Two years ago The CLP Group, one of the largest electric companies in the Asia Pacific region, launched an internal innovation management program called Inno8, based on BrightIdea’s Innovation Suite software. Employees could submit ideas, comment ideas and perhaps most importantly, rate each others ideas. The project started in the IT department, and the company is now applying what it learned in one department to the rest of the company.
“Process Busters” was one of the first campaigns launched by the IT department under the leadership of Joe Locandro. The goal was to make business processes more efficient by reducing the amount of bureaucracy. Locandro was able to quantify the results by measuring the reduction in steps to complete processes, reduction in paperwork, etc. Based on these metrics he says the project improved productivity by 30-70% and provided more than a 100% return on investment.
Here’s some of what Locandro learned about doing innovation management.
1. There is No Generation Gap
The notion that young people – so called “digital natives” – have a better understanding of new technology was challenged by a study from the International Journal of Communication, as well as observers like Brad King. That myth seems to have been busted by CLP’s experience as well, which found that there was no difference in level of participation among age groups. There’s no reason to think an innovation management campaign will be over run by younger workers.
2. 6 Weeks Seems to be the Ideal Amount of Time for a Campaign
According to Locandro, 90% of the benefit comes in the first few weeks.
3. The Top Voted Ideas Aren’t Always the Ones That Are Implemented
Locandro emphasizes the need to look beyond the number of votes an idea receives and focus finding actionable ideas. For example “I want the day off on my birthday” might get many upvotes, but it’s not necessarily a good idea. Adding categories is a good way to organize and structure ideas and find ones that are most actionable.
On a related note, the number of ideas adopted isn’t a good reflection of the engagement of the works or of value of the campaign. Remember to look at other metrics.
4. There’s No Need for Down Voting
While down voting may be useful for hiding spam submissions or troll comments on sites like Reddit, Locandro says there wasn’t any need for it on CLP’s internal platform. “The good stuff naturally rises to the top,” he says. Avoiding down voting keeps people positive and engaged.
5. Start Management with Negative Points
Locandro said that it was important for the credibility of the project for management to be engaged on Innov8. But it was also important that management not dominate the dicussions or have undue influence. Locandro found that handicapping management by starting them with negative points, so even as they earn points by commenting and submitting ideas they don’t end up with many votes to spend on voting up ideas. That kept the process organic, with the non-management staff being the primary voters, but management wasn’t missing in action from the conversations.
6. People come up with their best ideas outside of work
After CLP and BrightIdea built a mobile version of Innov8 they discovered that not only did employees participate from home using their phones, but the best ideas usually came from people who were not at work. The mobile app allowed employees to capture and share more ideas, without the need to bring them into the office and take time to type them into the desktop version of the app.
BrightIdea provided consulting to CLP on starting the project. BrightIdea helped with some technical aspects, like integrating with ActiveDirectory, but the most important part of BrightIdea’s service was consultation on best practices and process. This demonstrates how offering a product and technical support often isn’t enough, especially with leading edge technologies.
We’re seeing this with Hadoop and big data. Many companies don’t know how to best take advantage of the data they have, or know what data they want to collect. They need guidance beyond the technical aspects of managing clusters of analytics servers. But this principle is broadly applicable elsewhere, for example customers often struggle with “enterprise 2.0″ applications – its’ not always clear how to connect social features with real work processes. It’s just not enough to dump a product on a customer, there needs to be guidance in how to use it, if not from the vendor then from outside services. This isn’t necessarily new – we saw it with ERP and CRM in the 90s. Lack of guidance to customers, and a failure on the part of vendors to learn from customers’ struggles, was a big part of why so many CRM implementations never gained any internal traction.
That’s an important lesson for both buyers and service providers as companies transition more enterprise software to hosted solutions.