Monday, May 17, 2010

Idea and Innovation Management Tool Roundup

The Issue:
The space for idea and innovation management software is becoming increasingly crowded and it is difficult to quickly understand who the main players are and how they are different.

The Background:
On the surface, idea management companies seemed similar to me and were hard to tell apart. After having spent 8 weeks immersed in the space talking with independent experts like Ron Shulkin, submitting questions on LinkedIn groups, attending the Front End of Innovation conference in Boston, and demoing 8 of the top players; I have come to a conclusion: It IS very hard to tell idea management companies apart - especially on capabilities alone. You must dig deep into the details of the organization and trust some of your gut feelings for the true differences to emerge.

All four parts of my research (reaching out to experts in the field, submitting questions online, attending innovation conferences, and completing demos) added value to my search. However upon completing my summary, I realized that everyone I talked with could easily achieve my sample list of desired functionality (see below for the attachment if interested). I had attempted to create a functionality list that would force separation between competitors. However, I quickly found that most “on the shelf” options could already achieve 90% of my desires and it would be quick for each company to add in the remaining 10%.

The Differences:

So where did I end up finding differences?

1) Cost structure
  • Some companies charge a per user monthly rate typically around $4 per user per month. 500 users would cost ~$24,000 per year
  • Some companies charge an annual fee based on the number of users (500-1500 users was typically quoted around $40k-$80k annually)
  • Others charge a one time fee for the software ($50k-$80k and ask for around 20% of that fee annually for all updates and simple software maintenance
2) Amount of experience and current clients
  • A few players have been around for 10+ years and have a lot of great trial and error experience
  • Others have joined the space more recently but appear to have adopted most of the best practices and have added in some innovative functionality
3) Gut feel for the organizational strengths and future focus
  • Did they seem to be focused on the business/ financial aspects of using the tool or was the motivation geared more towards improving the company culture?
  • I found this was actually the most useful analysis for helping to make a case for choosing one tool over another

The Top 5 Roundup:

I want to give a quick forward before sharing my opinion of each specific company:

I was very impressed with every company that I met or talked with. Idea and innovation management tools are needed in industry and will improve the way employees share and build upon their thoughts within their organization. I do not believe that you could go wrong in selecting any of the companies mentioned below.

I have created a 2 word summary for the five companies that stood out most to me based on my gut feel. I will also share a few strengths that I feel are important. As always, I encourage you to click on the company links and experience their tools for yourself. They are listed alphabetically.

BrightIdeaInspiring Intrapreneurship
  • Fast paced, interactive demo with high energy staff
  • 10+ years experience
  • Constantly innovating their offering
  • Very quick to implement the tool internally

CogniStreamerSimple Intelligence
  • Intelligent spotting of like minded people and ideas
  • Smooth graphical feel
  • Solid front end thoughts on innovation

Hype IMTSoftware Flexibility
  • You own the software
  • It can be customized anyway you can imagine
  • Smooth graphical feel

ImaginatikConsulting Confidence
  • 10+ years experience
  • Strong consulting background
  • Very well thought out to maximize your desired outcomes
  • Many best practices based on large international clients

SpigitBusiness Savvy
  • Newer and slightly more innovative approach
  • Very strong business drive
  • They have significant financial support likely ensuring they will continue to be a main contender over the next few years
There are others in the space that are worth mentioning but did not hit the summary above for various reasons (one reason being that I ran out of time for completing demos).

The Others:

Idea and Innovation Management Tools:

BrainBank – I did not demo the product, but during conversations the founder came off as very intelligent about the needs of the tool and appears to be driven more by passion then by finances.

Kindling – Very simple, graphically smooth interface. Appears to offer the same powerful functionality as the 5 companies I reviewed above.

NOSCO – Also appears to offer the same powerful functionality as the 5 companies I reviewed above. NOSCO is also very active on LinkedIn and is contributing a significant amount of knowledge to the innovation community. The fun graphic below has been put together by their group depicting the entire idea management process.

