Open, collaborative or user innovation … they all became buzzwords demonstrating how companies are increasingly innovating with different types of external partners. The problem with buzzwords is that they reduce our ability to stay critical. The benefits of open and collaborative innovation (OCI) are relatively straightforward and more and more organizations are embracing open innovation to improve their innovation and overall performance.
In the last 5 years, a lot has changed: large companies have opened their innovation activities cooperating increasingly with start-ups and SMEs; policy makers developed new rules that facilitate open innovation; consultancy companies developed new management techniques to streamline the organization of open innovation; and a broad range of innovation intermediaries started to offer services that improve the functioning of the technology market.
Implementing open innovation has proved to be more difficult than managers initially thought
However, these changes are not without risks: implementing open innovation has proved to be more difficult than managers initially thought. It embodies several management challenges for all partners involved.
As companies experience several problems when they implement open innovation, different consultancy companies and services have offered a variety of management tools to cope with multiple management and organizational challenges that are related to the introduction of open innovation in an organization.
There are no objective indicators to measure the quality of the services these companies offer
It is an attractive growth market for consultants and ‘innomediaries’ and entry barriers are quite low. The result is this market is growing at an exponential rate and it is rapidly becoming fragmented and crowded. It is increasingly difficult for client firms to keep track of the evolution in the market and there are no objective indicators to measure the quality of the services these companies offer.
As the market becomes increasingly opaque, value can be created by making the market more transparent, by introducing objective quality standards, and by improving the connectivity between different partners who are interested in open innovation. Several organizations and intermediaries have been doing that already for technological problems, but there has been no systematic efforts to clear the market for management and organization problems in related to open innovation.
We therefore established Exnovate, a non-profit platform (www.exnovate.org). Exnovate is a platform for companies and knowledge intensive organizations that are practicing open and collaborative innovation. In particular, it serves as a clearinghouse and network platform, linking together the international community of companies, academia, governments and service providers.
Exnovate can help create and valorize knowledge on open & collaborative innovation, hence bridging the gap between theory and practice
Since most knowledge and best practices on open & collaborative innovation are scattered across different organizations, industries and countries, the platform can significantly speed up the learning process of all the partners involved. In addition, Exnovate can help create and valorize knowledge on open & collaborative innovation, hence bridging the gap between theory and practice.
On one hand, Exnovate is a virtual organization with ICT platforms as a major vehicle to inform and bring together individuals and organizations interested in open innovation. On the other hand, it is a member organization where several projects will be developed to connect different organizations with each other, to set objective quality standards and to make the market more transparent. How does Exnovate work? Let’s have a look at its activities per target group.
While the concept of open and collaborative innovation (OCI) is easy to understand, planning, executing, and following through are difficult. In many cases, companies need outside help in order to align their OCI strategies with external parties. Exnovate provides a platform to help companies in their search for excellence in managing OCI by organizing three types of networking activities.
The first one is the ‘Open Innovation Forum’ for large and medium sized companies with leading edge practices in open innovation. These firms have been practicing open innovation but are still eager to learn from each other’s best practices. We are now in the process of establishing the Open Innovation Forum (OIF).
This forum could function in the same way as the Berkeley Innovation Forum (http://openinnovation.haas.berkeley.edu/BIFpublic.html ). The Forum is a community of innovation leaders that meet to exchange ideas, issues, and practices in innovation management, and to fund research that is of interest to this community. The OIF will be a membership organization of non?competing companies, and OIF members will explore new ways to advance the management of open and collaborative innovation by engaging openly with one another.
The second initiative consists of workshops and training sessions for companies that have little experience in managing OCI. Exnovate is not organizing its own training sessions but will rely on other organizations such as business schools and professional training centers to set up the workshops.
Many SMEs can benefit from open innovation but usually lack the expertise to organize it effectively
The third initiative is ‘Open innovation for SMEs’. Many SMEs can benefit from open innovation but usually lack the expertise to organize it effectively. In Europe several organizations are supporting and guiding SMEs in this process at a local or regional scale. However, there is a lot of duplication in these efforts. Therefore, SME learning can be substantially accelerated by sharing best practices across Europe.
Best practices among SME’s in Europe and lessons learned can be shared using a digital platform as Exnovate. In a next step some initiatives can be directly coordinated across European countries delivering top level quality in these (training) initiatives.
Management scholars have taken a keen interest in OCI. While the field is growing, it is starting from a small place and any additional ways for scholars to interact and would only allow for more interest and continued research in the field. Exnovate, being a platform for OCI intends to publish and share a lot of information on this topic.
There will be a large amount of case studies as contributed from consultants and academics
There will be a large amount of case studies as contributed from consultants and academics. This large and growing body of data will quicken the pace of research in the field, form more connections between all parties, and raise the field.
We have now 30 top scholars – mainly from Europe – who wants to participate in this initiative. They may be helpful in analyzing organizational problems of companies or they may join forces in submitting proposals in response to calls from the European Union or other national or international organizations.
Policy makers can play an important role in facilitating OCI
OCI is not just relevant to companies and academics. Policy makers can play an important role in facilitating OCI. Exnovate offers a systematic listing of reports and case studies, allowing for direct access to the most up to date information and trends. Exnovate, along with academics, can be called upon to advise, prepare, or write calls, with the calls being distributed via Exnovate.
Companies have a difficult time in deciding on which consultants, service providers and other vendors to choose to assist in planning and implementing an OCI strategy. Exnovate will play a role in matching up these companies and OCI vendors.
The main target is to increase transparency and to guarantee the quality of the solutions or services provided. There are different ways to achieve these objectives. Exnovate is currently exploring some initiatives to reach this target by. There is an advantage to all parties involved in this process: firms have lower search cost and improved service quality and best practices on the Exnovate website can dramatically raise the level of exposure for high quality vendors.
The need for a central platform where all parties interested in OCI can meet is vital to the further expansion of this field. Exnovate is a new platform and intends to provide a service that will allow new links to be formed, provide transparency, education and standards in the entire process in collaboration with different partner organizations.
Exnovate is structured a member organization. A lot of information and content is free but members can take advantage of being involved in the initiatives mentioned above. Have a look at www.exnovate.org and feel free to contact us if you need more information.
Wim Vanhaverbeke is professor at the University of Hasselt in the faculty of Business Economics. He teaches Strategy, Innovation Management, Corporate Venturing new business development, and International Management, and published in several international journals.
He is co-editor with Henry Chesbrough and Joel West of Open Innovation: Researching a New Paradigm, a book about the research challenges related to Open Innovation. He is extending research about open innovation and open business models by setting up the European Center for Open and Collaborative Innovation and by doing joint research with different universities around the globe.