Undoubtedly a critical aspect of long-term sustainability and survival, innovation is a complex process, which organizations need to be good at. And, there’s help.
Understanding the term “innovation”
Innovation is a term that carries with it immense possibilities of success and sustainability. Creating new business models or value propositions, enhancing the efficiency of existing businesses, and sustaining growth in a complex competitive and fickle landscape—that’s innovation. It is an arduous journey, inherently risky.But innovation partners, consultants, and innovation management software offer much promise in this space.
Innovation can be incremental (e.g. improvement to existing service or product with incremental value gain), breakthrough (e.g. a new product sold to existing customers with significant cost savings and better performance), or disruptive (e.g. a new product that renders the current solution obsolete).
Need for innovation
“Innovate or die” has become the catchphrase of the decade. Scary stories like that of Kodak and Blockbuster are just the tip of the iceberg apparently. If you don’t innovate, your company is likely to take this route: development → introduction → growth → maturity → decline.
When a company is at risk of being an also-ran thanks to brilliant offerings from competitors, when a company needs fresh ideas to infuse life into the company and sustain growth, when a firm requires a scalable business model, when CXOs are greeted by a disgruntled, disillusioned, and jaded workforce, and when management has no time to devote to the pursuit of innovation and its execution—that’s when innovation has to come into play.
Innovation—Internal and External
Innovation entails skills, competencies, and insights that can be from inside-out or outside-in. Internal innovation can happen through R&D teams, innovation management teams, business development teams, and employees. External innovation can happen through customers, partners and suppliers, R&D providers, and innovation communities.
Companies use different tools or approaches depending on the end goal.
Here’s some data from top UK-based retailers about the top internal and external sources of innovation. And this could be true for any industry. Internal innovation teams or labs also use hackathons as an external source of innovation.
These open-innovation based models are often combined to achieve the desired effect by companies.
The Innovation Process
“In too many organizations, innovation occurs by serendipity rather than by deliberate management. Without a process to understand, stimulate, and analyze innovation and an organization’s strengths and weaknesses around innovation, most companies rely upon serendipity. Waiting for inspiration to strike is not a sustainable method of securing competitive advantage.”1This statement underlines the need for creating a robust organization-wide innovation process model, but specifying an innovation process can be tricky and messy.
A typical innovation model begins with plenty of ideas, testing the best of them, and getting feedback from customers to further tweak the product or service. Broadly speaking, the innovation process has three key stages:
The first step is Discovery, which involves looking for inspiration for new ideas that can be turned into value propositions and uncovering business opportunities. Enabling innovation in this phase includes challenging assumptions, tailoring perspectives, rewarding innovative thinking, and considering solutions.
*Remember to look at the job-to-be-done before leaping ahead with the insight.
Help in the discovery phase
In the discovery phase, innovation experts can help with web scouting, market research, ethnographic studies, technology or design research, workshops, boot camps, empathy maps, and journey mapping to generate ideas. Innovation mentors can help organizations identify their strengths and weaknesses via collaboration fairs, workshops, interviews, focus groups, and surveys.
After recognizing the challenge and interpreting, the next step would be defining the exact product, service, or process to seize the opportunity. The opportunity could be a new market, an unmet customer need, strengthening a core competency, or a technical improvement.
Enabling innovation in this phase includes remaining open to all kinds of ideas, having an idea evaluation system in place, encouraging acceptable risk-taking and failure, and thinking organizationally.
Brainstorming, idea jams, live framed challenges, mind mapping, hackathons, and brain writing are examples of ideation techniques. Feasibility analysis and modelling come into play here. Tools that a firm uses to initiate ideation internally can also be applied to external stakeholders.
Help in the ideation phase
External agencies can help with the management of ideas and crowdsourcing from customers, employees, and other stakeholders. Innovation or idea management platforms can gather, refine, choose, and manage hordes of new ideas and keep people engaged. Users can submit ideas and receive feedback; decision makers can select the best for further evaluation and implementation. Startups can turn to incubators at the ideation stage.
This phase is all about turning ideas into reality. After validation of the chosen idea, organizations attempt to “acquire the knowledge resources, execute the project, launch the innovation, and sustain adoption in the long term.”