Knowledge Management/ Idea Creation Tools:

Huddle – A web based, low cost tool that seems to come out with new functionality every week. Seems to offers similar capabilities to Microsoft SharePoint. Huddle supports mobile devices (iphone for example) and allows connecting via LinkedIn systems.

Invention Machine – It appears to be a fantastic product for searching through internal and external information quickly and then tying it into a new idea. Currently the product seems more focused on helping people to create ideas not on managing and filtering ideas internally. I believe future updates to the software may continue to add that functionality.

Traction – Very solid knowledge management tool with some abilities to create ideas and add to them. The government is one of their main clients. Information felt available and secure, but the tool didn’t seem to fit the specific need I was investigating.

External/ Open Innovation:

Hypios – Newer to the external innovation space (at least in the US), Hypios appears to be following an approach similar to InnoCentive’s open innovation approach.

IdeaConnection – A bit of “wisdom of the crowd” meets “intelligent team building”.
IdeaConnection will pull from thousands of external people to assemble a small team of talent that appears to have the right skills to solve the problem statement. Project moves on a predetermined timeline.

InnoCentive – Seems to be the juggernaut of the “wisdom of the crowd” open innovation approach. Submit a problem statement to over a hundred thousand external people and allow anyone to attempt to solve the problem (for an award).

NineSigma – A bit more custom/ hands on approach to external innovation. NineSigma employees actually do the initial searching to identify new technologies and companies that can solve your problems.

The End:

Whew… that was a lot to cover in one shot. Hopefully you found value in my initial assessment of the idea and innovation management tool space. Please use the comments section to publicly agree, disagree, or add onto any of my thoughts. Thanks.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Top 11 Ways to Implement a Culture of Innovation

On Wednesday March 10th 2010, I had the privilege of attending an innovation conference/ discussion put on by Elsevier (subset of Reed Elsevier). The event was titled: Elsevier’s Corporate Connect Event: Implementing a Culture of Innovation. Given the low price tag (free) and complete sponsorship by a one company (Elsevier), I was not sure how much information I would be able to apply directly to my company. I was very pleased to find that the event was far from a day long sales pitch and was truly an opportunity to connect and talk about ways to improve innovation within company walls.

The event was organized into 4 presentations and 1 expert panel discussion (with multiple networking opportunities in-between).

Presentation topics:
1) Elsevier’s Innovation Journey (Jeff Honious at Elsevier)
2) Building a Culture of Innovation (Peter Skarzynski at Strategos)
3) Implementing a Culture of Innovation (Mike Hess at Medtronic)
4) Supporting a Culture of Innovation (Cynthia A. Larson at Eaton)

The Expert panel consisted of 4 Information Specialists (super librarians) from Eaton, Abbot Labs, Kimberly Clark, and St. Jude Medical. The Q&A centered on understanding the role that internal and external information plays to support innovation and how to improve the way employees access that information.

Below is my “Top 11” summary from the conference. To help foster further discussion, I have placed company links throughout this summary and links for LinkedIn for each of the presenters.

Build Your Innovation Culture:

#1 – Include the Most Important Member of Your Innovation Team – The End User

The customer is king was mentioned (in various ways) during every presentation. All innovation efforts will fail eventually if the end user is not driven to use your new product or service. Make sure everything you do starts with “Who is the end user and why do they want this”. For the most part, humans are intelligent and know when you have come up with something that will truly impact their life. It is true that people can not always voice their needs and desires in a way that makes sense, but your challenge should be to find creative ways to understand their behaviors and figure out how to include them in your innovation process.

#2 – Challenge an Orthodoxy (The Way Things Are)

The point of innovation is to come up with new ideas that can be turned into tangible outcomes (most measure in terms of profit or other quantitative metrics). However, some of the best ideas are not “new” ideas but are instead challenges to existing assumptions (think of Apple challenging the way music was sold or Dell challenging the way computer were purchased and assembled). However, those kinds of insights require all employees to be comfortable challenging the “way things are” around them. The further out in the organization you can instill this mentality, the more impact it will have on your culture. What benefit could come from your line workers feeling like it was there job to suggest new ways of doing things? While it is not the overly positive case study it once was, Toyota is known for keeping low costs by listening to the ideas of their assembly workers.

