Open Innovation Web Portals: Change the Game to Improve Outcomes

Monday, 02 April 2012 06:30
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My recent newsletters on open innovation web portals have sparked enthusiastic discussion. We continue this week. Read on, dear friends.

Web Portals:

Change the Game to Improve Outcomes

Enduring enterprises continually satisfy key stakeholder's needs. I doubt that the vast majority of participants would say this principle describes open innovation web portals. If one accepts this, why is this so? I believe that the two parties (tech customers, providers) have largely incompatible needs and expectations. Let's examine this more closely and discuss some ways to address it:

What does each party want/need?

Tech seekers: Low investment, low risk, mature, proprietary, proven solutions to meaningful technical challenges.

Tech providers: A customer for the particular solution they have to offer. In many cases, a backer willing to assume risk and underwrite cost for developing, finishing and commercializing what the provider has in hand, or are willing to develop on a custom basis. An engaged listener. Applying the needs statements above, I believe there currently exists an extremely limited shared basis for interest and engagement. With an estimated 96+% rejection rate, it can be argued that neither party is getting what they want or need, at least not to any great degree. So, how to make the experience more collectively satisfying?

Further clarify the portal's role. While they are designed to democratize the submission process (i.e. anyone can submit), they also enable a lot of unsuitable submissions. As mentioned, tech providers submit what they have to offer...their precision relative to the portal sponsor's stated need may vary considerably. I have a two pronged solution: (1) force respondents to apply discipline required to make qualified submissions. Entries must meet certain predefined requirements relative to the stated needs or risk automatic disqualification. (2) Provide separate collaborative vehicles for well reasoned and supported solutions that may not necessarily neatly fit a stated need, but are worthy of further consideration. Many companies don't have mechanisms in place to properly address and proactively manage these "outliers". So, as a default these are often rejected.

Standardize submissions: Submission quality, content and communication is all over the map. Greater standardization could help improve a submission's fortunes.

Incentivize compliance: Companies should reward solutions that nominally meet need objectives (e.g. they should reward entrants that meet these objectives. This should encourage well targeted submissions).
Seek to create and manage relationships versus treating submissions as anonymous and discrete transactions: Unilever's Director of Technology Scouting, Roger Leech explained to me that his company's web portal is one of a number of means they use to engage external parties. I have personally experienced this in dealing directly with some of his company's OI liaisons. Kraft and P&G (and possibly others) also apply a variety of approaches to make external connections. Companies that offer varied options need to make these alternative vehicles better known to qualified parties to attract the best ones.
As part of this, assign the right personalities and skill sets to front facing positions. Gatekeepers and contact personnel are the faces companies present to technology provider. If these individuals are capable, proactive, timely and responsive, they can help their companies to earn goodwill and to be preferentially chosen for contact. If they aren't, the converse will also be true.

Invest technology review personnel more heavily in the outcomes of the review process: All persons in this role should have a direct stake in the game, and have a bias for action and intelligent risk taking. Unfortunately, I suspect that more than a few technology reviewers accept their role as something they do in addition to their regular duties, and they may not currently be particularly invested in the outcomes.
Am I right on or way off? What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear them!


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