Innovation management, Brightidea style

Good ideas are just the start of an organization’s innovation process. Once you have the good ideas, what do you do with them? Innovation management tools can support the transition from good idea to great product. Brightidea provides a suite of such tools: WebStorm (to gather and manage ideas), Switchboard (to develop ideas into proposals to further qualify ideas), and Pipeline (for social project management). I spoke with Vincent Carbone, Brightidea co-founder and COO, about the company, and his perspective on innovation management.

Activity feed page for BrightideaInnovation management is not that different from sales management. You start with leads. Leads and ideas are raw concepts that don’t have current value — a company can’t invest time and effort into them.

This analogy resonated with me: By putting innovation management in parallel with a well-understood organizational process, like sales management, you can see possible metrics without having to start from scratch. It opens the concept of innovation management to anyone who has ever thought about sales management and optimization of the sales process.

Continuing the sales analogy, once the good ideas have been identified, innovation managers can merge them into a proposal for further vetting and qualification, like leads would be combined into an opportunity in the customer relationship management process. Carbone noted that it is in this proposal stage where the company has reason to contribute resources, and additional participants are invited. Feasibility and financials are considered, and there can be multiple rounds of scorecarding, if required. He also suggested that companies may want to rank a set of proposals based on the scorecard and then use that to decide what new features or ideas to continue in development for their project or service.

Screenshot of Brightidea SwitchBoardCarbone went on to point out the importance of social networks in preparing people for this kind of innovation. Facebook has gotten people interested in sharing and collaboration, while Digg gave us expectations around mass sharing how to surface good content:

It’s because of tools like Facebook and Digg that companies became able to manage ideas. Before that it was a very cumbersome workflow as people were trying to track every idea that came in using email and spreadsheets. The collaboration social front-end helps you weed out ideas at a minimal resource requirement. But it’s not collaboration for collaboration’s sake. You need to tell people what you want them to collaborate on, i.e. going green, cost savings, new products, process improvements. And once you do that, still no-one makes a business decision just based on the crowd.

Carbone’s take is that innovation management might just be the killer app of the social software revolution. That said, his perspective is also realistic — and it should be, as Brightidea was founded in 1999 and has grown through some tough times:

There’s nothing in our software that is going to magically motivate people to use the software and make people contribute. You’re going have to set the incentives and the programs. The software is a facilitating factor in the equation. It’s a utility for managing the innovation process which has never really been tracked before.

Client examples

I asked Carbone for an example of a client that had integrated Brightidea with its innovation management process for a great result. He named two very different companies: Robert Bosch Tool Corporation and BT.

Bosch has used Brightidea both internally and with customers. For example, you can submit your ideas for new Dremel tool or accessory, and employees can submit ideas for RotoZip improvements. What stuck with me was how thoughtful Bosch was around blending their aspiration for internal participation with the realities of their performance management system. Their call center employees are encouraged to submit ideas, but call center employees have quotas for the number of calls they handle. How do they balance time for ideas with time for calls? One manager is asking for ideas, another is asking for high call volume. The company put these issues on the table and worked with the managers of the call center to highlight the importance of innovation and asked that innovation be considered along with calls, not as a formal policy, but part of their overall approach. This approach is working, and I expect allows more flexibility than would a formal policy.

BT also implemented Brightidea along with other organizational changes to support innovation: the company locates “innovation scouts” around the world, and provides significant incentives for innovation. A case study from the Brightidea site notes that, “[t]he new internal system with its dedicated innovation team, clear incentive structure and the easy-to-use software platform changed the generally pessimistic  attitude of employees towards new ideas into a positive corporate energy that keeps motivation up even in a challenging business environment.” The company reports added revenue and cost savings in excess of $100M.

The innovation/collaboration ecosystem

Screenshot of Brightidea PipelineHow does an innovation platform like Brightidea fit into the rest of a company’s collaboration space? Carbone explained, “We really buy into the idea that there’s going to be a corporate feed, like from Yammer, and we see products like ours passing information over to them.”  He acknowledged that many enterprise collaboration tools can provide basic ideation support, but for full innovation management you’ll need a system focused on the process.

I also asked Carbone about mobile access. He said, “our goal is to continuously get closer to the moment of creation. As soon as [users] come up with the idea we want to make it easy as possible to share that idea.” Mobile apps are one approach, but Brightidea also has clients using 800 numbers, voice-to-text translation, or special email addresses.

I’ll leave you with Vincent Carbone’s thoughts on success in innovation management:

Success means people are happy with giving ideas, and that those ideas can easily be routed to those that need them, and that decision-makers have the tools to involve [the broader participants] in the decision-making and implementation roadmap.