We’ve seen some marvelous technologies used to support the front end of innovation the last few years. Electronic suggestion boxes have morphed into social networks dedicated to innovation and ideas. But it appears the software creation leaders in this space are focusing on making them better. A fine thing but hardly revolutionary. The question is: Where’s the disruptive innovation required to take this technology to the next level?
This isn’t just an intellectual exercise or a desire for more shiny things. Studies show the use of collaboration technologies improve time to market, enhance profitability, and impact market share gains. The competitive company of the future must have Web 2.0 tools to encourage innovation and to compete effectively.
What big steps have been taken so far?
Let’s hope at a minimum your idea management system has these baseline innovations incorporated. (Tomorrow’s innovations rapidly become today’s minimum standards. )
* Well the biggest innovative addition is the inclusion of “inspiration” contributions into the shared process. Users can contribute “other” or non-idea content into the mix. This serves to inspire audience members to come up with ideas. So for instance when challenged a user may not have an idea but they may contribute links to articles they’ve read, RSS feeds for publications the group might benefit by following, videos, images, events the team may consider attending, documents, white papers, spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations. These are shared with the hope they inspire ideas from others.
* Workflows can be automated so promoted ideas are automatically put in front of expert teams and eventually in front of project managers prior to deployment.
Parallel patent workflows can be incorporated into the process to secure intellectual property. This can be very important when the ideation process is exposed to so many audience members as it inherently is in a collaborative environment.
* Downstream idea enrichment has enhanced the front end of innovation, pushing idea collaboration further toward production ready states. The technology enables experts to perform SWOT analysis and feasibility studies on the very best ideas to enrich them prior to production. A quantitative component enables the comparison of the best ideas before production.
* Automatic idea promotion empowers community managers so they don’t have to wade through overwhelming numbers of ideas when crowd sourcing yields high volumes. Automatic idea promotion fueled by social science algorithms provides reliable promotion suggestions.
* Semantics helps identify similar content so moderators can more easily determine which ideas should be clustered or merged. It also serves to point out useful content to ideators (“if you like this idea you might want to take a look at this similar information”). Plus semantics can monitor users’ contributions and therefore identify subject matter experts based on the topic at hand.
* Sidebar discussions allow non-idea (yet still required to be productive) collaborative communication. This holds true for Polls or Questions (and the crowd sourced answers that ensue).
* Easily managed security is a baseline requirement. As collective intelligence scales, the security of intellectual property remains important. With external contributors and large numbers of internal users in the community, security vigilance is mandatory. If it’s cumbersome gridlock follows. The administrators of the idea social network must be able to easily designate who gets to see what exactly.
So what’s next?
You won’t necessarily find answers here. I’m just asking the question. In fact I’m hoping to see conjecture on the subject run rampant in the comments section below this blog entry. But here are some thoughts I have on what the market might expect to enjoy.
Batch Vs. Interactive
Idea management systems, just like today’s social networks, are “batch” by nature. User one inputs something and presses “submit” before everyone else can appreciate. With real time message boards, interactive real time video and other “real time” technologies, the speed of collaboration and ideation becomes enhanced. And it becomes part of an employee’s normal work day productivity.
More visuals and real time video
We have all seen the studies that visuals improve communications and understanding. Right now images and videos can be attached to content submissions (and even into “comments”). One advance enables chemists to collaborate on the design of a new molecule for pharma and chemical companies. Right now Skype, Webex and GoToMeeting are separate applications. These types of collaborative visualizations integrated into the idea social network will enhance the collaborative innovation process.
Big data, advanced analytics
SharePoint content can be integrated into the collaborative space but “big data” has other connotations and requires different technologies to manage. Plus it requires easy to use analytics bundled with visualization tools to appreciate, use and incorporate into the ideation process.
Integration with the Real World
We’re still in the infancy in understanding how best to use idea social networks. The brainstorming session or other innovation “events” are for the most part a parallel activity set. Hopefully the social network software and the events will be dovetailed so they complement each other. Ideally with Innovation becoming a real time activity, the social network will be personified in the form of a Situation Room. Or even better the idea social network will be part of the fabric of everyone’s workspace.
How can we orchestrate decentralized competence centers into the collaborative space? How do we incorporate every business competency? How do we globalize and decentralize R&D? How do we merge the charter of the Chief Innovation Officer with the Chief Technology Officer and for that matter with the Chief Marketing Officer? How do we turn New Product Development on its head so it becomes not based around the launch of a product but instead supports continuous launches?
The Internet of Things and Integration with 3D printing
For manufacturers, one of the key steps in the patent process is the moment when the first prototype is built. Designers, engineers and others need to see the idea take form sometimes in order to move it forward. The future idea system needs to take advantage of the Internet of Things so that production lines and 3D printing become part of the process.
Customer sourced innovation and tapping into talent
Today, with good security administration, idea social networks include crowd sourcing as part of the process. We invite customers into the collaborative space. Plus the trend toward outsourcing has pushed talent outside of the building, not always available when needed. The idea social network of the future has to flexibly, swiftly and nimbly tap into customers and talent on the fly…expanding and contracting the group size as required. The hurdles of who owns what intellectual property needs to be resolved (not necessarily a technology issue).
Into this thinking you have to incorporate the technology of Customer Experience Management and Voice of the Customer. How are you going to listen to these people? How are you going to identify their nature? How are you going to reach out to them and with what message? How will you engage; how will you cause a response to your call to action?
This same thinking extends to your employees and outside talent. You have to ask the same questions about reaching them and communicating them. At its heart is the question of adoption and engagement. There’s more to it than “build it and they will come” to a collaborative system as we know. When you open up the collaborative space to more players and more often these questions loom large and must be resolved.
Challenge: What does the Innovation Management System of The Future Look Like?
So based on conversations with hundreds of people steeped in the innovation process the above list of future technology advancement occurred to me. What do you think is in the innovation technology pipeline?
Ron Shulkin blogs, researches and writes about enterprise technology focused on social media, innovation, voice of the customer, marketing automation and enterprise feedback management. You can learn more about Ron at his biography web site:www.shulkin.net. You can follow him Twitter. You can follow his blogs at this Facebook group. You can connect with Ron on LinkedIn.