Three Ingredients for Improving Open Innovation

January 5, 2012 Appirio

By Dave Messinger

Last week, Saugatuck Research published an interesting report, “Mapping, Planning, and Benefiting from Global IT Innovation“, recommending that enterprise R&D groups “broaden their ‘innovation portfolios’ by establishing or expanding innovation investment in areas and locations where innovation is growing – and being rewarded”. Looking outside your own company walls might not sound like a new idea, but the following prediction from Saugatuck’s report provides some urgency to take action on the idea.

“By YE2016, the shift by enterprises toward new IT being acquired as Cloud-based, IT-as-a-service will accelerate a shift by most IT providers away from technological innovation as a core value, and toward innovation in technology use, application, and management as a core value.”

The report talks quite a bit about the rise of developing countries, and why innovation centers are increasingly moving outside the United States and Europe. Having a worldwide talent base is critically important, but how we tap into that base, source ideas and enable innovation in our processes makes just as big of a difference.  One of my favorite TED talks is Steven Johnson’s”Where Good Ideas Come From” where he describes the power of coffee houses in the 1600s and how new environments like that led to combining ideas and new levels of innovation.

It’s not too different from how we source ideas in our personal lives. Over the holidays I attempt to cook for our family gatherings, which in my case, means relying on recipes from sites like AllRecipes.  Here I can find recipes and comments crowdsourced from people around the world.

Now I know there is no such thing as the perfect recipe to tap new markets and open innovation, but below are a few key ingredients.

  1. Collect ideas from both external and internal sources. As Johnson’s TED talk explains, coffee houses led to a great flowering of ideas because it brought together people from all walks of life. At Appirio we use Salesforce’s Ideas platform to track and promote ideas from across the company. It gives anyone in the company the opportunity to directly affect how the company is run. At our regular all-hands meetings we provide an Ideas update on the highest rated ideas, implementation status and a leaderboard for contributors. Companies like Starbucks and Dell use Ideas to source ideas not just inside their company, but from millions of customers worldwide. This isn’t too different, then my attempts to cook a holiday turkey. I found more than 200 recipes on how to cook a turkey. The recipe I ultimately used had over 30,000 votes, but the top comment that tweaked the recipe had almost 10,000 votes. Their input resulted (hopefully) in a much tastier meal! 
  2. Provide the opportunity for people to contribute and add to your own ideas.  As we build and deploy technology in our organizations, consider the importance of providing an open API or building on public cloud infrastructure as a way to extend the innovation around your existing investments. A great example is how Wolfram|Alpha incorporated the Best Buy Remix API into their search engine just in time for the holidays. This made it possible for any iPhone 4S user to use Apple’s Siri to search for electronics powered by Best Buy. Only companies willing to invest in creating open APIs or building on public cloud infrastructures will be able to cost effectively leverage external third parties to enrich and build on their investments. 
  3. Invest in a community to implement and improve on ideas. This is one of the toughest things for companies to do well, and one reason why Appirio invested in building CloudSpokes as a neutral community for crowdsourcing worldwide development talent. We’ve built the community to more than 30,000 developers worldwide and use it to supplement our own cloud-focused services, but also see the value in keeping it open to any company who needs to tap into a passionate cloud and mobile focused developer community. The care and feeding of the community is extremely important. You need to reward and recognize their ideas and contributions, whether that’s through monetary rewards, member recommendations, gamification elements like badges or providing access to new ideas and systems that excite them.  

Whether you use CloudSpokes or a different community, make sure it’s filled with people with various perspectives – from different regions, different backgrounds, different levels of expertise. As Jeff Howe mentions in his book Crowdsourcing, never has there been a time where people trust experts less and amateurs more. These days politicians rank just above used cars salesmen in terms of trust, and crowdsourcing provides an economic means to capitalize on the intellectual capital of the amateur class.

There’s no question that the most successful companies in the future will be those that can effectively leverage open innovation and worldwide talent. Open idea exchanges, cloud platforms (which are already innovating at great speeds) and open APIs combined with crowdsourcing communities can be a great starting point. Now if I could only crowdsource my cooking skills, my life and my family’s would be so much better!

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