Strategic innovation management aims to identify opportunities and risks at an early stage 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. 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.
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?
The Different Players in the Innovation Management Process
In practice, very different players contribute to very different innovation management activities:
- Trend scouts identify, describe and report upcoming trends usually related to certain domains or industries.
- Technology scouts provide scientists and engineers in R&D divisions with information regarding emerging technologies.
- Inspiration scouts collect information on how other companies in other industries apply new technologies or trends, thus enhancing trend or technology profiles with application examples.
- Content researchers provide dedicated information on competitors or start-ups. They mainly conduct desk research to gather a broad range of information, for example on products, customers, communication strategy, investors, or market strategy.
- Domain experts have special knowledge or skills in a particular area. In the innovation management domain, experts assess the readiness of new technology or trend.
- Customers provide insights on customer journeys, customer touchpoints, hidden needs, or customer expectations.
- Lead users engage in the testing of new concepts, products, or services at an early stage.
- Idea contributors usually form a diverse and heterogeneous group of ideators and generate ideas in a directed or undirected manner.
- Analysts calculate business cases or estimate potential markets for innovative products.
Combining Internal with External Participants
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 external ones, other players can be 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 long-term business success. Therefore, activities like the identification of key opportunities for innovation in terms of products, 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.
Online Innovation Communities
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:
- First of all, an innovation community platform should ensure that the highly confidential information stored and shared is safe. So high data security standards are a must.
- A sophisticated rights and roles functionality has to ensure that all the different community members have the intended access to information. So high confidential information, e.g. opportunity spaces or strategic decisions, is not visible to external members unintendedly.
- Due to the diverse nature of an innovation community, each member might solve the individual tasks differently: in the office, while traveling, or simply on the go. So the platform has to offer access through various devices: mobile phones, tablets, PCs.
- The platform should be able to integrate data coming from external or internal members through standardized data interfaces.
- Specific analysis functionalities should aggregate, visualize and analyze the provided information to produce actionable innovation results.
- Furthermore, key performance indicators should monitor the performance of the innovation community activities and offer starting points to adjust and improve these activities or the setting of the innovation community itself.
It is all about the Right Setup
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, you need a software platform to carry out and steer innovation community activities and collect and aggregate their results.