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At Grab, our deep understanding of Southeast Asia has helped us evolve into the region’s leading superapp, designed to empower everyday entrepreneurs while continually innovating to provide our users with delightful experiences. In our latest series ‘An Interview with a Grab Inventor’, we shine a light on our Grabbers pursuing innovation driven by their passion. To foster the culture of innovation, inventors at Grab are also rewarded for their inventions and efforts contributing to our growth and expanding patent portfolio.
In the second chapter, we had an engaging conversation with Jenn Ng about how a middle manager at Grab like her drives innovation and protects unique intellectual property (IP) to safeguard Grab’s competitive advantage in the market. She also shares how she perceives innovation and provides a safe space for her team members to innovate.
Jenn Ng is a Senior Data Science Manager from the Trust, Integrity and Safety (TIS) team and has been with Grab for four years. Before Grab, she worked as a Data Scientist in the San Francisco Bay Area and subsequently moved to Singapore. She is an active innovator with four inventions approved for patent filing and one of the prolific inventors at Grab alongside her manager, Jia Chen.
What’s the first thing you have in mind when you think about “innovation”?
Innovation to me is about exploration, breaking rules and just having fun imagining new possibilities beyond current processes and systems. Along the way, it’s a plus that those new ideas can help us and our business be more productive and efficient. For example, we need to make sure the innovation strongly relates to a TIS business KPI such as fraud savings, friction reduction, profitability or man hours saved in operations etc.
What motivates you to innovate?
I find it fascinating that so much of what we do today can be assisted by AI tools to achieve and scale business goals more efficiently and quickly. An example would be auto adaptive systems and how they help to simplify and optimise many decision making processes automatically. Having patents is also a source of motivation as it can directly give recognition to the team’s innovative work, besides business impact.
What do you think about middle managers’ role in promoting innovation in a big organisation like Grab?
Middle managers should play a big role in fostering a culture of innovation as they play the middleman between business teams and their tech teams. They can think from a strategic perspective on the business impact of potentially innovative technical ideas. For example, when embarking on new projects or improving current projects, we can spend a bit more time thinking of novel approaches that could be better at optimising business goals besides traditional methods.
What would be one invention (which you patented) that you always remember and gives Grab the competitive edge?
My team patented a couple of systems that could provide Grab with a competitive edge, though the one I’ve been more involved with is reinforcement learning (RL). The business application is an auto adaptive friction decisioning system optimised for improving the experiences of users valuable to Grab. It came about because we constantly battle with the pain point of solving the trade-offs between user experience and fraud detection, which are in constant conflict with each other. For example, we can apply heuristic rules to improve experiences overall but that will cause fraud to spike as we reduce friction overall.
So rather than just patching again when more false positives escalation arises or when fraud detection spikes, we pushed ourselves to think if there could be a learning system that can better weigh the decisioning automatically, with the goal of improving business metrics like profitability. Ultimately, we came up with the personalised friction framework that delivered beyond our expectations.
What advice or tips would you give to future inventors?
Here’s my personal advice for all aspiring inventors:
- Continuously read up on new ideas, application and technological advancements from other companies, industries and academic institutes, even those outside the domain of the problems you solve for.
- Constantly think about innovative idea exploration when tackling new business problems and make sure it can be tested with quick experiments.
- Innovation does not just have to be a back-end process. It can also come from the front-end, such as unique UI/UX innovations that positively affect user behaviour.
- Always try to file patents if you think your inventions are patent-worthy. You never know, your idea could be the first of its kind!
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