Enabling innovation in the Execution phase includes sponsoring and funding innovation projects, labeling the innovation as a focus area of the business, marrying innovation to strategic processes, putting in place risk management processes, making innovation measurement a part of business review, communicating learnings from the innovation, and learning from failures.
The innovation goes from prototyping to a minimum viable product to scaling the business model.
Help in the execution phase
Innovation partners or consultants can help management develop business and action plans, improve the experience after product launch by providing a continuing product and marketing strategy, customer and industry analysis, and chalking out the entire innovation roadmap.
Types of Innovation Partners
Enabling successful intervention often requires assistance from external agents along with ongoing internal initiatives.
An innovation partner (or intermediary) is an organization that acts as an agent or broker in any aspect of the innovation process between two or more parties.2 Innovation intermediaries can get involved during various stages of the innovation process—planning, concept development, detailed design, testing, and ramp up of production.
According to iP2Biz, there are four major categories of innovation partners for front-end innovation on the basis of the value they provide:
- Connection providers
- Information providers
- Capital providers
Two other categories are
- Innovation consultants
- Innovation management software providers
Another form of help to manage innovation is an innovation consultant who sells or installs a process of innovation. Small consulting firms have specific areas of expertise, whereas larger ones typically offer it “as a part of management consulting.” Innovation consultants can help with innovation community and project management, organizing idea contests, launching intrapreneurship programs, designing training programs, streamlining an open data strategy, and identifying and facilitating the creation of innovation partnerships.
*They bring a wealth of experience and sophisticated problem-solving skills to the table, but external innovation consultants often take more time to understand the industry (unless it is a niche firm), and they don’t come always cheap.
Then you have companies that sell innovation management software to drive internal and external innovation via idea contests, co-creation, idea management, and open innovation.
Innovation management software
Basic idea management systems have transformed into innovation management software because of social platforms and cloud computing.
Why do companies need idea management software?
Innovation management involves commercializing the innovation to create a lasting advantage, while maintaining an internal culture of innovation. It is easier to ensure and manage a steady flow of ideas in small companies or startups. But in large organizations, different kinds of silos make soliciting ideas, assessing them, gathering feedback, selecting the best, and implementing them in an efficient and transparent manner much harder. But employee suggestion systems or idea management software provides accelerates decision making by offering a platform accessible to all employees, and ideas are automatically routed to the right person for evaluation; the system is an open forum to enable conversations of interest between all stakeholders with a monitoring mechanism to facilitate the progression of the best ideas.
Typical features of innovation management software3:
- Submission and evaluation of ideas
- Management of campaigns and workflow
- Collection, visualization, and analysis of data
- Tools for brainstorming
- Capabilities related to project management
- Suitable for a diverse range of innovation use cases
- Secure and easy to integrate into existing systems
Innovation management software, be it enterprise-level, mid-market, or entry-level, shortens the process from idea generation to implementation.
*On a side note, research suggests that for companies to maximize their chances of success, their innovation management software needs to add advanced capabilities. Look at the table below.
The innovation model can now be viewed as Ideation → Management → Execution.
Example of innovation management software—Sprint
Let’s look at a customizable innovation management platform to understand how easy it is for you to channel tomorrow’s ideas today. Watch this video.
Sprint, a product from HackerEarth, allows companies to use hackathons as tools of disruptive innovation. Your suggestion box goes to the cloud.
With the platform, users can collect, filter, develop, and implement ideas from all stakeholders and networks. The company offers support for identifying challenges, gathering responses, and providing ongoing training. The tool allows management to create conversations around a particular idea, estimate costs, predict risks and convert it to an actionable.
Benefits of innovation management software, such as Sprint, include the following:
- Beefing up the pipeline of ideas in terms of quality and volume
- Acting as an aggregator, allowing easy gathering and filtering of ideas
- Protecting the IP integrity of the firm and the innovator
- Doing away with groupthink and functional silos
- Fostering a culture of sharing and innovating for all employees
- Improving the brand equity and proclaiming the company’s “openness”
Now that you have an overview of what options are available for you to innovate in your organization, there’s nothing stopping you from leading change agents into delivering real business impact. Recognize ways in which you can maximize your desired outcomes and manage risk. By using innovation management tools or partnering with the right companies, finding the right approach becomes just business as-usual.