Echo Entertainment will embark on a facial recognition pilot after the gaming giant's CIO promised proof of concept financing to the top five ideas his technology team could come up with.

The exercise, internally called the 'CIO challenge', resulted in “34 great ideas” that are presently being scored and whittled down to the top five, CIO Kel Telford told Information Age on the sidelines of the CXO Challenge report launch in Sydney.

The first idea to be funded involves facial recognition and analytics, and will be tested by staff in the technology team.

“Every time you walk through the door, [the system] knows you're now in the office and it knows that 10 minutes later you normally go down to the cafe and order a coffee,” Telford told Information Age.

“We'll actually get that coffee ordered for you and bring it to you [to your desk]."

If the pilot works, the next step will be to apply the concept elsewhere in the business - including for Echo's gaming clients.

“You can imagine what that could do for your VIPs,” Telford said.

“The VIP walks in the door - we know [they've] come in and [their] drink's ready because we've already picked up that they are here.”

Other ideas may focus on mobility – like the possibility to track behaviour using apps – and process improvement to streamline repetitive tasks such as data entry and signing for deliveries.

Creating a new culture

The CIO challenge broadly fits into Echo Entertainment's wider push to encourage a culture of innovation.

While the challenge has already proven itself a valuable exercise, Telford says, he is keen to see ideas generation become “more of the norm” for the technology team. He said he was now rewarding ideas as they arose to encourage them on an ongoing basis.

Echo is also taking a leaf from Google’s book, adopting the technology giant's former 80/20 rule for staff in the technology team to encourage more moonshot thinking.

“We're trying to give people 20 percent of their working time to actually do different things,” Telford said.

“So my job is 80 percent this, but I’ve got this 20 percent of flexibility where I can do something different.”

Echo is also launching its first graduate program to encourage new ideas from outsiders.

Telford said he wanted to attract graduates who “like challenging the status quo”. Housed in an “innovation hub” – to be headed by a yet-to-be-recruited digital executive – the graduates would be encouraged to challenge what they saw, before they became too familiar with existing systems and ways of working.

One of the potential challenges with the approach is selling the idea to existing, experienced staff that graduates with big ideas are coming in to shake everything up.

“We've actually been communicating for some time with staff that we want to do this for this reason,” Telford said.

While the technology team had proven themselves a good source of ideas in the CIO challenge, Telford acknowledged they also had “day jobs” – meaning it could be difficult to find time for focused innovation.

“The graduates we're trying to give an opportunity to will end up having a day job but we're going to utilise the early years of their learnings to be able to participate [in innovation],” he said.

Outside the technology team, Echo also solicits ideas from across its 9000 staff through an app they all use called My Echo.

Telford believed the capability was “transformational” for the company. “This is how we're trying to make sure we engage back with the right people,” he said.