#3 – Get Someone “Up Top” Interested

The majority of innovation teams start when a CEO or CIO says that it will be so. Those struggling to improve things from the bottom up without initial support will need to work to get the attention of someone up top. Without top level support, you may never gain the resources needed to really move the dial and impact the entire organization.

#4 – Take a Diagonal Slice Across the Organization

When assembling a new innovation team, it is best to take a cross functional/ diagonal cut through the organization. Many companies start with something that looks like a country club meeting with top level executives getting together to discuss how to improve the performance of the common employee. Instead of limiting the innovation team to top level strategic thinkers, make sure you include some middle level managers and some low level individual contributors. On top of getting suggestions from various levels throughout the organization, you will also be adding team members who are willing to put in extra effort to take advantage of the exciting opportunity. Oh yeah, and all members should want to be part of the group. If someone doesn’t have passion for improving innovation, they will never find the time needed to make an impact.

#5 – Don’t Forget Your Managers - Their Brains Still Work

Most managers were once the lower lever employees who went to college, dreamed of making the world a better place, and happily moved away from concentrated individual work to manage a team towards bigger objectives. Managing a team doesn’t allow for many individual contributions, but managers’ brains are still working (most of them anyway). When you are looking to implement a company-wide innovation process, make sure you create systems that allow and encourage managers to give quick bursts of energy and submit their individual ideas.

Keep the Momentum Going:

#6 – Stick to the Vision at All Costs - Do the Coin Test

When you deviate from your initial founding vision, you increase the space between you and your current consumer. You also dilute resources, reduce focus, and most importantly diminish employee passion. Ideas are cheap. Many paths end with increase profits. Make sure your path lines up with your vision so that all employees will passionately follow. Follow Medtronic’s example and carry a physical reminder of the corporate vision on a coin. When you have a tough decision to make, review the vision on the coin to help set your path. If you don’t have a clear vision that links to a consumer benefit, then that is the first place to start.

#7 – Demonstrate the Benefit

All innovation efforts should be tracked and measured. While is not always easy to quantify the impact of improving the culture or the benefit in increased communication, you can track things like the geographical diversity of idea contributors (put stars on a world map), the number of unique idea contributors, and the total number of ideas generated. When you do get a solid win, make sure you take the time to communicate it across the company.

#8 – Expect 96% Failure Rate

I was surprised by the finding that 96% of innovation efforts fail, but I would have guessed that failure was near 90% from my past experiences. Whatever the number is for your industry, failure is part of the innovation process. Your goal is to create a process that allows you to fail quickly and avoid wasting resources. How are you set up to learn from your mistakes and keep moving with renewed passion?

#9 – Develop an Innovation “Pressure Cooker”

New ideas can’t get off the ground relying only on 15 minute blocks of time between meetings or other project work. From time to time you need to grab a team of people, rent a space off site, and commit days at a time to uncovering new consumer insights and product ideas. Make sure enough time is allowed to get from the discovery phase all the way to the creation of a full action plan and timeline. When possible, bring in some of your end users to the session.

Recognize what Success Looks Like

#10 – Increase Human Connections

When reviewing your innovation efforts, make sure to determine if you connected people and increased dialog. If you got people talking, then you were successful. If no new conversations have started… you need to rethink your approach.

#11 – Build Your Planet Memory Alpha

When the panel of Information Specialists was asked what the future of innovation management would look like, Star Trek’s Plant Memory Alpha was the quick answer. While I am not much of a Star Trek fan, I believed the expert panel when they described the planet as the ideal location for “external innovation”. The Star Trek planet stored all historical knowledge for the universe and anyone could access that information. While we live in a society of patents, trade secrets, and general information secrecy; increasing the availability of information is important for innovation. One significant opportunity discussed would be to improve the availability of internal information and improve how it connects to external information. What would it be like if when you searched Google to find external information, you were also searching all internal knowledge? How else could that connection be improved?

If you want to continue the discussion with me, jot your comments below or send me a LinkedIn request at