An Innovation Portal…I Can Do That Myself

Innovation portals have taken an important place in the open innovation landscape. Expectations are great in portal performance but often, for purely budgetary reasons, these portals are launched and managed internally by corporates themselves, to discover that they generate a number of community management issues that they are not used to coping with. Prior to launching a corporate portal it is a good idea to ask a few specific questions on whether to do this internally or through experienced third party innovation providers. Using external resources can often avoid pitfalls and align the portal success rate to corporate expectations, objectives and ambitions. Here six questions are asked that can help you take the decision whether to launch a managed portal internally or externally.

Open innovation is entering into a new phase. The way corporates are viewing open innovation has shifted radically and today there is a tendency for companies to ask themselves “why should I hire a third party service provider to do open innovation when I can do this myself?”

In fact, it is a great question that these companies are asking and I would not hesitate to answer that yes, of course it’s true, anyone can launch a corporate innovation portal. But in the end it is very dependent on what is understood by innovation portals and what are your expectations and, perhaps more importantly, your ambitions. Prior to embarking on a corporate portal it is useful to ask, what is the “job to be done” by open innovation and a portal?

Anyone can build furniture as long as they buy it from Ikea but that does not make them a cabinet-maker.

Anyone can build furniture as long as they buy it from Ikea but that does not make them a cabinet-maker. Just don’t expect to have anything more than a standard product and that will not stand out in the crowd. Ikea is certainly convenient, fills a very specific and effective role and has a clear “job to be done”.

The apparent simplicity of setting up an innovation portal is perhaps at the heart of the do-it-yourself portal mythology as it is so easy to download WordPress, code a few pages and then “build it and they will come”.

But build what… and why should they come… and in the end who will come… are they the right people? A portal is much more than HTML code stuck down to a URL.

The expectations of open innovation have been distorted by the over-promise of being the way to solve all problems and in the end an apparent under-delivery. Open innovation is far from this, it is not a global innovation panacea but is an integral part of the innovation toolbox and that any company that considers itself a serious contender in innovation should have. The managed innovation portal is again only one part of this toolbox.

To use open innovation portals requires experience, knowledge in communication and promotion and a clear well thought out strategy of how information gathered from external sources will be managed, curated and absorbed into a corporate strategy. The value added of experienced third party innovation providers is generally underestimated if not entirely ignored and undermined.

So, prior to embarking on a do-it-yourself innovation portal here are a few aspects that should be taken into consideration.

Ask yourself these questions with an arm’s length from cost considerations:

  • Am I exposing my company on the front line and is everyone aligned and signed off with this initiative? This is not just people involved in R&D or the C-suite but it requires adherence from legal, communication, marketing, procurement… to name just a few. Make a check list.
  • What needs and challenges will I be posting publicly? Are these seeking ideas, or solutions, or is this just a fishing trip to see what’s out there? The way you do this will have significant impact on the response rate and on the image that you project of your company. Solution providers will see and read your underlying intentions.
  • How are solution providers going to find my portal? How often is a corporate portal buried in some complex corporate/brand website, or even with an obscure URL that does not have any relation with the company or brand? This is more frequent than can be imagined.
  • How am I going to manage the flow of information? This question has two edges to it. Solution providers require to be treated with respect. If you don’t answer promptly and respectfully then this will impact the image of the company. A reputation takes time to build but can be lost in seconds. Then, if you have not organised internally to manage proposals then your endeavours to be an innovation partner of choice are going to fail miserably.
  • Do you have a PR strategy for communicating about your portal and to what community are you targeting? The success of a portal is a function of the quality of the community that is targeted, this aspect is consistently underestimated.
  • Have you taken into account the time that a do-it-yourself portal will take and the eventual loss of opportunity that occurs by using precious resources for something that could be done by a third party?

When evaluating whether to do-it-yourself portal first-of-all evaluate the final (corporate) cost before price.

In conclusion, it is in anyone’s scope that has a little web savvy and a lot of time to organise an innovation portal using internal resources but success requires a very determined and disciplined methodology. The cost cutting if not cheap temptation to take a summer intern to do this is great as, although this option looks risk free, simple and quick, it generally ends in disappointment and frustration internally and externally.

