Monday, February 21, 2011

At the heart of a good idea management system is a knowledge management system


Here’s a secret: At the heart of a good idea management system is a knowledge management system. OK, maybe that’s not such a big secret. But if you’re looking at an idea management system and it doesn’t have the components incorporating knowledge management then you’re just getting an electronic suggestion box.

Don’t get me wrong... Ideas are Good

There are many types of ideas an organization can glean from their teams. They can gather unsolicited ideas and gain incremental innovation (“I’ve noticed while doing my work that if we just did ‘this’ we could make more money”; or “do things faster”; or “do things more cost effectively”). You can let the market pull your team toward new ideas (“I just got back from a customer visit and they told me we should also offer ‘this’ product”). Your technical team can push new ideas (“Aha! I’ve tweaked our widgets and now they are much better”). And you can partner with those innovators at the University, those people in research environments, who can explore radical concepts never thought before in any commercial settings to develop “breakthrough” innovations”.

Idea management systems provide a workflow to assess all of the ideas listed above. They can ask all the smart people on the team to comment on the ideas. These stakeholders can poke holes in other’s brainstorms and make constructive comments. They can invite the experts they know to add their two cents and vote on the best ideas so the best ideas get promoted. These enhancing steps are all attributes of what is commonly referred to as the Wisdom of the Crowd.

Good Workflow

The very best idea management systems will also allow downstream steps in the process to include expert reviews. This might be a team of managers at your company, or a group of marketers or financial people or a mix. These experts (made up of teams that vary) can examine the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats this idea poses (commonly referred to as a SWOT analysis). Lastly a feasibility study can be facilitated examining the idea in the light of perspectives uniquely important to the organization: What is the competitive advantage? What is the strategic fit with our current product line? How much will this cost? Each of these steps can generate a numerical score so the best ideas can be ranked and promoted. Eventually the best ideas get put into development

You Need More!

But all that is just an electronic suggestion box without the type of collaboration a knowledge management system brings. With knowledge management attributes, the collaborative system mimics Facebook in many ways. Users can post interesting things when they discover them (“Oh look, I read an article you all might be interested in that has to do with the subject we’re discussing”) or images or videos or links or events or peoples’ profiles. And, of course, users can search for this information and retrieve it. This means I can go to the system to Solve Problems and Find Experts.

What You Need Can Be Found In The New Idea Management System

Besides idea generation, the collaborative tool has to be attractive enough to get people to log on. If the type of information I rely on to do my job can be found in the idea management system, I’ll log on with great frequency. And then at least I’ll be there when it’s time to submit and work on ideas.

You don’t want a big empty bucket when you kick off your idea management system. You need to populate it with something. So, for instance, every industry has their journals. If you’re in Aluminum, there’s probably “Aluminum Today”. If you’re into marketing services, there’s probably a “Marketing Monthly”. Your first step should be to have the RSS feed for the updates these journals provide automatically feeding your idea management system. This way users know where they can find this information.

If you already have a library of white papers on your topic they should be tagged and stored on the idea management system. When someone conducts research as part of their job, the idea management system should be where they share it with the team.

Outside Knowledge

Besides the knowledge management information an organization’s fellows provide, outside stakeholders can also contribute to the conversations. This means you probably need a module that constantly polls or “listens to” the internet looking for key words of use to your team. A good module like that can help the Plastics Company look for usage of key words like “Plastics” on Facebook and Twitter and web pages and chat rooms.

When a hit is discovered, perhaps using the word “Plastics” in a way no one internally had thought of, you can bring the new thought internally to the system and discuss it. Similarly you can identify those people (not your employees) out there who frequently talk about your topic and invite their opinions on the subjects you’re interested in (“We’re thinking of introducing a new plastic widget, what do YOU think about it?”).

Another useful module is a stripped downed idea management system that anyone can use with very good security features. You can ask for ideas from outside stakeholders (like your partners, your customers and the public). You can ask them to vote and comment on other’s ideas. Then pull those best ideas into the secure arena of your internal tool.

Why Knowledge Management?

Besides ideas, the two things most people ask for when they’re looking at idea systems are: “How can we solve problems?” and “How can we find experts when we need them?”. Knowledge Management attributes like the storage, tagging and retrieval of information is the enabling factor for those uses.

And Knowledge Management is also the basis of dividing your group into teams. If you have a group of people that want to discuss “surface cleaners” or “tensile strength of copper”, they can belong to the larger group of “everybody” and also belong to the subgroup with their very specific focus. Some of the organization’s challenges might be limited to their smaller group (“Have you solved the ‘strength’ problem?”). The knowledge they share in these groups can be available to ‘everybody’ but readily apparent to the smaller team.

With today’s technology (like a SQL database and a tag cloud for the files) all the collected information can easily be retrieved and reported on. A knowledge management system at the heart of your idea management system will make it more than just an electronic suggestion box.

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 .

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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