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Software // Information Management

Collaborate to Innovate

How can IT advance making innovation a core competency? Key to your success is collaboration: Find out what inventive software providers are doing to support collaborative ingenuity.

The concluding part of this series focuses on the essential role of collaboration-and what software solution providers are developing to support innovation.

They say that on the Internet, content is king.

But when it comes to innovation, collaboration is key. There will always be ivory-tower thinkers and iconoclastic product designers: but in terms of monetizing innovation, it's hard to beat the power of a diverse group of people coming at an idea from different perspectives. Collaboration is likely to have optimum impact when organizations take an idea and go about converting it into a new product or service.

In Part I of this series on innovation management, I defined innovation and its value, considered innovation as a business process, and outlined Gartner Inc.'s five categories of innovation management products. In Part II, I discussed the technology used to automate parts of the innovation process, including environmental scanning, road mapping, creative thinking, and idea management. In this concluding installment, I will consider collaborative design and product development and their part in the innovation management life cycle.

Collaborative Innovation

Many of today's organizations are geographically dispersed and divided by different kinds of organizational hierarchies and management matrixes, all of which are dependent on an array of information management systems. Collaborative innovation technology has to provide the means for a group of people to work together within and across organizational boundaries and to leverage existing information repositories. Inevitably, this means providing the ability to work over the Internet and to integrate diverse application assets into the innovation process.

Idea management vendors, discussed in Part II, recognize the need for stakeholder diversity. BrainBank, for example, supplies four versions of its Idealink software for developing the ideas of employees, customers, suppliers, and shareholders. Vendors of product life-cycle management (PLM) solutions also recognize that few products will get to market without across-the-firewall collaboration of customers and suppliers in the product development process.

Today, more and more organizations are operating as part of value-webs that demand close cooperation between customer, supplier, and reseller partners. This has been the case for some time in the automotive industry, and is also the standard operating paradigm for many technology companies. As Michael Dell puts it, "Collaborative R&D between IT buyers, vendors, and partners is central to future innovation." When a customer on Dell's "make-to-order" Web site customizes a product to meet their needs, they are in effect collaborating with Dell and its suppliers as well as helping Dell understand the PC configurations customers are looking for today — not yesterday.

However, collaborative innovation is not just about customer-driven innovation, community Web sites, or a fixed methodology that uses hard-coded rules to drive the process forward. Instead, it depends on diverse teams representing a wide range of stakeholder interests, working face-to-face and online, following and adapting to the generative rules that emerge from solving problems as they arise. And when collaborative innovation is focused on the product/service development phase — where vision is transformed into reality — then visualization also becomes important. This is when the look, feel, or experience of a realized idea gradually assumes more and more visibility in the process.

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