Which Software is Right for Open Innovation?

This article discusses which software might be best suited to different Open Innovation (OI) approaches. The subject is of particular interest since, on the one hand there are more and more companies that are embracing OI, and on the other, there are multiple software solutions available in the market that have proven productive.

The article first looks at the different OI approaches companies are using and the types of internal software support processes and interaction between the Open Innovators and the co-innovation community. It then takes a closer look at why a large German company has selected a not-so-obvious software solution for R&D-driven Outside-in OI.

Any company serious about implementing OI eventually must address the question of which software to choose to support its corresponding processes, and the interaction between internal and external innovators. Current OI comes in many shades and, depending on the OI approach being pursued, there are various types of software that could be appropriate.

Inside-out OI: Minimal software support

In OI Inside-out, companies try to exploit the value of Intellectual Property (IP) not being actively used or not playing an obvious role in deterring competitors. Statistics show that this applies to some 40-90% of a company’s IP. Within the OI paradigm, exploiting the value in this kind of IP involves external market paths such as licensing, joint ventures and spin-offs.

Internal processes are supported by the databases that store and manage the firm’s IP. However, I cannot identify a widely used software solution for managing the interaction between open innovators and the external community. Interaction is mostly person-to-person with little software support.

Consider IBM, seen by many as a global benchmark for this type of OI. IBM spends more than USD 5 billion on R&D annually, holds more than 60,000 patents, and generates some USD 2 billion per year in licensing revenue. How do they do it? IBM’s R&D labs include what they call Industry Solutions Labs. These labs are the drivers of Inside-out OI. Their mission is to ensure early involvement of customers and business partners in order to identify and exploit emerging business opportunities. Around 25% of IBM’s Zurich lab staff work with customers and business partners; they run more than 400 workshops per year, which generate around 100 innovation projects a year.

One notable exception regarding software for this OI approach is www.yet2.com, which is operated by a web company originally funded by the chemical giant DuPont and others.

Outside-in OI: Focus of OI software solutions

In Outside-in OI the situation is different. In this approach, companies take external ideas and then treat them as if they were internal ones. In practice, companies pursue this type of OI in two ways: customer-driven ‘crowdsourcing’ (i.e. ideas from customers, co-creation with customers); and R&D-driven.

Interestingly, all of the software used in this context by leading companies is web-based. This supports the argument recently put forward by Ehsan Ehsani.

Customer-driven Outside-in OI: Numerous crowdsourcing software providers

A quick search on Google using the terms ‘crowdsourcing’ and ‘software’ yields some 4 million results. The software vendors in this type of OI are of six types:

  • Software companies that originally developed software for idea management;
  • Web 2.0 social software companies that migrated to crowdsourcing;
  • Online communities that leveraged their proprietary technology outside the original community;
  • Software companies that started out by what today is called crowdsourcing;
  • Applications within existing social networks (e.g. Facebook);
  • Intermediaries that focus their business models on crowdsourcing.

Selection of the most appropriate software platform depends firstly on the focus of your search for external ideas and the associated level of confidentiality. Is your company looking to optimize the potential in existing products, line extensions or radical innovations? Secondly, it depends on the type of crowd you want to attract (although this should be seen, at least partially, in conjunction with the first aspect). Is your company looking for open/semi-open ideation communities, a broad public community, or a carefully selected closed community?

R&D-driven Outside-in OI: eSourcing software might be the right choice

In R&D-driven OI, researchers and developers look for scientific or technical solutions to issues on the current R&D agenda. Looking at global benchmarks, we find that the practice of this type of OI has two variants. In a rather open approach where potential co-innovators have low barriers to membership of the community (e.g. Procter&Gamble’s connect+develop), and as a closed community in which confidential, not-for-public-dissemination information on innovation challenges, is shared.

Reasons for choosing a closed community in R&D driven Outside-in OI

I recently concluded a project with one of Germany’s largest companies, focusing on the second variant. This project required the building of a closed and global co-innovation community with a three-digit number of members. The rationale for this approach was that one-step seeker/solver-processes in a confidential environment would provide greater potential effectiveness and efficiency than an approach where individual OI challenges were open to a global audience and, where in a second step, the best out of a huge number of proposals had to be chosen. This approach required that the individual OI challenges contained extensive background information. In order to protect this confidential information, a closed community had to be set up.

