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It’s difficult to recall, but there was a time in the not too distant past when communication moved at a near-glacial pace. Meetings were held, thoughts were gathered, written (typed), printed and sent off in an envelope. Days or weeks passed and a response was returned. It took time to develop ideas. Time to test, refine, pilot and promote innovations. Lots of time. Because the communication infrastructure didn’t facilitate speed, transparency or collaboration.
Enter the Digital Age. Freed from the shackles of paper and post, transferring information became instant, transparent and global. The zeitgeist of the consumer, once accessible only through focus groups or research, was laid bare by YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn and a host of other online meeting places. Even though communication has changed radically, many companies have failed to harness the unfettered flow of insight now available. And innovation—a driving force in this open, fast-paced marketplace—remains siloed within research and development (R&D) functions.
Instead the innovation process should be hardwired into social media and digital communication channels, allowing companies to leverage employee, consumer and third-party networks and the insights held within each. It’s something we call “enterprise social innovation.” By establishing an open environment that welcomes ideas, collaboration, contribution and evaluation, firms can engage their key stakeholders as active participants in the innovation process—expanding the range of possible ideas, reducing development lead times, and maximizing market impact. In short, enterprise social innovation can help deliver scale and predictability to the innovation process.
Enterprise social innovation at Cisco
How does enterprise social innovation work? Let’s look at traditional methods first. A dedicated team (usually comprised of a dozen or less people) conducts market assessments, spotting opportunities for innovation. They then cycle through iterations of “safe” strategies to pursue—all without external (i.e., customer) input.
Through enterprise social innovation, the process gets turned on its head. Take networking giant Cisco as a case in point. Their annual I-Prize initiative1 invites external contributors from across the globe to go online to submit big bet business concepts that Cisco can develop further. In the 2010 competition, 2,900 people from 156 countries entered 824 innovations. Through a series of evaluations, ratings and review, 32 semifinalists were selected, with nine teams reaching the final phase. The ultimate result: Two separate billion-dollar ideas were generated and funded, and winning submissions received a $250,000 prize in return.
Instead of having one team working on a single innovation effort, Cisco gathered an army of people working on hundreds of projects. The program is managed by Cisco’s own internal people who ensure that processes are run in a disciplined and predictable fashion. Considering the end yield, the $500,000 investment (for the two winning prizes) is extremely cost-efficient, as well.
What it takes
Enterprise social innovation broadens the scope of idea generation and transforms traditional approaches from one-off ideation to a portfolio of ideas handled like any other continuous business process. This makes it possible to scale the innovation process without scaling up a team in the corporate center (with all the associated resource commitments of doing so). By taking advantage of the company’s extensive networks, providing open channels of communication and stimulating the innovation engine (multiple brains working together real-time to create and qualify), it improves the pipeline of ideas coming through the innovation portfolio and allows for increases in volume and predictability.
So, what does it take to move from a one-off project-based linear approach to collaborative, iterative enterprise social innovation?
2. Gartner report, November 2010, ID Number: G00208615
July 15, 2011
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