Regardless of the sector, if you have worked in a large organisation in the last few years, and especially if you are involved in managing innovation, it is likely you have heard or even used some form of ingenious innovation box or enterprise innovation management software.
The reality is that, as businesses’ needs continually grow to respond to digital transformation, innovation management software has become a powerful tool to manage collaborative innovation and strategically generate new ideas with business value. They have evolved beyond prompting ideation and internal innovation processes to explore the full potential of an organisation’s innovation ecosystem.
In the most varied sectors, innovative companies with digital transformation on their mind are using these tools to efficiently streamline and centralise innovation initiatives, aligning them with the ever-growing demands of digital transformation. Keeping up with this trend, innovation management software have become highly complex and highly adaptable, which also makes the task of choosing a product that best supports your organisation’s needs all the more difficult.
But if you are involved in managing innovation for your organisation and you have been set with the task to make this decision, the first question you should ask yourself is:
“Do we really need an innovation management tool?”
For example, is it the logical choice for your organisation at this time? Or are there other options you should be exploring before committing to an innovation management software.
The following 3 questions should help you take a step back and make a decision about the future of your innovation strategy, before taking the leap. They relate to 3 key dimensions of any innovation management programme:
First dimension: NEED ASSESSMENT
1. Does your company really need an innovation management software?
Perhaps this is the most obvious question of all, but to answer it, you need to first understand:
The innovation reality and current status of your company. There are several types of innovation, each one offering their own advantages and potential but also complementing one another, according to:
For some companies, disruptive innovation may be the most powerful approach to innovation-driven growth, as it creates new markets and value networks, eventually disrupting existing markets and value networks. It does indeed offer several benefits, such as enabling potentially fast market expansion and helping your company lead change as opposed to fearing it. Not all radical innovations are disruptive, though. Most, in fact, are not, but they represent a major technological breakthrough. Additionally, incremental innovation is built on a series of small, ongoing improvements or updates, rather than drastic changes. Not only is it typically more affordable, but it also makes ideas easier to sell.
Besides dedicated innovation labs, there are several methods used to help drive transformation that do not involve innovation management tools, such as:
- The Design Thinking Method is a human-centred approach to innovation based on understanding people’s unmet needs and finding practical solutions for the consumer, combining inspiration, ideation and implementation;
- The Lean Startup Method is founded on an iterative design process that uses short design cycles to rapidly test products or services, learn and then iterate to ensure the product is optimal for the market;
- The Business Model Canvas is a visual chart based on an A4 canvas for developing new or documenting existing business models. The strategic management method includes elements such as value proposition, customers and finances.
Innovation can also mean several things and can be seen across several fronts that, when focused on individually, can be more effective. They include:
- Product Innovation – besides inventing new products, product innovation also involves improving the design and function of existing products, and using new technologies and manufacturing processes.
- Process Innovation – this type of innovation allows companies to add value for customers without having to radically change the company’s approach. New solutions or improving existing products can help drive growth and profitability.
- Market Innovation – in order to meet customers’ buying preferences in various markets, market innovation entails implementing a new marketing method. This involves significant changes in product design, product placement, product promotion or pricing.
- Organisational Innovation – by implementing a new organisation method in the undertaking of business practices, companies can see improved workplace dynamic and a more engaged workforce, and create a breeding ground for creative and innovative thinking embedded in the company culture.
Questioning the nature, method and focus of your current innovation initiatives will help you clear your head, clarify what is needed and set a path to make it evolve.
This brings us to: Who really needs it? Deciding for whom this tool will be useful will help you map expectations and the desired outcomes of the key players in the process. Only in this way is it possible to see if an innovation software can meet their needs.
You should also understand whether you have the right sponsorship at C-level or board level, and if not, whether you can get it. Innovation should be considered an asset for the business as a whole. A culture of innovation usually trickles down from the top, with the C-level and strategic players sharing the same vision and the main innovation goals. Framing innovation around the key concerns of your leaders – and presenting its potential results across all levels – will help them embrace your innovation programme. Every initiative should also have ambassadors to help drive the programme in different key departments and get people to work collaboratively. Get heads of sales, marketing, operations and human resources on board by listening to their most critical challenges and showing how innovation can enhance their work.
Above all, investment in innovation isn’t a one-time thing and usually implies investment across different fronts, mobilising different actors. It must be ongoing, enduring and be able to create an innovation culture that successfully involves the entire workforce. In this case, opting for an innovation tool to centralise efforts and allow everyone to take part in your innovation programme would make perfect sense for your company.