Selecting the best software platform

In selecting the software platform we first established the high level requirements. These were:

  • Security: proven security and robustness;
  • Communication: easy communication with participants for a specific OI challenge; easy submission of proposals; legally accepted storage of all communication (due to IP considerations);
  • Workflows: support for processes via workflows, e-mail reminders, etc.;
  • Areas if competence: classification of community members by areas of competence (to facilitate the search for suitable participants);
  • Proposal management: easy capturing of structured and unstructured information; formalized evaluation of proposals; repository for submitted proposals (for later use);
  • Performance Management: statistics and reports, automatically generated dashboards;
  • Integration into existing stage gate process, supplier database, ERP system and corporate Web site;
  • Usability: easy handling for internal and external innovators.

On analyzing these requirements we made the interesting finding that, with some level of abstraction, all of them were provided by solutions for strategic, Internet-based procurement (eSourcing).

So, in this case, the client decided to take an existing in-house eSourcing software platform and customize it to the requirements of this particular OI approach. Measured in terms of Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and deployment time, this was a clever decision.

Points to be remembered

Looking back at the implementation of the software I think two points are important to keep in mind:

  • Plan for learning cycles

No standard software – software for use in dynamic scenarios, such as OI, will certainly not fit perfectly with business requirements at the first shot. Moreover, companies that have implemented OI have found that the underlying processes change as the breadth and depth of implementation increases. Based on experience, it is wise to plan for several versions that ultimately may yield the best-suited software solution.

  • Be prepared for communication challenges

In defining the details of the software solution, there will be involvement of at least three different parties, each with a different view and a different language: R&D experts, deeply involved in the technical/scientific challenges they want to be resolved; other stakeholders focused on early results in a new terrain; management with an interest in clearly defined roles and processes; and the software provider, who is strongly tied to the standards set by its software. Based on experience some ‘translation efforts’ will be required in order to achieve an alignment of these parties.

By Frank Mattes, contributing editor, Germany

About the author

Frank MattesFrank Mattes, contributing editor, Germany. Frank is the founder and CEO of innovation-3, a leading Open Innovation catalyst. Frank has collected more than 15 years of experience in managing projects and innovation. He worked for specialized medium-sized national consulting companies as well as for The Boston Consulting Group. Additionally he was working at C-level for an eBusiness firm, an IT firm and a Professional services firm. He wrote several books, numerous articles and is a sought after speaker. More information about innovation-3 and Frank can be found at www.innovation-3.com

  • http://www.brightidea.com Janelle

    Informative post!

    Just to add, some great real-world, open to the public examples are GE’s Ecomagination Challenge-http://bit.ly/dcq9g8 – powered by Brightidea, as well as Adobe Labs- http://bit.ly/9u203k.

    GE is looking for breakthrough innovations with a 200M prize purse and Adobe is seeking incremental product improvement ideas. Both utilize Brightidea software to collect, prioritize and execute on ideas.http://www.brightidea.com

  • http://www.pinkcat.dk Steen Koldsø

    I guess it’s also a matter of taste (UI) and cost that determine what SW to go with, have a look on http://www.ideamanagementsystems.com/ it gives a good overview of what IM systems on the market.
    An easy to use and affordable choice is Orchidea from Finland.

  • Rikard Wærø

    It will be interesting to read your reviews. I have been very impressed by Norwegian startup Induct (http://www.inductsoftware.com), I hope you will be reviewing their tool.

  • http://www.lundsten.net Frode Lundsten

    Interesting post.

    I find; however, that companies are looking for solutions to combine the outside-in and inside-out approach in order to be successful. The innovation management processes within the companies are rarely as straightforward as to belong only to one approach.

    The approach that I see is gaining more traction is where the company implements an OI solution, often web-based to reduce internal red-tape from the IT department, which is used first internally to rally the organization, then selectively opened up to partners in an attempt to speed up the innovation process. The aim is to include customers and external experts as learning is assimilated within the organization. MillionBrains (www.millionbrains.com) is a good example of a solution, which handles both approaches.

  • http://www.generatecompanies.com Uri Neren

    We have profiled the majority of the world’s products and potential future vendors of innovation-related software from off-the-shelf simple tools to the large vendors who are about to move into the space (150+ vendors). Having seen all of them and having spoken with many of their customers as we gained a knowledge of best practices, I will say that I greatly appreciate Frank’s analysis above.

