As organisations face increasing pressure to innovate faster, collaborating with other companies, large and small, may just be the answer. Research suggests that greater collaboration between G20 large companies and entrepreneurs could result in an additional £1.06 trillion in global economic output. But very few companies navigate collaboration well, or know where to start.
Organisations that are outperforming competitors in today’s digital world – think those operating in the eHealth, connected vehicle and smart home industries – have a secret weapon. They know how to accelerate the development of new capabilities and bring them to market much quicker than the competition.
To do so, many have redesigned their existing operating models which have not been conducive to rapid innovation, and instead partnered with companies, large and small, beyond their corporate boundaries to generate ideas and new paths to market.
The results can be impressive and financially significant. Research indicates that large businesses expect the proportion of their revenues generated by collaboration with entrepreneurs to rise from an average of 9% today, to 20% in five years.
This type of open innovation is ‘critical’ to future business performance for the majority (97%) of senior business leaders. However, enabling open innovation at the scale needed in a global business environment can be challenging. Just 44% of collaborations currently work today, and 46% of business leaders note a lack of variety of organisations they can collaborate with due to physical restrictions.
The key to success is ensuring that operating models support both physical and virtual collaboration. Leveraging digital technologies can ensure that organisations with a common purpose leapfrog the natural limitations of physical location, enabling innovators to find each other – whether they are in the same city or across the globe – and collaborate effectively, securely and at speed.
It is this sense of proximity that is vital for organisations wanting to power open innovation successfully.
Open innovation in practice
A successful example of a digital ecosystem is the GENIVI Alliance. Composed of 145 members from Tokyo, Munich, Cambridge (UK), Silicon Valley and beyond, the Alliance exists to develop open-source in-vehicle “infotainment” platforms – a critical component of connected cars.
The network includes companies from many industries, including automotive, software, consumer electronics and telecommunications.
Alliance members conduct most of their business from a distance, and only occasionally send delegates to gather in the same physical location. Only around 20% of the Alliance’s efforts to speed up innovation and time-to-market (while significantly reducing costs) are conducted through in-person meetings. Predominantly, its many working groups and teams engage with each other through digital channels.
In comparison to formal alliances, many executives are taking to social media channels, such as Twitter, to establish and deepen connections with industry peers and innovators.
The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio), an association with more than 650 life sciences organisations, uses Twitter to increase its impact throughout the state of Massachusetts and beyond.
In 2014, following the publication of its ‘Impact 2020’ report, MassBio created #impact2020 on Twitter to enable discussion between cluster participants. It hosted entire events on the social network, bringing together digital-savvy experts to connect about the future of the cluster.
Whether formal or informal, local or global, by looking beyond immediate corporate boundaries, organisations can benefit from greater openness.
Business leaders that want to take advantage of the potential of digital ecosystems for open innovation should do the following things.
1. Set a clear strategy
Define the shared outcomes to give all parties confidence that return on investment (ROI) and commitments will be shared equally. Ensure that successful ideas are not stranded beyond pilot phases, but can be scaled quickly.
2. Lead with the customer experience
Successful start-ups and entrepreneurs focus on solving real customer problems. They begin with a customer challenge or frustration, or a need that customers don’t even know they have. Focus on what customers want and need, and how you can improve their experience. Then determine who the best partners are to help you reach your goal.
3. Establish an open culture
Encourage employees to network externally, develop processes to absorb new thinking and implement a portfolio of digital tools to facilitate effective collaboration. Cultural changes starts at the top. Leaders should encourage the workforce to innovate and take calculated risks – which is what digital partnerships are all about.
4. Protect your intellectual property
The default option should be openness. However, being open-by-default does not mean all guards should come down. Companies must continue to protect their competitive essence.
5. Modify operating models for mutual success
Examine entrenched business processes and modify operating models and technologies to stay focused on long-term success within the extended business ecosystem. A number of formal membership networks have well-developed digital solutions. Business leaders should start using available tools to build and participate in ecosystems while keeping up-to-date with new technologies.
6. Use collaboration platforms that are fit for purpose
Organisations should keep in mind that the security of digital tools is not unlimited. Bear in mind what information is being shared online, and then move to offline platforms as appropriate for more sensitive parts of the deal-making process or sharing of information.
Digital technologies are pivotal in ensuring ecosystems can function and flourish, bringing together the power of shared minds and overcoming the limitations of geography.
Digital ecosystems can give companies new and better ways to pursue collaborative innovation. Business leaders that understand and actively tap into this potential can accelerate the path to new disruptive revenue growth through innovation.
Sourced from Nick Taylor, MD of digital strategy, Accenture Strategy