Introducing "Innovation Infrastructure" – first draft white paper

Categories: Innovation Insights, Innovation Software

Note: this is my first draft and I thought it would be good to publish early to get some feedback before I formalize it into a report. This is an extremely important area – and report – and hopefully will map out the innovation/technology investments for the months and years to come.

Executive Summary

Innovation Infrastructure: a technology platform to support innovation goals and projects, from insight collection and ideation at the front-end, to launch innovation at the back-end

We believe that all organizations will establish a form of innovation infrastructure in the coming years. It will be based on flexible, adaptive, extensible technology and support the business process of innovation as well as the people and cultural implications. Executives will come to rely on this infrastructure to achieve corporate objectives and drive new programs, tapping into the brainpower of employees and trusted outsiders. It will therefore be led and actively managed from the top-down, in effect cresting a unique environment for individual creativity to shine through, in alignment with corporate goals.

Introducing Innovation Infrastructure

The term, Innovation Infrastructure describes a software environment, one or more tools to support a wide variety of requirements across an enterprise, and beyond with customers, suppliers and partners.

The infrastructure needs to support the entire spectrum of innovation needs. Most obviously, it should support the Innovation Pipeline, a term to describe the flow of customer needs, to ideas, to successful processes and products. It also needs to support a multi-dimensional view of the organization, supporting the varied organizational components that drive business performance.

The infrastructure must therefore support innovation and change initiatives across:
· strategic objectives
· functions (i.e. Marketing, engineering, production, human resources, etc)
· geography
· value chain (inside and outside the firm)

The infrastructure needs to support real-world processes. Innovation is an extremely human process, and conceptual models, or overly process-driven systems will not fit the real need, and are unlikely to be adopted. Therefore infrastructure, above all, needs to be used. Without strong adoption rates, sparse use of the system will rapidly prove sub-optimal, and in some cases leave the organization in a worse position than if they had nothing.

An Innovation Infrastructure must address the weaknesses of existing innovation processes and methods. The vast majority of firms seem satisfied with programs that are:

· inconsistently applied
· practically undocumented
· rarely shared
· not globally supported
· does not cross organizational or geographic boundaries
· not searchable
· overly dependent on a few individuals
· treats innovation as a fuzzy art
· non-repeatable or replicable

The technical infrastructure needs to provide realistic support to current and future needs. The very fact that innovation is future-looking explicitly dictates the need for a flexible, configurable environment that integrates into corporate IT services and with other applications that form the overall innovation environment. It should integrate with an organization’s existing IT infrastructure, including messaging, directory services, security, browser, personal productivity tools, and personnel systems. An infrastructure is likely to comprise of multiple tools, from individual and group work, up to enterprise reporting and business process applications. Tools within the infrastructure should integrate together, initially at a simplistic level, potentially, and later tightly integrated.

The system needs to be highly flexible and adapted to different – changing – business needs. The infrastructure needs to scale, from small work groups to global, enterprise systems supporting tens of thousands of employees.

The infrastructure will need to synthesize input and content from a variety of sources, internal and external. The ‘Open Innovation‘ approach, a method of systematically incorporating external viewpoints into the process, is a part of all leading edge implementations, and will be for all companies eventually.

The environment should encourage and support the creation, management and protection of high value intellectual property. For many firms, primarily those driven by R & D, this means patent protection, but increasingly it also covers trade secrets and other forms of protection. Judicious use of public domain publishing may offer more protection than patenting in some industries.

As people are at the heart of the innovation process, for creativity, development, evaluation and execution, this infrastructure must be people-centric. Given the recent research suggesting personality styles are critical to many aspects of innovation, the infrastructure needs to make some use of people as individuals. It also provides an environment to encourage personal connections outside the technical environment. Great things happen when people connect, and the technology is but one enabler to achieve this.

The innovation infrastructure needs to provide a means of educating and enabling workers to be more creative, and apply their skills to direct work tasks as well as corporate challenges. Therefore, by necessity, it is likely to support e-learning for innovation and creative problem solving. Research has shown that employees and managers who are trained in basic skills are able to handle more complex problems and develop more novel solutions. They are able to bring general skills to bear on daily work problems as well as corporate initiatives. The technology must therefore incorporate links to training, facilitating the acquisition of skills on a global basis at relatively low cost.

The infrastructure should support a means of recognizing individual and team contributions in a manner that is consistent, fair, and transparent. Whilst there are necessarily multiple ways of rewarding and recognizing contributions, a common system will bring benefits to organizations. Innovation is often associated with cultural change, and an appropriate reward program provides a powerful support tool to accelerate change.

As one of the most important executive challenges, innovation requires leadership direction and oversight. Leadership is demonstrated through the establishment of the infrastructure and association organizational structure, the sponsorship of challenges, linked to corporate and business unit objectives, and the selection and active engagement in metrics. Therefore the infrastructure should support the collection and aggregation of relevant metrics that reflect the current state of innovation, and indicate future progress.

Unlike past attempts at creating ‘innovation culture’, the innovation infrastructure is a purposeful approach to closing a firm’s innovation gap. Research clearly indicates that a generalized, non-directed approach to innovation yields sub-standard results, the implication is that this new infrastructure needs to be deployed in a focused fashion to support timely business issues. At the front-end of the innovation process, the event method, characterized by time-limited, business-focused topics, now drives 90% of idea management initiatives. It is likely that this directed time-box method will be a key driver for other parts of the process, and therefore needs to be explicitly supported by the technology infrastructure.

The open question is who should own the infrastructure and how should it be governed. As we have demonstrated, the innovation infrastructure can be considered as a people process supported by technology or a technology supported by people. Either way, it is clear that the pervasive scope of innovation in all enterprises, together with the strategic pressure to innovate, indicates that a true platform requires clear, unequivocal leadership support from the very top. Innovation is a multi-year commitment and has the potential to impact every part of the business.

As a technology, the infrastructure needs the active engagement and sponsorship of the Chief IT Officer. In the past innovation may have been a business application issue, but now the focus is on supporting the strategic goals of the firm. At the same time, a pure IT focus is almost guaranteed to fail. Therefore the CIO is likely to play a supporting role, that of the co-sponsor.

The active leader for innovation is likely to be a newly appointed Chief Innovation Officer. This individual straddles new products, business ventures and operational improvement. In the case where this role does not exist, an organization is likely to start with a more narrow view of innovation, possibly guided by the COO, SVP Corporate Strategy, or SVP Business Development. An overtly functional focus, such as R&D is likely to reinforce organizational boundaries and lead to a mono-dimensional view of innovation.

In conclusion, we believe that all organizations will establish a form of innovation infrastructure in the coming years. It will be based on flexible, adaptive, extensible technology and support the business process of innovation as well as the people and cultural implications. Executives will come to rely on this infrastructure to achieve corporate objectives and drive new programs, tapping into the brainpower of employees and trusted outsiders. It will therefore be led and actively managed from the top-down, in effect cresting a unique environment for individual creativity to shine through, in alignment with corporate goals.

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One Response to “Introducing "Innovation Infrastructure" – first draft white paper”

  1. Mark. Thank you for posting this insightful article. The term we use at Computer Sciences Corporation to refer to this is an Operating System For Innovation. The term was first coined in my paper What Innovation Is – How Companies are developing Operating Systems for Innovation. I would very much enjoy collaborating with you on the initiative.

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