An ideation programme, process or initiative can be a fantastic way to surface some very smart ideas from your employees. If an employee’s brainwave is implemented as a project, it can deliver great value through cost savings, improved client service and the introduction of new offerings. Other softer benefits can be employee engagement and helping to build a more collaborative and innovative organizational culture.
Ideation is not always easy to execute and success can often depend on the detail, such as the specific process and how a platform is positioned. However, there are plenty of examples of success:
- by 2001, BT’s idea scheme, introduced in the mid-90s, had saved the company £100m
- AT&T’s ”TIP” crowdsourced innovation programme has resulted in patents and attracted more than 130,000 participants
- American Electric Power (AEP)’s “Now ideas” programme saved over $2m, and that was just the pilot!
Moreover, there is still clearly a demand for specialist ideation software, which is now a very mature sector. In fact, over a number of years, the fundamental process of ideation has remained essentially the same:
- employees submit ideas, often in response to specific challenges
- employees vote on the best ideas
- after a review by management the best ideas are implemented or funded as projects
- employees with implemented ideas get rewards that appeal to intrinsic motivation, usually recognition or involvement in the actual project.
The channel that got left behind by the digital workplace?
Despite the many benefits of ideation, in the evolution of the wider digital workplace, ideation is often a standalone initiative and is seldom a central component of the digital workplace experience. An initiative may have an owner such as an innovation unit which tends to be more peripheral in driving a digital workplace agenda. An ideation platform may also not be integrated with the intranet or the social network, although AT&T’s TIP platform has a feed on the intranet homepage.
The influence of the sharing economy
There are, however, some signs that ideation is evolving. One of the causes of this is the influence of the external “sharing economy” and crowdsourcing, demonstrated by the spectacular growth of companies such as Uber. Companies are taking inspiration from the successful techniques of these organizations and applying them back into the enterprise.
At a recent DWG member meeting and on a Knowledge Exchange, we saw one brilliant example of an ideation platform from a global consumer goods company, which had taken inspiration from both external crowdfunding sites and those supporting distributed work such as Upwork (formerly oDesk and Elance). The team had created a platform where employees could not only pitch ideas to get funding but also use that same platform to find teams to make their idea happen. In this respect the ideation tool was also a talent development platform, where employees could look for opportunities to gain additional experience and be exposed to exciting projects.
Other companies, such as Canadian company BGC Engineering, have built similar but more lightweight solutions that match project teams needing short-term help with employees with spare capacity or looking for opportunities.
Where ideation meets collaboration
Another influence is the growth of social tools in the enterprise. This means there is an opportunity to leverage existing social and collaboration tools for ideation, as well as to take similar approaches used in social networking, such as community management.
At Novozymes, a global biotechnology company based in Denmark, the ideation process is built on the firm’s social platform, called COLIN. A community-management approach to the ideation process has reaped benefits. Monthly challenges are pitched to smaller groups, who are invited to take part based on their knowledge of a particular topic surrounding the challenge. This approach has resulted in the successful launch of commercial products and filing of patents.
Meanwhile, BNP Paribas, a French financial services company, has launched “Jump”, another innovative global ideas platform, which again takes a community-led approach. Partly in response to the fact that many innovation managers didn’t have time to review all the ideas submitted to the platform, a group of 50 employees based on their areas of interest are automatically selected to review and rate ideas. Another fascinating dimension to Jump is that, when the ideas are reviewed, the submitter of the idea is anonymous, a dynamic which has significantly raised levels of adoption.
The influence of the digital workplace
The surge in interest in the digital workplace and emphasis on a more integrated experience may see ideation become more visible within everyday digital channels and even change the way it is carried out.
An upcoming trend in the digital workplace is the introduction of intelligent systems such as Delve, which (in theory) can surface relevant content across different systems and deliver it to individuals. Using advanced semantics, these tools may be able to recognize ideas discussed across social networks, messaging apps and even email. This could be a new way to gather ideas from employees that doesn’t rely on a more formal system but naturally picks up on conversations and interaction, exposing ideas revealed in them to people who can then provide additional input or take those ideas forward.
Ideation will continue to evolve
While the fundamental process of submitting, reviewing and rating ideas looks likely to be the centre of ideation for the time being, this is a fast-moving area in which further evolution is likely. Platforms are increasingly pushing the boundaries of idea management, fusing it with other disciplines and coming up with approaches that are as innovative as some of the very best ideas submitted. One to watch!
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