Monday, October 19, 2015

Spark Your Innovation!

The Corporate Intrapreneur Summit (organized by the Institute for International Research and Culturevate) that took place on October 8 in NYC brought together more than 70 thought leaders and practitioners in the field of corporate innovation. Over the day packed with panel discussions, case study presentations and interactive working sessions, they discussed the benefits and problems large companies face when launching corporate intrapreneurship programs.

One of the most interesting presentations was given by Roel de Vries, Innovation Program Manager with Liberty Global, an international telecommunication company. Roel spoke about Spark, Liberty Global’s innovation program. After Summit closing, I sat with Roel and asked him a few questions about Spark.

E.I.: Roel, what is Spark and what were your objectives for launching this program?

R. de V.: Spark is Liberty Global’s innovation initiative designed to source and refine ideas in response to real business challenges by tapping into collective creativity of our employees and partners. It was conceived as a very bottom-up initiative to involve employees in the wider scheme of innovation. The journey started in 2011 with the single implementation of a very raw platform offered to our employees in the Netherlands. This platform allowed employees to submit their ideas - an online suggestion scheme, so to speak. We got first results and launched the initiative in some other countries, but we also saw that we weren’t getting the most out of this endeavor.

E.I.: Why?

R. de V.: Best practices and ideas weren’t shared between business units and employees, and we also saw a lot of ideas that didn’t fit to what we were looking for.

E.I.: So, what happened next?

R. de V.: In 2013, we decided to try another approach: we started with the end in mind. A framework was first developed by which we aligned the idea inflow to the company strategy. Then we ran focused ideation campaigns online to gather ideas from our employees. By putting focus on the question and by taking effort to carefully formulate it, we made sure we’re collecting ideas our business units were looking for. During these campaigns we also supported the idea maturing process by providing appropriate tools and by connecting ideas to ideas and employees to employees.

E.I.: Did that make a difference?

R. de V.: It did. Now, in the year 2015, with the help of this new supporting platform, we’re
connecting ideas and employees worldwide, which really results in great interactions! Through the platform we’re also capable of tracking implementation and return on investment (ROI) realized by these implementations. Spark has become the Swiss army knife--or MacGyver, if you prefer--for the whole organization. It has created tools that allow the business to innovate with all employees. Obviously, we’re looking into the future to find new ways of supporting our corporate intrapreneurs, helping them realize their own ideas.

E.I.: Is Spark exclusively internal innovation program or it also has an “external” arm?

R. de V.: Spark also looks for external ideas. We run similar online ideation campaigns with vendors and we work together with students from the Technical University in the Netherlands who can complete part of their Master assignments on campus at Liberty Global. Also here, Spark creates the environment and methods that business units can use to easily involve these external parties in their innovation efforts.

E.I.: Roel, can you give us some numbers to better understand the scope of Spark?


R. de V.: Sure. The program is available to 20,000 Liberty Global employees, and we register above 35% overall activity. About 15%-20% of employees invited to ideation campaigns participate in them. Overall, 13,000 ideas have been collected over all these years, of which about 1,000 were implemented. As a result, ROI for the programs runs into millions of dollars of new revenue and cost savings, and we see millions more in the pipeline.

About the Author: Eugene Ivanov is helping organizations of different sizes design and implement internal and external innovation programs. He’s an expert in selecting and defining R&D problems that can be successfully solved by crowdsourcing. He writes blog Innovation Observer and tweets @eugeneivanov101. 

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