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Innovation – Innovation Management Platforms – Part 1

Background
We are still in the “generate ideas” stage of the innovation process.  I hope by now I have made you aware of the importance of defining proper questions, the usefulness of collaboration on ideas, driving idea submission as idea campaigns and not a suggestion scheme, and the power of the idea.  As mentioned before, the culture of the organisation will be the biggest factor in getting in ideas, not the creative ability of your workforce.  Based on experience I’ve had with running idea campaigns, you will be surprised who comes out of the woodwork to submit ideas, if the culture is conducive and the people are not afraid to submit ideas.  I have witnessed an idea campaign where about 60 people were invited to participate, 24 responded to the challenge, and they submitted over 80 ideas, of which 15 ideas were eventually implemented, which brought about a saving of N$ 500,000 for the business.
Idea Management Platforms
I have been in the software “game” for quite a while and at a stage in my career it was my job to be knowledgeable on the latest and greatest in enterprise systems.  Five years ago, the concept of Innovation Management Platforms (IMP) or Idea Management Systems as it is sometimes called, was very new and there were only a few options available.  However, there has been an explosion in these types of systems and there are now many options available.  It ranges from very simple and cheap or even free, to very complex and expensive.  But let me take a step back and discuss what an IMP actually does.  
An IMP is basically a software system that provides the following functions with regards to managing the innovation process:  A means for soliciting ideas; A means for capturing ideas; Collaboration tools that allow people to build or collaborate upon ideas; Reward tools; Idea review tools for determining which ideas offer the most promise; and Reporting tools. In addition, most systems include numerous functions to further enhance the ideal management process, such as e-mail notifications of new ideas, automatic rewards schemes, creative thinking support, project management integration and more.
So what value do these systems bring to the organisation? An IMP provides an organisation with the functionality to manage, monitor and implement innovation in a structured way. Although it is not the only way to approach innovation, it is very appealing to management as it provides structure, discipline, clear milestones and metrics to what may otherwise be a very qualitative and unstructured process.  It relieves the administrative burden that comes with the innovation management processes.  Remember that an IMP is just a tool, just as a Word processing application will not make you a great writer and a fancy expensive cell phone will not make you a better communicator, an IMP will not innovate for the organisation.  However, the fact that it simplifies and streamlines some of the routine tasks, makes it a very useful tool when driving large scale innovation efforts.  Referring to the example above, think about the amount of effort required to review, group, evaluate, build and give feedback on 80 ideas, and this is just one campaign, we ran six campaigns in that organisation in one year.  That is one every 2 months, and we eventually had over 300 ideas.  Remember, if you don’t want people to become discouraged with innovation, every idea needs to be reviewed and feedback given to the submitter.
So, usually the next question is, why can’t I just use Excel for this?  The answer is simple, an important contribution of these systems is the collaboration functionality, driven by the social media phenomenon that so many of us use these days.  It allows people to share, discuss and contribute to ideas, and, among other, Excel does not have this social media and collaboration tools component.

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