- Innovation is all about the process of doing new things that deliver value.
- Open innovation is about innovation with people outside the firm’s walls.
- Good Innovation processes are vital. Bad innovation processes – especially for Open Innovation – are deadly.
Let’s look at an example: Brightidea.
Before I get into the detail, I’d like to provide some context. Innovation management, and its related field of Idea Management is gaining market traction (e.g. Forrester Research & Gartner now following). It is all about people and leadership processes, focused on innovation and problem solving, supported by technology. This is in stark contrast with simply buying a ‘naked’ technology product and hoping that innovation miraculously happens. The area is relatively new – we ourselves at Imaginatik started working on the first “Idea Management” systems in 1998. As with many areas, the good practices on use are still emerging, as practitioners drive new learnings and experiences.
Open innovation is an even newer branch of innovation. For most organizations, open innovation is the systematic solicitation of external inputs (insights, problems, ideas, solutions, feedback) as part of an internal innovation process. Open innovation has many critical process issues that need to be addressed, from intellectual property rights, to managing types of users, and what users can see and do.
So, I find it distressing that a so-called ‘leader’ in innovation, Brightidea, has applied the tools for open innovation without any consideration to the basics of open innovation, let alone applying more advanced techniques. Let’s consider just three of the fundamental rules of an Open Innovation process:
- Do NOT allow access to an Open Innovation system without appropriate legal conditions and security permissions
- Do NOT expose your user community to the Internet, especially without their permission
- Do NOT let your competitors get access to confidential internal information
All too often we share success stories, and only rarely do we share failures. The thing is that we can learn from failures – it is important to know what NOT TO DO, just as much as knowing what TO do.
I’m going to deliberately use the Brightidea Customer Feedback Portal as an example as it illustrates poorly-thought through process work, with a clearly visible negative outcome (see our review of their content below). Brightidea is an influential industry player, self-described as “the global leader in innovation management”. My company, Imaginatik plc, competes with Brightidea in this market space: we are a much larger firm, and a publicly traded company. Our unique advantage – the one that has us winning most business these days – is our strength and focus on consulting and process work. “A fool with a tool is still a fool” – and we do not want to let our customers be fools.
I expect Brightidea will close the loopholes in their public domain system shortly (this entry was written on 13 Oct 2009). As there are no waivers or restrictions around the content (it might as well be Google indexed for the world to see), I will post our conclusions around their activities below, and capture some screenshots with commentary so you can see what I mean by ‘process gaps’.
To compare their activities to our approach, at Imaginatik, we have a multiyear program in place for customer and partner engagement. The core system is called ‘Big Fluffy Wishlist’ (BFW), used extensively by our consulting and sales team using a technique called ‘Customer Echo’, developed on pioneering engagements at Grace Chemicals and Bayer. We have a separate system available to registered customers that links to the back-end system internally. The BFW system is actively managed as a workflow and tracking system, so we can see on a periodic basis the status of the submissions through our development process. We do NOT post this content to the internet, and we certainly do NOT allow our competitors to go in to take a look.
Perhaps, and yes, this is a bit cheeky, if Brightidea would like an Imaginatik consultant to come and conduct an audit and recommend improvements, we’d be happy to come up with a price.
Joking aside, this is an important issue for this emerging industry. I am deeply concerned when companies start following ‘leaders’ who do not have either the experience or knowhow to guide their clients. This is honestly a dreadful example of Open Innovation in practice. In my view, the cobbler’s children should have the best shoes on the block (they are walking advertisements), not the worst. I therefore hope my exposé will help companies and consultants focus on the vital issues of process in this key area of innovation.
Our Research Method
We discovered the web site by looking on the official social media sites in the public domain. The URL is (maybe soon ‘was’) http://ideas.brightidea.com.
We reviewed the web site for terms, conditions, waiver forms – and upon not finding any, proceeded to investigate. Later we did see there were ‘Terms & Conditions’. They were, precisely: “You agree to release intellectual capital rights to all ideas posted on this website”.
We went through the content to explore patterns, issues, concerns, and progress. We also reviewed the entire list of participants and learned that there were customers in the system, who also posted complaints and observations.
Internally, our Development Team reviewed the inputs and the status updates within the system. We developed a list of ‘weaknesses’, which we share below. Now we do not know if these were or are real issues, we do not know if they have been fixed, etc. This is all from the public domain, badly-designed Open Innovation System for the Brightidea Customer Feedback Portal.
We also put together a PPT of screenshots and commentary on the system (Imaginatik Review – Brightidea Customer Feedback Portal 13Oct09), so that if / when it gets taken down, we can still have a corporate memory of how the system was implemented.
Imaginatik Feedback on Brightidea Customer Feedback Portal: Key Weaknesses
1. They only properly support IE, which is a bad limitation for open innovation.
2. They constantly update hosted environments (not clear whether it’s once a month or even more often). This is risky – how well can they have tested their changes? It is also difficult for Admins to stay on top of new features and make sure that they immediately configure new settings as appropriate. This can lead to embarrassing situations.
3. They don’t take security concerns seriously. If you have forgotten your password, they mail it to you in the clear. Even if access to specific ideas is limited, the projects that get spawned from them are not restricted. They also don’t seem to think that having their issues open to the competition might be a problem (not exactly experts on open innovation).
4. The Admin burden is placed on a single person per campaign. The setup work cannot be shared, and you can only have one moderator for pre-screening submissions in the Platform product (there is no embargo functionality in WebStorm). This does not meet most enterprise demands.
5. Important Admin options are system-wide, e.g. the categories. They cannot accommodate different usage scenarios and processes that differ across divisions. They admit that the Admin area is ‘a mess’.
6. Their workflow can generate email overload for end users and reviewers because it is not built for volume.
7. Navigation is difficult and confusing. You cannot move seamlessly from one idea to the next. The tabs, the categories and the remit of the search are confusing because you don’t know which ideas are included in which case.
8. They only have promote/demote functionality, no other public voting tool. That means that there is no granularity like with our 5 stars, and there is also no way of capturing comments at the same time like with our peer review.
9. You cannot export comments together with the ideas. You get a separate file for comments that only contains the ideaID.
10. Clients get locked in – if a customer wants to stop using Brightidea’s service, they cannot simply export their own content. They do not permit customers to access their data structures, providing less flexibility and issues when a customer wants to stop using them and migrate to a new platform.
Dev Group Opinion: There will be other issues that are not included in this source. This list should already disqualify them for enterprise usage, though.