Through friends who worked at Cisco, Dunn got an introduction to Intuit's Vice President of Innovation Roy Rosin and asked him for advice. "He told me about this product called Brainstorm that they were starting to think about bringing to market," Dunn said. "What intrigued me most about the Intuit product, Brainstorm, is they built it from within--and Intuit has an incredible track record of internal innovation. They may be the most innovative company in the world, as far as a repeatable process. This was a product based on the processes of someone who has done innovation, and done it well."
Dunn joined GE last October, and his division has been using the product extensively for the last six months, with about 300 users in the system. Other division heads have also expressed an interest in the product, raising the prospect of broader adoption within GE, he said--although there's nothing definite about that.
One of the first ways Brainstorm paid off was by synchronizing software development efforts at the GE division's headquarters in Salt Lake City, in Chicago, and in Bangalore, India. At one point early on, "we realized the team in India was trying to solve the exact same problem the team in Salt Lake was trying to solve," Dunn said. That allowed him to eliminate duplication of effort by assigning the task to the team in India, "so from an operations perspective, we picked up capacity," he said.
Another powerful feature of Brainstorm is the way it allows him to issue a specific challenge, inviting employees to submit their ideas on a specific problem or opportunity. A challenge to reduce the amount of time required for customers to deploy the group's software resulted in two prototypes "where the percent decrease in time is going to be, literally, fantastic. As a result of the dialog in Brainstorm, we were also able to write the requirements for a third piece of software" with the potential to further reduce deployment time, Dunn said.
These are examples of how innovation need not be a matter of blue sky dreaming, which is why Dunn considers it to be part of his job as an operations director. "Sometimes we believe innovation is all around new products and revenue--and it can be, and that's great. But at the same time we're able to do fun projects like this that are pragmatic, where problems require innovative solutions," Dunn said.
At a time when surveys show many young employees are disengaged from their duties, yet spend hours tweeting from their desk on mobile phones, the social media format of Brainstorm also provides a way of getting them more interested in their work, Dunn said. Just as Twitter and Facebook allow you to follow people and topics you are interested in, "Brainstorm has brought to the enterprise the ability to follow topics and other people of interest that are related to the business," he said.
"To me, social media is about talking about ideas, while innovation is about moving them to meaningful business outcomes," Dunn said.
While the application has won over early adopters, Dunn admitted his division also includes skeptics who dismiss it as a "flavor of the month" management fad. Still, he believes his organization is right on the cusp of more productive and pervasive use of the software.
Brainstorm is available is available for a 30-day free trial, after which pricing starts at $5 per user per month with a $500 minimum. Organizations with more than 500 users can get access for $4 per month, and Milbourn said bigger discounts are available for larger organizations.
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