Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Idea Management Systems must be Flexible, Customizable and Connected with Social Media

The environment of the front end of innovation requires two things more than any other: Flexibility and the ability to Communicate with its user community.

1. This means the user interface must be able to change for different types of users.

2. It means the promotion scheme for ideas must be customizable for any given challenge if a challenge requires it.

3. It means that some challenges require the input of everyone and some challenges require a very specific work group to participate.

4. And it means the user community needs to be alerted when certain things happen so they can be sure to participate in discussions important to them.

Incremental Innovation Enabled. Idea management systems should be able to offer a front end divergence of screens to host both unsolicited ideas (for incremental innovation and quick revenue wins) as well as hosting input on breakthrough innovation, solicited as a result of using Challenges. The process, the workflow, the promotion criteria, the people involved is very different when dealing with unsolicited ideas. The process should be quick, the workflow should direct assessment to experts and the ideas should be shoved toward deliverability rapidly in order to grab the quick revenue win.

Meanwhile Breakthrough Innovation requires a different approach, perhaps tapping into the wisdom of the crowd (meaning everyone should be participating) and a promotion scheme based on calculating the wisdom of the crowd (perhaps a social science algorithm measuring participation i.e. views, votes, comments, votes on comments, bookmarks, “follows”, alerts, etc.).

Flexible Workflows. For some challenges you might want to tap into the wisdom of a large crowd (everyone) followed up by assessment and reviews by specific discipline experts (a group of engineers for instance). For other challenges you might want a certain group of 25 people you trust to go through the idea assessment. For still other challenges you might want just three internal people to review then open it up to the company’s partners then back to a group of experts. The point is: a good idea management system enables flexible workflows for each challenge. And this means the end users can set these up without going back to the software vendor.

Flexible Idea Promotion Schemes. A good idea management system enables different promotion schemes for different challenges. Again, the user should be able to select which promotion scheme is best for judging each group of ideas. A library of promotion schemes can be accumulated. Some challenges might have the best ideas promoted as soon as they have had a certain number of “views”. In a different scenario the best ideas are promoted using reputation ranking and scoring (the most active people in the user community have their votes weighted as more important than occasional collaborative users). Still another challenge might use a promotion scheme that determines the best idea when it merely gets the most votes. Maybe the idea gets promoted when it gets twelve comments. The challenges themselves will present the criteria for the right reasons to automatically select the best ideas and the end users should be able to guide this without going back to their vendor.

A new idea (or any inspiration) should be able to be assigned to one or more challenges (or to no challenge at all). People collaborating should be able to start a discussion without having to associate with a challenge or have to post it as an idea. And yet, an Innovation Manager on the system should be able to eyeball a comment or a discussion and decide to promote it to an idea if they deem it appropriate. The idea management system should allow people to post ideas where they most logically apply.

Flexible alerts. To keep adoption rates up and to keep the collaborative community involved, alerts need to be thoroughly integrated with the company email system and to be issued upon reaching virtually any criteria. This means we may decide to send an alert to a certain group of people every time a new idea is posted; or when a new comment appears. Perhaps everyone gets an alert when a new challenge is posted. And users should be able to opt into an alert when they “follow” a certain topic or idea or challenge (checking once a day, or a week or every 15 minutes).

These alerts allow users to stay up to speed on something that interests them even when they are not logged on. And when they get the alerts they should be able to click on a link and go directly to that part of the idea management system. And all this is because even if end users don’t routinely check on the idea management system, they do routinely check their email. And whether from their desktop computer or from their smart phone, they can get an email alert, click on a link; have a browser open and jump into these discussions.

Flexible participant management. The people who work on any given challenge can vary. For this reason, when you have an idea management system, it should be easy to assemble different people into different groups. That way when a challenge is posted, the creator can pick the right group of people to work on it. Some challenges will include everyone. It should be easy for a user administrator to manage Application roles assigning someone to Groups, or creating new Users or new Workspace roles. This means it is easy to add a person or a list of people; to assign them to a group; to specify what groups (or individuals) can work on any given campaign or challenge.

