Stories and advice for Pride Month and beyond |Read more
Getting Ahead

At This Tech Company, Any Employee Can Help Create the Next Great Idea

group of three coworkers talking in an office
Courtesy 10'000 Hours/Getty Images

Amanda Harvey was never a big sports fan, but when the opportunity arose in mid-2020 to work on a company project that aimed to use technology to solve a problem within the sports industry, the CapTech interactive design consultant jumped in feet-first.

Harvey joined a small team that sought to reimagine sports betting, which has seen explosive growth as several U.S. states have legalized the practice in recent years. While sports betting typically requires a bookmaker or other middleman to manage the wagers, the team at CapTech envisioned a way to store the contact (the terms of the bet) securely in a blockchain—a digital ledger that makes it possible to store information in a tamper-proof way—and to have winnings dispersed automatically based on official sporting results.

The Freedom to Innovate

This project is just one example of the kind of inventive solutions borne out of CapTech’s Innovation Challenge. The challenges begin with a broad theme such as sports, augmented reality, or artificial intelligence. Teams from across CapTech, made up of people at all levels of seniority, come together to propose a bold new idea. Each group presents their idea to a group of CapTech executives, who choose a winning idea—which can then become a real offering for clients.

But the Innovation Challenge isn’t only about the end product. The experience builds a culture of innovative thinking and encourages CapTechers to develop additional skills and forge new partnerships across the company.

“The Innovation Challenge was one of the things that drew me to CapTech,” says Harvey, who participated in the sports-themed project just four months after being hired. “One of the reasons that I was interested in it was to make contact with people outside of my practice area and outside of my office.”

Making Connections With Peers

The need to connect with others was the impetus for another sports idea last year. Because it doesn’t require physical contact with other players, golf was one of the few games that could adhere to social distancing rules. Yet large golfing get-togethers, such as fundraisers or corporate tournaments, remained logistically off-limits during the pandemic.

“We were talking about things within sports that we were missing,” says Jessie Rinker, a senior manager. “And one of them was getting out and being able to play golf with a large group of friends.”

Her CapTech team—nicknamed Weapons of Grass Destruction—came up with a solution that allows players to golf together, separately. Their creation, Absen-Tee, allows players to easily set up a virtual tournament, allowing players to compete even if travel restrictions force them to golf different courses on different days. The innovative app logs the scores, adjusting them based on factors such as player handicaps or the difficulty of various courses.

To Rinker, the creation of Absen-Tee proved the value of working with a diverse group. As the more technology-focused members wrestled with the gnarly problem of incorporating various handicaps and course adjustments into an algorithm, she used her management experience to evaluate the user experience, specifically how to make the app intuitive and user-friendly.

“Sometimes when you're so technology-focused, you just want to do something cool and innovative,” Rinker says. “The most successful innovation challenges have had diverse teams where people can think of the benefit that the new technology is providing, versus just doing something for technology’s sake.”

Thinking Outside the Box

For Jonathan Tang, Director of System Integration Practice, the Innovation Challenge represents a crucial avenue for creative thinking because it encourages employees to dream bigger and go beyond the boundaries they might have in their day-to-day work.

“You're giving people the space to be creative and setting them on a path with minimal guidance, without any real guarantee or foreknowledge of what they're going to come back with,” Tang says. “It’s a way of coaching and training your employees to be innovative.”

Tang worked with the winning project for the Sports Innovation Challenge, which makes watching sports more accessible for people without much experience or knowledge of the players or the rules. From the live broadcast of an NFL football game, the service pulls important information such as the names of players or events such as a scoring play or penalty. It then gathers data about those terms and feeds it to the user in real-time, helping them understand the on-screen action.

Tang says that each Innovation Challenge brings a new opportunity to invent. For the Accessible Solutions Challenge, which took place in 2019, one team devised a web app for people with grandparents or older family members who live on their own and need to be reminded to do things like take their daily medications. The app allowed the users to program reminders and send automatic transcriptions of the replies it received.

A Way to Build New Skills

Taking on an Innovation Challenge helped Harvey grow in ways she might not have been able to otherwise. Since she was new to the company and worked primarily on customer experience issues, the challenge’s small team environment was an especially great way to collaborate with and learn from colleagues who brought more technical expertise.

“For me, the big thing was getting the confidence to speak up about things that were more product-based rather than just interaction-based,” Harvey says. “I began feeling more empowered to use my voice and say, ‘I think this is going to be confusing for users,’ or ‘I'm not sure that's going to accomplish the user’s goals.’”

Rinker puts it this way: “I think the Innovation Challenge really hits on the core values of CapTech: intellectual curiosity and constantly wanting to learn and grow.”