Thursday, June 13, 2013

How do I get ideas from users who are in the field?

I get asked quite often from those responsible for innovation about how to gather information from the part of the community not routinely in front of a computer.  They think there is no easy answer.  They worry that a mobile phone version of the software will be prevented access to the idea management system because of strict IT security requirements.  

Internal Users
We know the people responsible for the new innovation system, or idea management system will want to maximize the adoption of the new software so new users need to be reached where they live, making it easy to get on the system.  So email invites will include a link to the system, the company intranet will have challenges posted with links into the system, private twitter feeds will include URL’s that take the user right into the system…and Active Directory or LDAP will make it easy to get into the new system without requiring the user to enter in another password.  But this only addresses the requirements of in house, on-premise users.  Those folks who work at company headquarters or in a remote office.

But what about all those folks who work outside the office?  How do we capture their ideas?

Great Question!
First off, it’s a great question. It’s a great idea to consider those members of the team who are out in the field and how to get their ideas into the system.  Salespeople, field technicians and the like are actually terrific ideators because they’re one step closer to the customer than the average headquarter participant.  They will likely get an idea while they do their work or hear about one from a customer or the public.

There are great ideas outside of these walls…we need to get them in!
Also amongst possible external users are other groups of potential valuable ideators including the company’s partners or vendors or distributors.  They too have insights different from those inside company headquarters.  And they likely don’t have computer access to an innovation technology system installed within the company.

Security Issues
But the flip side of the coin is the concern about security regarding the company’s intellectual property.  Some organizations even refuse to use Software as a Service applications…instead insisting on an on-premise, behind the firewall innovation system.  

Of course these security concerns are real.  Intellectual property does have real value and it should be carefully managed.

Let’s start by saying most ideation systems have easily managed security systems.  Users can be assigned to a category (average users, administrators, super users, Chicago people, salespeople, etc.) with certain security limitations associated within that category.  Maybe they can only see some of the tabs on the dashboard while other users can see all the available tabs.  Maybe group 1 can see a challenge while group 2 sees a completely different challenge.

The point is that virtual users can have a set of security attributes associated with their login credentials making the system just that much more secure.

Idea management software vendors know their clients take security seriously.  After all the next great breakthrough product might be in the software system and that deserves to be kept secret from competitors.  So strong security measures are usually in place like limiting the IP number ranges that can have access, or stringent password requirements.  But the clients with the most security sensitivities will insist the software be installed behind a firewall and on premise. 

Here are some ways to address these issues.

Self Adapting Browser
Virtual users can access the system via a smart phone application or via the browser on the phone.  With today’s self-adapting, dynamic browser technology, no matter what contributors use to access the innovation ecosystem, the browser changes its’ format to fit the device.  The software dashboard looks slightly different on a tablet or on a smart phone.  

Ideas from the field are enough
And if the idea management system is a full blown social network allowing content other than ideas to be posted (like videos, RSS feeds, documents, events, images, etc.) these contributions should probably be left aside when we think of mobile access.  These virtual users are typically limited to submitting ideas, comments and votes from the field.  They can log onto a full blown computer to upload or access the other content.

Working with your IT department
Not every software vendor offers this option. But my experience with those that do offer their software either SaaS or on-premise, is that the corporate IT people know how to open up a port for their external users…enabling tablets, laptops and smart phones in the field to connect with the software.  It might be about placing the software (or a part of it) in what is generally called the DMZ.  This is sort of half way between super secure and not secure at all.  Picture that broad expanse of no man’s land between North and South Korea.

More than one way to skin a cat
Another approach is to use innovation management software that can take in ideas submitted via email.  An email address can be set up, maybe something on the order of “”  These emailed ideas are put into the idea system automatically, perhaps with an approval step (or not) before the general population can start seeing, discussing, commenting and voting on it.

For those team members at the company who do not normally sit in front of a computer all day, besides all the mobile options just discussed, sometimes a shared device is put on the factory floor or in the warehouse.  Certainly the potential ideas that can come from these workers are valuable enough to cost justify the placement of a computer, perhaps with a thick keyboard protector to keep the iron filings out.

For those external potential users that are not employees of the company, web pages can be made available to solicit and capture their ideas.  These dashboards might be simplistic so as to not require any training (or have a two minute “how-to” video available).  Challenges can be put out there with small rewards so the company can tap into the minds and experience of vendors, customers, distributors or the public.  This is sometimes a great situation to run an idea contest.  

The data collected from these externally facing dashboards can be easily segregated from the main internal database with strong security controls.

In conclusion 
To wrap up…you’re right…there are good ideas to be harvested from amongst those team members who work in the field.  There are a myriad of methods to use that enable the ideas to be captured in a safe secure manner.

Ron Shulkin blogs researches and writes about enterprise technology focused on social media, innovation, voice of the customer, marketing automation and enterprise feedback management.  Ron Shulkin is Vice President of the Americas for CogniStreamer®, an innovation ecosystem.  CogniStreamer serves as a Knowledge Management System, Idea Management System and Social Network for Innovation.  You can learn more about CogniStreamer here .  Ron manages The Idea Management Group on LinkedIn (Join Here). You can follow him Twitter. You can follow his blogs at this Facebook group.  You can connect with Ron on LinkedIn.

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