Integrated social media connectivity. A good idea management system takes advantage of all the venues of communication the social media world has to offer. So not just communication within the collaborative tool itself and not just communication with email, but a good idea management system should enable connectivity with Twitter, as well. So when you look at some one on the idea system’s profile, you see what they Tweet. And with the clever use of hash tags, you can have those Tweets show up in a germane fashion. Those that Tweet can, for instance, include a #idea hash tag periodically. And those specific Tweets can now be sought out and appear on the collaborative tool where they belong. Or the #engineering tag or the #marketing tag can make sure those Tweets appear in the correct challenges within the system. Stronger integration and functionality with Twitter should be a mandatory part of a flexible, customizable and communication-ready idea management system.

Customizable User Interface taking advantage of Persuasive Design. On the idea management system, users should be enabled to easily customize screens. If they think a ranking of the best ideas in real time should appear on the dashboard, then they should be able to rapidly compose that ranking report and tell the system where it should appear. Once again, they should be able to do this without going to the vendor.

They should be able to administer different dashboards for different types of users. Maybe all the engineers have one dashboard and all the marketing people another. Maybe everyone in the XYZ division has a type of dashboard and the headquarter people have another. By developing the idea management system in a way where it is easy to modify the different “zones” on a screen the software vendor truly enables the end user community to be productive. Users will benefit by being able to easily add a new KPI and have it displayed where desired (e.g. number of new log ins, new ideas year to date, number of comments within the last month, etc.).

Users should be able to manage how reputations are calculated. If the user community believes reputation scores are earned in a certain way they should be able to define how reputation scores are calculated (e.g. 1 point for a comment; 10 points for an idea submission; 3 points for a vote, etc.).

So, in conclusion, the best of breed idea management system empowers the end user community to modify the system in order to address the company’s needs without running back to the software vendor every time (and incurring the consulting fees associated with those changes.

A truly great idea management system is flexible enough to assign different workflows when required; different groups of collaborators when required; different promotion schemes when required. And a truly great idea management system is capable of being thoroughly integrated with the best of social media communications tools and that includes email, Twitter accounts and much more.

Ron Shulkin is Vice President of the Americas for CogniStreamer®, an innovation management system. You can learn more about CogniStreamer here

Ron manages The Idea Management Group on LinkedIn (Join Here) . He has written extensively on Idea Management (Read Here) .

CogniStreamer® is an idea management software tool. It is an open innovation and collaboration platform where internal colleagues and external partner companies or knowledge centers join forces to create, develop and assess innovative ideas within strategically selected areas. The CogniStreamer® portal is an ideal collaborative platform that invites users to actively build a strong innovation portfolio. In addition it provides a powerful resource for internal and external knowledge sharing. The CogniStreamer® framework is used by industry leaders such as Atlas Copco, Bekaert, Case New Holland, Cytec, Imec, Picanol and ThyssenKrupp. CogniStreamer® represents the best use of adaptive collaborative technology such to harness human skill, ingenuity and intelligence.


Sara said...

MileMarker® is a new, easy-to-use Idea Management tool. ( MileMarker is your GPS for innovation® - using collaboration and prioritization to map out your ideas and show you the road ahead. MileMarker® is a simple yet powerful tool that helps organizations capture ideas and prioritize them, making it easier to decide what to work on next.

After collecting ideas and feedback from both customers and employees, you can rank ideas based on feasibility and value. MileMarker® then helps with the hard part by creating roadmap that explains which ideas you should work on next, save for later, or not use. Sign up for an account at

janelle said...

Great post Ron- its helpful to look at how these processes are effectively tied into idea management software. For a clear, concise, quick tour that gives a great overview of idea management software functionality and its purpose see

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