Innovation may seem to be an informal, flash-of-inspiration type occurrence, but there are people out there actually attempting to automate and systematize it. In fact, there is an emerging class of software —somewhat similar to project management tools—that is designed to help employees and managers act on the ideas, to move them through organizations, get financial support and eventually be productized.
There are different names for this new category, including “ideation” products and “Innovation as a Service.” But the goal is to bake innovation more thoroughly into corporate operations, so that as flashes of brilliance erupt, they can be captured and channeled and acted upon.
Sounds awfully idealistic, doesn't it? That was my reaction as well until I spoke with Luis Solis, EVP for growth & innovation at Imaginatik—one of those new innovation software providers. As Solis put it, it's a matter of better aligning a healthy innovation “supply” that is seen in most organizations with an acute and growing innovation "demand."
Businesses are not only interested in software solutions to better capture innovation, but many of these companies are insurance carriers. One such carrier, the Chubb Group of Insurance Cos., was looking to better identify and act on innovation opportunities coming out of its far-flung network of more than 10,000 employees spread over 120 offices in 28 countries. Using Imaginatek's Idea Central product, Chubb ran a one-month ideation event, comprised of intranet postings, town hall-style gatherings, videos and business unit meetings, urging employees to submit profitable growth ideas for the business. The company even created a “venture capital pool” to fund the ideas that are selected from the event. In the end, Jon Bidwell, SVP of Innovations at Chubb, says he heard from 3,700 employees, or a 35% participation rate.
From the outpouring of employee ideas, Chubb was able to identify the top 24 ideas from the 607 that had been collected and submit them to rigorous review and testing as a prelude to funding them. A cross-functional team—drawn from Chubb units around the world—managed the review process. Each member of the team was designated a “case manager” for one of the 24 final ideas, and worked with the original sponsor of that idea to create and present a 15-minute pitch to the team. Of the top-four-rated ideas, two concepts—representing significant revenue opportunities—have already been funded and are under development.
Sometimes, all it takes is a little imagination to get to innovation … and some collaborative software to help the process along.
Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.
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