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Innovation Asset Management: Don't Bottle Up Creativity

As businesses compete in the emerging knowledge economy, many are focused on managing intangible assets, such as intellectual property--and that's bringing asset management into vogue.

WHO MANAGES INNOVATION ASSETS?

The four Ps give us the basic scope of innovation asset management. How can you ensure that your organization is actually managing assets effectively? As discussed in "Unite the Process of Innovation", one of the key organizational problems blocking effective management is that innovation is not a department or business unit activity, but one that crosses functions and involves a number of different business processes, each with its own set of stakeholders. The people, process, place and patent innovation assets could fall within the domain control of at least four different business units: HR, IT, facilities management and legal.

That's why it makes sense to put someone in the role of innovation asset manager and give that person the responsibility for maintaining oversight from a horizontal innovation perspective, rather than a vertical functional view. Otherwise, the innovation dimension gets lost in the shuffle. The tasks in this role must be more practical--but also less narrow--than what some organizations have put together for "chief innovation officers" or "idea czars."

One of the first tasks that such a manager would need to undertake, for example, is an innovation asset audit to discover what exists, where assets are and who or what department owns them. Taking advantage of work done by Goran Ekvall, a number of consulting companies already specialize in this kind of audit. Remember that you want more than a checklist. The audit should present a perspective on your organization's cultural innovation "climate." With help from Web-based tools such as Montage2 and Creax, you can develop a creativity "radar map" and determine the relevance of assets in each of the four P categories in some detail.

With the results, the audit will enable innovation asset gap analysis and risk assessment. You'll see which assets are missing, which are over- or underutilized and where the imbalances represent risks to corporate strategy. Keep in mind, of course, that an innovation audit is not just about identifying what's missing. It's also about highlighting what's not missing--then giving employees a positive, proactive and practical understanding of how best to use innovation assets. The audit will help diverse managers look cross-functionally and see how best to develop assets to further the entire organization's goals.

After the audit, plans can be put in place to fill gaps and reduce risks through process improvement, directed hiring strategies and installing new technology. Tools should include asset portfolio management software provided by vendors such as ProSight to help asset managers gain a better grip on their portfolio's scope. Organizational development techniques supported by processes such as Open Space and Appreciative Inquiry can foster a positive approach and build on the audit findings to develop innovation assets and management attributes. Finally, metrics can help managers monitor and manage specific innovation assets so that activities are in line with strategic corporate objectives.

In small-to-midsize businesses, innovation asset management might only need to be an annual housekeeping operation. In a large, complex, high-tech and multinational organization, this job might become a daily, strategically important activity. In either case, innovation asset management can't fall by the wayside. Success in today's knowledge economy depends on developing, managing and leveraging fluid rather than fixed assets. You can't capture the innovation genie in a bottle, but you can learn to work with the creative magic in your organization to establish a sustained competitive advantage.

Business InnovationThis screenshot shows how Sonar6 Talent Management can give managers a view of the organization's talent inventory on a grid of performance versus potential. Managers can drill down for more info.

Stewart Mckie is an independent IT innovation consultant. Contact him through his web site.

This article, the last in a series, is just one element of a special CMP Technology multimedia package on business innovation. For links to related stories from INFORMATIONWEEK, OPTIMIZE and NETWORK COMPUTING, and additional editorial content, including podcasts and videos, go to the Business Innovation package.