots of financial services companies have dipped in their toe, but very few have gone to where we have with it.”
O’Neill said his team is part of a much bigger set of innovation people at Irish Life, which is part of Canadian company Great West Lifeco and employs 3,000 people in Abbey Street, Dublin.
“There is a lot of sharing of ideas and information between divisions. For example when smartphone apps came out three years ago, I met with my peers from retail and investment management, recognising that we [Irish Life] needed to get our own apps developed.
“Generally one or other unit will take the lead with something innovative. The retail division decided to outsource the first app as we didn’t have the skills at the time. They shared the lessons learned and this year our division built our app in-house.
“The high degree of competition in financial services drives the need for constant innovation. All the senior teams within Irish life recognise that if you don’t innovate in our business, you won’t be successful so there is a great commitment to this from the top down. All through the crash, Irish Life more or less maintained the same level of investment in innovation as it had before.”