For an innovation portal to be successful requires that a company aligns objectives, resources and ambitions and to assure that expectations of all involved are clearly stated and fulfilled. An internal portal chosen for budgetary reasons will not be the ideal vehicle to solicit solution providers to submit proposals. Often success rates can be significantly improved by working with experienced third party providers who understand the issues involved in community out-reach, protecting corporations and managing and curating information. So when evaluating whether to do-it-yourself portal first-of-all evaluate the final (corporate) cost before price.

By Campbell Lockhart

About the Author

Campbell Lockhart is presently helping innovation practitioners write innovation scenarios that are applied to transforming ideas into value. He has been an innovation practitioner for over 30 years, working as a medical technology developer, an open innovation manager in a FMCG giant, an open innovation service provider and as an open innovation solution provider. He currently manages an open innovation platform that aggregates innovation needs into a one-stop-shop where solution providers can rapidly identify industry needs (

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  • Francois-Eudes Ruchon

    Great article, thank you for putting this together ! I’m being asked a lot this question “how do we build a corporate innovation portal”, but the question is more “should we build a corporate innovation portal”.

    To open up the discussion, let’s assume you did build a great portal, conceptualized the management of ideas/solutions, then comes the traffic question. Unilever made a webinar to explain the marketing effort (communication) they had to go through to generate a decent minimum traffic, and I’m talking huge communication budget… it works with them because they have deep pocket and the branding. But not everyone is Unilever …

  • Frank Smeets

    Next question that pops up now is where to find those experienced third parties? How do you discriminate the good from the lousy?

  • Ian Cox

    A great article that addresses the right issues. I’d also make the point that people who submit their opportunities to portals, or who would consider submitting via a portal, would much rather entrust their research being submitting to a person, rather than a post box or a potential black hole. Those building portals therefore need to bear this in mind, to put themselves into the position of the researchers and ask themselves what they want to see in a portal, to ensure that what they build is not only user-friendly and easy to access, but sufficiently informative for researchers to want to submit their opportunities via their portal (as opposed to someone else’s). Finally, to one of the above points, it’s important to ensure sufficient human resource is available to handle incoming traffic, in a timely and responsive manner, and that if a researcher/organisation wants to speak to a person before submitting, there is someone available for them to speak to.
    At the end of the day, it’s not just about building a portal with the philosophy that anything will do to ensure you keep up with your competitors. It’s about companies needing to convince the researchers that they offer the best option, they need to sell it, and the more upfront consideration the portal is given the better.

  • Uri Neren

    As we have looked at every vendor in the world, profiled them, and helped 100+ of our members of Innovators International consider whether they need a platform and whether they should buy or build, I can offer here the statistics on what is happening. Thank you Campbell for a great piece here.

    The vast majority of these open source or idea sourcing platforms fail – and sometimes people lose jobs over these failures. I’ve seen it more than several times. But there is no reason that this needs to be the case and the software has little to do with the failures – it is almost always an implementation/execution failure.

    I’ve only seen two companies ever succeed in building their own platform and even their success could be argued. I’ve seen many companies fail fantastically trying to build their own. This will almost never work because most companies have little view of the best practices they need to build into their own platforms.

    My advice to all the Chief Innovation Officers I work with, and to the readers here is to:
    consider what exactly you want out of your entire innovation department,
    weigh the opportunity costs of open sourcing against all your other activities,
    and then if you determine that open sourcing or internal crowdsourcing is a good idea,
    spend a good amount of time getting crystal clear on the metrics you want the platform to achieve before talking with vendors (and yes if it was not clear: do not build your own, it will always in our analysis be less expensive to buy it from an expert who can help you through the crux of implementation).

  • Ryszard

    Hallo, thank you for this text. It has been very nice for me because I started the portal – blog about the innovation in Poland. I have the same opinion. We need this kind of source of information to open each other for novelity. My portal:

    With best regards, Ryszard