Brainstorm, a Web application originally created for Intuit employees to share product ideas and get them to the people who could act on them, is now coming to market as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) application that is already being used by big companies like General Electric. Although the service has actually been serving customers since 2009, Intuit is now promoting it more broadly and establishing it as its own business unit. Tad Milbourn and Vlad Magdalin, the two young employees who developed the original prototype, continue to lead Brainstorm's development.
Now the senior product manager for Brainstorm, Milbourn said he and Magdalin came up with the idea because they believed the process of suggesting ideas within Intuit was "more difficult than we thought it ought to be. We set out to drastically improve innovation within Intuit by connecting people to ideas and making them move more quickly through the system, with action being taken. Since this was launched internally within Intuit, the ideas we were generating went up by orders of magnitude."
Brainstorm is social software that lets users declare their interest and expertise, with tagging that allows them to monitor topics they care about and post ideas that will be shared with others who have similar interests. Intuit claims to have improved idea generation by 1,000% and participation in innovation by 500% with its use of the tool.
Customers who heard about this success soon began asking if they could have access to the application, but until now Intuit has settled for letting the customer base grow by word of mouth and organic traffic to the website, Milbourn said. "We wanted to hone the product and the business model before going bigger with it."
Brainstorm did win some early recognition, with a 2010 Forrester Groundswell Award.
While many social software specialists talk about "ideation" as one application of their products, and several companies specialize in gathering product and product improvement ideas, Intuit believes it has gone farther in translating ideas into action, rather than merely collecting them. Milbourn said a forthcoming "pipeline" feature will help organizations focus on the fraction of ideas collected that are most promising or urgent to act on. "Instead of thousands of ideas, Brainstorm lets you focus on the hundred that really matter," he said.
One early customer is Todd Dunn, operations director in the Healthcare Knowledge and Connectivity Division within General Electric's GE Healthcare unit. Dunn said he first started looking at Brainstorm and competing products such as Spigit and Brightidea when he was working at McKesson, one of GE's rivals in healthcare technology. He got as far as running a pilot project with Brightidea, but users told him the product was "not intuitive enough," he said.