Monday, January 10, 2011

Licking the “lack of resources” problem when embracing innovation.


There’s a reason why the ice cream store has so many flavors…. Everyone wants something different.

It’s just as true in the innovation space. Many flock to embrace innovation. Some with fear and trepidation; others with arms open and diving in. Some are better prepared than others. Most know they must include an approach to innovation in order to compete effectively in this economic climate.

An organization with a culture of innovation likely needs people responsible for the topic. Innovation managers (or directors or EVPs) concentrate on the subject itself. Their focus on innovation allows them to enable the rest of the organization with the pursuit. But what happens when there isn’t enough budget to fund these positions? How can a group get innovative if only a percentage of each person’s time is dedicated to the task?

One answer is to seek outside help. This can take the form of consultants. If you hire on a professional services team who has done this many times before they likely can fill the role of innovation manager for your team. Of course they won’t intuitively know your business as well as you do. On the other hand they are likely experienced at rapidly learning new businesses and extrapolating their previous engagements to apply to each client’s individual requirements.

The phenomenon of outsourcing, so prevalent in today’s climate, can extend to all sorts of services. Most companies already accept cloud computing. It makes no difference where the computing power resides physically (nor who manages it) as long as it appears to be available when needed.

The enterprise software that organizations use can easily be running off site, an environment commonly called “Software as a Service” or “SaaS”. Most of the innovation software out there is available to be installed behind the firewall at a customer or can be made available virtually as SaaS. As long as you use a browser to get to the software, what’s the difference?

Some might make a case for security. “I don’t want one of my most important assets like our strategies for innovation to be subject to a security leak”. The reality is information can be made just as secure using SaaS.

Now many vendors are offering “Innovation as a Service”. The timing for this is perfect. Companies want to embrace innovation. They want to use Idea Management software. But they don’t have a resource tasked to manage the environment. Most idea management software has automated features to promote ideas without intervention. And most of them are so user friendly that no training is required. But truth be told, someone has to fill the role of Innovation Manager.

Why? Think about it. Maybe a particular challenge requires a specific workflow or promotion methodology. Who will make that decision? Maybe the “crowd” on the collaborative tool has gone off on a tangent discussing something that might be interesting but entirely non productive. Who will gently guide them to get back on track?

The same concerns for security exist if you use outsiders as innovation managers. And the same assurances exist for the concept’s success. Outsiders (who are experts at innovation) can be contracted to keep a secret.

Most vendors of idea management software have professional service people who can deploy the software, help clients pick the initial user community; organize a plan to accommodate organic adoption of the system. These software companies also have access to experts, whether employed by the vendor or a part of a partner network who can fill the role of innovation manager.

If your organization has a goal to embrace innovation; to address the front end of innovation with an idea management system and you’re concerned you don’t have the personnel available to manage the environment…don’t worry. Your software vendor knows how to help you. People can be found. Your employees can be trained. You can be guided down the path toward success by experts who have done this many times before, likely at companies just like yours. In fact don’t be surprised if they’ve worked with your vendors, your customers or your competitors.

Of course you can find someone on your existing team to be liaison. Someone from R&D can pull the product development people together. Someone from HR can support a collaborative tool to be part of the intranet. If you initially limit the system to a department, someone within the discipline will be thrilled to be the innovation manager, whether it’s marketing or finance. Ten percent of ten people’s time does equal an Innovation FTE.

Every organization is different. The only common thread is the desire to embrace a spirit and culture of innovation. You’ll have many steps along the path to success. Don’t identify any issue as one that should prevent you from moving forward. If your software vendor is any good, they’ll ask questions before suggesting solutions. And all the obstacles to success can be identified and addressed along the way.

The alternative is you won’t do anything…while your competitors do. They’ll be turning out a steady stream of new products and services. They’ll be reforming their organization with incremental improvements. They’ll be grasping breakthrough innovations as a result of putting their smart people in contact with each other. They’ll be tapping into the psyche of their customers and their partners. You’ll be competing against innovators.

So…what flavor of ice cream would YOU like?

Ron Shulkin is Vice President of the Americas for CogniStreamer®, an innovation management system. You can learn more about CogniStreamer here http://bit.ly/ac3x60

Ron manages The Idea Management Group on LinkedIn (Join Here) http://bit.ly/dvsYWD . He has written extensively on Idea Management (Read Here) http://bit.ly/b2ZEgU and here http://bit.ly/f1GJVd .

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.

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