By Carolin Durst
Strategic innovation management aims at identifying opportunities and risks at an early stage in order to prepare the company for the future. Therefore, various environmental scanning activities are carried out to constantly monitor new developments in terms of competitors, start-ups, risks, trends or new technologies for instance. Inspirations from other industries or other countries spur the identification of innovation opportunities to innovate and grow in. Looking at the huge amount of innovation management activities and the enormous range of knowledge-intensive tasks it becomes clear: this is a tough one.
For solid technology scouting, you need many specialists. For trend scouting, access to specific markets or industries worldwide is required. In addition, you need a bunch of researchers tracking the development of your direct and indirect competition. Once you managed the environmental scanning tasks, the next crucial step is coming up: Finding out what is important to your business and how you want to move forward. A different set of capabilities and knowledge is necessary to dive deep into the collected information in order to identify attractive innovation opportunities. Finally, if you know in which direction your company should head you have to find a way to get there. This is usually done via targeted ideation campaigns requiring an inspired and diverse bunch of individuals submitting, assessing and selecting ideas.
The success of the open source movement (with Linux as the most prominent example) has proven that distributed online communities can create, shape and disseminate technological innovations. Thus, innovation communities seem to be an attractive organizational approach to access necessary capabilities for the different activities in innovation management.
But immediately one question arises: Who should be part of my innovation community?
In practice, very different players contribute to very different innovation management activities:
Assembling a network of internal and external players that form your innovation community is a valid approach to tackle challenges like time and resources constraints in innovation management. Additionally, inputs from outside the company greatly stimulate innovation management and ensure an open-minded view on developments within and outside the business environment. While some players, for example, customers or lead users, are per definition external ones, other players can be both – internal or external.
Many time-consuming innovation activities, e.g. scouting start-ups or new technologies, can be outsourced to third parties. Those players can spend dedicated time looking at what is happening in an industry and synthesizing the results, for instance, trend agencies, technology institutes, market research companies or consultancy companies. You just need time for briefing and cash. Crowdsourcing can also be an option or additional way to get environmental scanning results in real-time at lower costs. Using collaborative technologies, you can also equip your employees with mobile applications to collect trends or inspirations on the go. Strategic innovation activities highly influence the long-term business success. Therefore, activities like the identification of key opportunities for innovation in terms of product, services, or business models should better be kept inside the company.
How you distribute your activities greatly depends on the capability to steer the activities of your innovation community and synthesize the results.
One very effective and efficient way to coordinate, summarize and connect the results of the innovation community goes back to online communities and the idea of open innovation, where web-based platforms enable collaboration between different players of an innovation community. For high-performance innovation communities, these platforms do not only enable collaboration – similar to social software applications. In addition to the known collaboration and gamification features of social software, an innovation community platform should focus on the following features:
In a nutshell: Building an innovation community requires a smart setup. Nearly every setup is possible, but what makes sense for your company? The best innovators use a combination of in-house innovation and external collaboration. No matter which setting a company chooses – for every one you need a software platform to carry out and steer innovation community activities and to collect and aggregate their results.