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.


  1. Great roundup Geoff! In my experience Brightidea consistently rises above the competition based on experience, the flexibility of their tools, and the end-to-end offering that simplifies managing ideas from initial concept to market. It’s not complicated, and it is as essential to every business as leads are in order to stay competitive.

  2. Geoff, this was really fun to watch. It seems you're facing what so many others are about to face, hence the process is going to be useful. I wrote recently that Hrastinski just last year says there isn’t much innovation in innovation systems…they are all alike. He said that because they all seemed alike in so many ways (like you found). And I wonder if that just means that everyone more or less agrees on how to approach idea management.
    Everyone has a collaborative tool and seemingly the differentiation is how they approach the fuzzy front end, either through human or technological methods. And none of these address the back end of innovation where new product development turns into new products, but that's another story for another time.
    So job well done for pursuing the exercise and really a "thank you" for sharing your is certainly in the spirit of "open" innovation, sharing, etc.
    Best of luck, Ron

  3. Is the first anonymous posting a shill or what...

  4. Yeah, I have a feeling the first comment may have come directly from one of the companies mentioned. Just call it a hunch.

  5. Geoff,

    great reading what mainly software vendors face in the rising industry.

    Honestly that is not much different what we feel in the sector of "open innovation platforms", whereby we at Solvster are not a pure ideation, but rather an "open product development" solution, integrating elements of the back-end (see our ShopQuest) for now, but mainly focus on the Front End.

    Should things work out we will take it to the full NPD process. We also try to leverage the lead user concept in a new way by going open (away from the workshop setups).

    Finally - I fully agree, the industry is kind of emerging and commoditizing itself at the same time - features are similar, prize might be the old economy reflex for many to try differentiating themselves.

  6. Hi Geoff,

    I very much agree on the point regarding differences between Idea Management software.

    I was trying to put a similar analysis on my own and came with the conclusion that the differences are so insignificant its not worth to publish it at all. Slight difference is that I'm doing Semantic Web oriented (academic) research and my goal was to determine some key differences in data models of those systems rather the things that matter for customers (like cost, support etc. that you mention).

    A small rant towards the vendors here is also that its quite hard to determine what they actually deliver in the backend (like idea review/assessment tools). The websites of products are quite often just full of marketing slogans and then the demos to play around with are not really accessible, at least from my experiences.

    Either way it's nice to see I wasn't alone in my conclusions. Thanks for the post! (shame i've noticed it so late ;p)

  7. Great comments Adam - I am still working with several of these vendors in my new role at Seek. If you want to touch base via email or phone, shoot me a note at You can also reach out via LinkedIn - .

  8. Hi Geoff - When looking for idea management, the key is to understand (a) what happens next and (b) what are the other drivers of change.

    Ideas are one artifact of many - including captured research, market analysis, business strategy, customer forum discussions, issues, and bugs that may drive organizational or product change.

    Where a platform like Traction TeamPage (a broader social software platform with tasking features - see tend fit business need better is the ability to capture ideas, capture other inputs, and then follow through by providing tools to distill those inputs into requirements, or to simply task them for follow through.

  9. Geoff: Great work, Geoff