Second dimension: ESTABLISHED GOALS
2. What is the main goal in your innovation management programme?
This second question requires you to reflect on what you look to achieve with your innovation programme. An innovation management software can be useful if you are seeking to invest in collaborative innovation in an ongoing manner, allowing your organisation to collect, assess and develop ideas that create value for the company. It’s worth remembering that innovation management isn’t only about improving processes, products or even about organisational evolution. It is about finding business solutions, identifying markets or business models and improving customer experience, while leading trends and anticipating risks.
The tool will also allow you to create a strategic alignment, centralising the innovation process and streamlining it, offering tangible results in the process.
On a more human front, the results of an innovation management software are very relevant when it comes to the company’s workforce. When innovation is driven by the employees, it leads to higher engagement and therefore a higher overall return on your innovation efforts.
Your workforce is your organisation’s strongest asset, and their involvement through sharing ideas, improving the ideas of others – and being rewarded for it – is one of the best ways to ensure ongoing employee engagement.
By drawing on the wisdom of the crowd so that the whole becomes larger than the sum of its parts, this creates a culture of collaborative innovation from the bottom up. While the results can be manifested in both everyday changes and more transformational shifts, the insights and shared knowledge of the employees can help solve specific business challenges within your organisation.
An innovation management software not only allows you to draw valuable insights from within your organisation, but it also works to gather input from external sources, too.
An open approach to innovation allows you to expand your innovation community, increasing your reach and establishing connections outside the company, as well as recruiting new talent to the benefit of your organisation.
If you feel none of the above would ring true for your organisation and the reality of your innovation programme, there are other tools, methods and processes that would be a better fit to respond to your current goals.
Also depending on what type of knowledge specificity you are looking for and the audience you want to cover (more or less people), you should invest in different aspects:
- For more focused expertise, innovation labs or connections to innovation academies would be a fitting choice, for instance, with access to more technical research and specific knowledge;
- For expert insights from a larger community, which draws on the collective expertise and experience of your work force and beyond – from ideators, commentators and achievers to gaining more critical insights –, an innovation software could be a good option, allowing businesses to evaluate and implement actionable ideas gathered from employees, customers and partners alike.
- With an innovation software you can also target audiences for more complex challenges, or allow for expert-driven exploration or pure inspiration sharing, but its true potential lies in the capacity to reach and mobilise your whole community.
In this aspect, it is important to assess how large the group is expected to be and where they would be physically located. If the crowd is larger, an innovation software would make sense – by their nature, predictive markets, crowd mechanisms and gamification achieve better results with more participants. This isn’t to say that they cannot be used with smaller groups, but in this case, a more simplified option would be more adequate. Also, if you have a smaller group in one location, complementary methods such as brainstorming sessions, regular hackathons and ideation sessions can offer a good start to mobilising your team around innovation.
Location is another thing to consider – innovation management software can be used anywhere in the world, which opens the door to collaboration across different departments and locations, within the organisation or externally.
In this way, not only can you engage your community and benefit from the otherwise untapped wealth of knowledge of your people (whilst also helping develop and spot talent within your existing workforce), but it also allows you to use your network fully.
Third dimension: INNOVATION EXPERIENCE
3. Finally, do you and your team have previous experience in innovation management?
The third and final question touches on the subject of experience and preparedness. If you have no previous experience, it doesn’t mean it is too late to start. If, after the previous two questions, you feel this type of tool is relevant to your organisation as it takes its first steps in building a solid innovation programme, you should consider a more simplified version that has the capacity to evolve as your needs and requirements grow.
If you or your team members have used other tools, such as dated intranets, email inboxes and complex spreadsheets, you will understand the single largest challenge of most innovation initiatives: the sometimes complex, often time-consuming management tasks. This is where an innovation software will help you the most, by freeing your time and finding a highly efficient way to collect and assess those ideas, while keeping people coming and actively participating. Although an innovation software can be an option for gaining additional engagement or developing a more efficient process, it is always worth studying the collaborative features of each tool carefully.
If, on the other hand, your organisation has high levels of innovation maturity and you have used online tools previously, you may be looking to refine the process. To do this, first look at what went well and what could be improved, and understand the expectations of your innovation programme. Additionally, if you have already cultivated an innovation programme, it is worth understanding with potential software providers how you can integrate all the data and knowledge garnered previously to take you forward in this new chapter.
Whatever you decide, choosing a good innovation management software goes beyond looking at the technology – bearing in mind your specific needs and the reality of your company, you should choose a provider that can ensure an adequate service package that will guarantee your initiative is successful across the board and on an ongoing basis.
Diana Neves de Carvalho, Exago’s CEO