The Apollo program has been called the greatest technological achievement in human history. Apollo stimulated many areas of technology, leading to over 1,800 spinoff products as of 2015. One component of that incredible feat of science and engineering that doesn’t get much attention is LC-39 or Launch Complex 39, the rocket launch site at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The site and its collection of facilities supported the Apollo program, and later after modification, the Space Shuttle program. It continues to be active with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 as well as being modified to support launches of the SpaceX’s Dragon 2, Falcon Heavy and NASA’s Space Launch System. So essentially without this incredible platform, space travel and exploration as we’ve grown accustomed to and taken for granted for the last 50 years wouldn’t have happened.

Coming backdown to earth this thought piece builds on Fostering Innovation with technological solutions – Part 1 and takes a much more tactical drill down into the growing market of innovation management solutions and who to watch out for, as well as the wider innovation ecosystem and harnessing the crowd to best effect.

Innovation and Idea management platforms

It isn’t too much of a leap into the darkness to see the similarities to the world of innovation management software and their ability to act as the starting-off point for organisational missions of discovery and innovation.

According to G2 Crowd innovation management technology supports early-stage activities, such as idea generation, evaluation and selection, as well as later-stage activities like innovation portfolio management, project management and resource planning. Also known as Idea management, or ideation management, software structures the process of gathering insight on products, then organizing and managing those ideas for improvement or development. This feedback comes from employees, customers, and partners, etc., for the explicit purpose of adding the feedback into future products or product releases. Idea management software enables companies to solicit feedback via email, web-based applications, or forms that employ online collaboration channels to discuss the feedback to capture and store ideas. Idea management software is a step-up from the traditional office suggestion box that allows for strategy that enables companies of all sizes to continuously innovate and grow. Idea management software facilitates the full transparency of a company, as anyone who has access to the application can track ideas from inception to implementation. Ideas are collected from all areas of the organization, beyond specialized departments like R&D, product management, and marketing. These products integrate with team collaboration tools to allow users to manage both internal and external-facing feedback.

The Innovation Management software market is fragmented, with many firms offering similar core capabilities. Differences between firms largely concern size, market presence, geographic focus, depth of functionality and deployment approach.

According to the Forrester Market Guide for Innovation Management in March 2016, the top 20 major firms had a combined total revenue of between $100 million and $150 million in 2014 and their view was that it equates to a total market value of almost $500 million per year. Given the market growth and the blurring of lines between propositions I would put the market value at well over $1bn.

The innovation management solution market is growing because more companies are looking to these solutions to address the business priority of innovation. Innovation management solutions are becoming a part of their innovation tool box. New entrants are attracted by the perceived low barriers to entry, low start-up costs and limited industry standards. A recent scan of the marketplace showed up more than two hundred firms. In my experience when the market exhibits these characteristics, it can be difficult for clients to select the most appropriate offering for their needs and to deliver best value. This challenge is also exacerbated by organisations still trying to build their own bespoke applications although in my experience this is reducing as the software sector is moving into 3rd and 4th generation offerings, where the range of functionality and depth of expertise in the organisations makes it difficult or unrealistic to justify for someone to start on the road of doing it to themselves.

I presented the image below at the Design Thinking and Business Innovation Summit. It represents a pseudo-scientific approach to demystifying the challenge of determining what would be the best software solution to support fostering innovation.

Fostering innovation with technological solutions - Part 2

As innovation management platforms become commoditized and the market congested, firms are faced with the options of more technology innovations (including Artificial Intelligence, Predictive Analytics and Gamification), providing innovation process consulting, integration capabilities or a combination of models to determine their future success. With the introduction of this widening range of skillsets and functionalities in offerings, firms run the risk of spreading themselves to thinly and incurring what is essentially an identity crisis both to themselves as well as the wider market. Getting this right requires a fine balance of entrepreneurial management and faithfulness in the vision as the short-term allure of other parts of the value chain may lead firms to be ‘stuck in the middle’.

As I banged on about in Part One, the right technological solution will not in itself foster innovation. An innovation management tool falls into that category and alone will never transform the innovation capabilities of businesses. A recent Forrester report captures this challenge well by saying

“You need an innovation management solution, because without operational changes and an open working culture no agile innovation is possible in the age of the customer. Innovation culture must cross organizational structures and promote multidisciplinary collaboration. For instance, many companies talk about their intention to fail and learn fast, but very few reflect this approach in their business processes. If the innovation management solution structure simply mirrors the operational set-up of the business, innovation participants will feel constrained by the existing decision and reporting structure.”

The innovation ecosystem and harnessing the crowd to best effect

How to change the game and get the equivalent of a LC39 in place is increasingly an ecosystem and platform play? Platforms have existed for years. Malls link consumers and merchants; newspapers connect subscribers and advertisers. What’s changed in this century is that information technology has profoundly reduced the need to own physical infrastructure and assets. IT makes building and scaling up platforms vastly simpler and cheaper, allows nearly frictionless participation that strengthens network effects, and enhances the ability to capture, analyse, and exchange massive amounts of data that increase the platform’s value to all. You don’t need to look far to see examples of platform businesses, from Uber to Alibaba to Airbnb, whose spectacular growth abruptly upended their industries.

Though they come in many varieties, platforms all have an ecosystem with the same basic structure, comprising four types of players. The owners (Innovation Management Firm) of platforms control their intellectual property and governance. Providers (IT Services Firms, Professional business service providers, Partners) serve as the platforms’ interface with users. Producers (SMEs, domain providers can be both internal and external from Providers) create their offerings, and Consumers (clients and clients of clients) use those offerings.

Professional business services providers are essential for consumers innovation programmes and investments in innovation management platforms to be successful. In many situations, innovation processes need to be built from scratch, innovation leadership structures need to be instilled, and new skills and innovation elements need to be developed.

This complex ecosystem of actors needs to operate essentially in a symbiotic manner, the most successful being those who can limit the friction across and between parties. There is still much to tackle in the innovation management ecosystem as many of the interactions still tend to be zero sum in operation with most innovation crowdsourcing campaigns still run internally without involvement of partners or customers. Fellow Future Shaper Nicola Darke has it right when she says “the key to building a well-functioning innovation ecosystem, is, as with building anything, having a solid foundation” in her thought piece Innovation Ecosystems – Start at Home. The Future Shapers sees and positions itself as very much a central tenant of the ecosystem with the vision to be the go to port of call for organisations that wish to shape and create innovative futures. I believe this community can be seen as the producers of the transformational thought leadership that enables the wider ecosystem to flourish.

Fostering innovation with technological solutions doesn’t require rocket science but a good launcher

In wrapping up this mini-series on fostering innovation with technological solutions that has travelled from Catalonia to John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida via Italy. No one suggested shooting for the moon was an easy journey. It took the Apollo program 8 years and $20 billion in 1970s dollars—the equivalent of $100 billion in today’s money but the greatest technological achievement in human history is not your typical innovation challenge.

I leave you with five key takeaways:

  • Be clear on your organization’s innovation objectives and strategy
  • Technological solutions can enable innovation to foster
  • Be clear on what you want to use your technological solution to do and the outcome you want
  • Innovation management tools can support many (not all) stages of your innovation process
  • New ecosystems and business models offer mechanisms to have the best of all options