  • http://www.talkfreely.com Jonathan Graham

    Dig deeper into http://www.talkfreely.com and you will find not only packages apps but you can customise the way you collect and manage the ideas. Most software solutions restrict you to how you manage ideas. TalkFreely appreciates not everyone manages ideas the same way.

  • http://www.lodestarlink.com Harun

    I would be interested in connecting. We work with several F500 companies on a range of strategy and innovation issues. If you would be so kind as to contact me I would appreciate talking in more detail.
    Kind regards

  • Erin

    Hi Frank,

    I enjoyed your post. Although there are different types of software that address the interaction/relationship between internal and external innovators, I think that it is important to have a tool that possesses the ability to successfully tap into internal and external innovation communities alike. Many companies tend to jump start their innovation process internally among employees. There are, however, other companies who are more interested in gauging the wisdom of individuals outside of company walls (e.g. customers or vendors). Whatever your approach, the ability to effectively collect, analyze and process ideas is the key to successful and sustainable open innovation. A local government in Manor, Texas, did a great job of successfully crowdsourcing an external innovation community for the greater good of the community: http://manorlabs.spigit.com/homepagelight . For more info on tapping into the collective intelligence of both internal and external communities, feel free to check out http://www.spigit.com

  • http://www.ideaken.com Munish K Gupta

    Nice Post.

    We see 2 kind of organizations. One where the R&D departments are willing to work with open innovation intermediary’s. Second organizations that want to build the culture of incentive based problem solving within their employees. Such organization still are not geared to work with external vendors but want to jump on the innovation bandwagon.

    Our platform http://www.ideaken.com helps organizations open up their challenges based on the comfort level. You can choose from a closed group of individuals to employees to the complete crowdsourcing.

  • http://innovation.qmarkets.net Noam Danon

    Hi Frank,

    While I agree with your analysis of the requirements and challenges, there is one point that puzzles me –
    your decision to look at eSourcing software solutions, rather than dedicated innovation management software solutions, like Qmarkets Innovation Management Software.

    I know eSourcing solutions, and they are missing so many important elements that are required in order to run a successful OI process.

    The enterprise Innovation and idea management solutions, like the Qmarkets solution, were specifically designed to meet the special business requirements detailed in this article, and to be flexible enough to provide a dynamic solution that would be able to deal with the learning cycle and communication challenges you discuss in your summary.


  • Frank Mattes

    Hi Noam,

    R&D-driven Open Innovation has its own requirements. Usually (although there are some exceptions, e.g. in the ICT industry) the co-innovator that a firm works with are direct competitors. It is an absolute NO GO fro them that their competitors see the proposals they are submitting.

    Fo rother applications, e.g. crowdsouring or co-creation the solution you mentioned may just be fine.


  • Jacob

    Great post Frank, and I completely agree with what you say here…
    Our software, Idealink Open, was built from the ground up with all of these things in mind. We have one of the more flexible solutions out there, that allow you to tap into both internal and external expertise on-demand.

    Jacob Shriar
    Chief Marketing Officer,
    BrainBank Inc.

  • http://www.ideaconnection.com Wendy

    IdeaConnection has a growing list of innovation software on its website at http://www.ideaconnection.com/software/.

    If you don’t see your software listed, please feel free to add it.

    We also invite you to add your comments or experiences with any of the software you have used.

  • Pingback: Innovation & Idea Management Software - W8on Innovation

  • Vocoli

    Appreciate the sound advice, especially the part about being prepared for communication challenges. As much as most of us would like to think there’s a magic bullet and software can solve all problems…without an effective rollout (with communication at the core), you’re bound to fail.

    We hope you’ll check out our idea management platform at http://www.vocoli.com

  • Particeep Groupe

    Particeep is a provider for Open Innovation Challenges! Thanks to our platform’s user-friendliness, the adaptability of our technology with yours and our constant addition of new features, Particeep is becoming a growing player in Open Innovation. Come check out our website and get in contact with us! > https://www.particeep.com/

  • mmartinez

    Let me suggest http://www.ideas4allinnovation.com, a SaaS solution based in open innovation schemes through ideas crowdsourcing communities to tap your organization talent base. This software is actually used by big banking, insurance and petrol companies, academic institutions and city councils, as a part of its smart city / citizens participation model.