Can Innovation be Accelerated by Social Technology?

Organizations are challenged more than ever to come up with innovative products and services yet there is no formula for innovation, or can there be?  Is it possible to somehow optimize the resources and harness them intelligently to work on the larger, more complex, problems in an organization?  Although most would argue that it is not possible to manage innovation, one of the study participants in our recent benchmarking project was able to marry a tested, multiphase innovation model, with technology to help manage the process, and intensify the results.  By doing this, this participant was able to get four projects to the test market state in a year, with the combined revenue potential in the hundreds of million dollars.

What’s our basis of authority?  The increasing trend of powerful social networking platforms and the complexity and challenge of product development triggered our interest in this timely topic.  Although we have led development organizations for over 20 years, we wanted to see what new, cutting edge methods might be recently available to improve the generation of breakthrough products. Joined by three Santa Clara University Professors (Tammy L. Madsen, Kumar Sarangee, and Jennifer L. Woolley) who shared our interest and passion, we performed a multi-client benchmark study including Amway, Cisco, HP, IBM, NetApp, and Solidworks.  IBM provided some of the most advanced examples in this study.

So What?  One of our study participants described the incorporation of an innovation model with discrete phases, supported with technology, which has yielded a “repeatable innovation model” that has generated four major new product ideas in less than a year.  Many have tried and failed to enhance innovation only to have mediocre project outcomes or product flops.  There are examples of crowdsourcing where good ideas come out, but it takes longer, and requires more management attention.  This best practice has several characteristics that enables it to succeed where others have failed:  top level management support with a small dedicated center of excellence, a defined process coupled with enabling technology, stimulating the culture of innovation with outside speakers, hosting creative 2 day camps, and creative mind days, and most importantly, having an end to end framework for innovation (many firms mistakenly believe that an innovation process starts and ends with the idea box).

What do I do about it?  The practice utilizes a defined process for the front end of innovation that can be leveraged by technology.   The process steps include the following elements:

  • Business, Market, Technology Intelligence and Scanning

  • Technology Strategy and Planning

  • Program Filtering, Selection, and Initiation

  • Innovation Program Management (Program Level)

  • Capability and Platform Management (Technology Level)

  • Monitoring and Feedback Loop Back to First Two Steps

Support innovation with technology to improve the creativity & quality of the output and leverage resources as much as possible.  The idea is only the starting point – the hard work is implementation.  Organizations need the capacity to screen ideas, align them with strategy, and allocate resources to them to ensure successful commercialization, and idea management technology is well suited to accelerate this.

Results:  The innovation process has been adopted by many divisions and has yielded four new products in less than a year:

  • The product ideas came out of running multiple major creative initiatives.

  • Teams are prototyping them now and moving the projects to the Alpha stage for testing.

  • Three months from now, this company hopes to have four products released into the market.

  • In a year’s time four ideas were created, prototyped, and moved into an Alpha product.

  • Although all four might not be successful, two or three of those might add hundreds of millions of dollars in incremental revenue to this study participant’s top line.