By | Dr Pavan Soni | IIM-B Innovation Evangelist
Open Innovation or Co-Innovation has come to represent the dominant approach organizations large and small take for problem solving and opportunity creation. Firms have gotten to acknowledge that they may not know the customers’ problems, or have the wherewithal for address those, let alone sell those solutions. This realization necessitates opening up of organizational boundaries, both upstream and downstream.
Co-creation with customers is typically the first resort on the path to being an open innovator. The likes of P&G’s Connect & Develop Program, Colgate-Palmolive Open Innovation Portal, Philip Morris Idea Portal, SnackFutures of Mondelez, or Starbucks Idea platform are the more known cases. However, most of such efforts focus on the known customers, and their problems/ ideas, and that too on the existing lines of business.
Then we have the more scientifically tuned problem-solving platforms such as NineSigma, YourEncore, or InnoCentive, among others, where well defined problems seek curious minds. Also, some successful examples of employee oriented portals for seeking ideas far and wide include Tata Innovista, Brain Candy at HP, 3i Idea Management Program at Siemens, and a few more.
One of the more elusive dimensions of open innovation is that with vendor partners. Usually such relationships are cut and dry, dealt with at an arm’s length with lot of suspicion and bickering price negotiations. Suppliers come last in the list of go-to places for seeking ideas, let alone innovative solutions. At least, that’s been my experience reading, working and writing on the space of innovation.
However, my engagement with Wipro’s Central Procurement Office (CPO) team was very different. Murali, the CPO Head and a veteran in the procurement and vendor management space, threw a different spanner at me last month when he invited me for a meeting exploring Open Innovation Programs with his key vendors. At first, I thought it was more of a conceptual discussion that would end with some ppt-ware, but no sooner that the meeting was over we signed up for a series of workshops on Co-Innovation. First with the senior managers of the CPO team and then with the key vendor partners.
Above is a snap from the first Co-Innovation Workshop we had with Wipro’s non-tech partners. Dubbed as ‘Wipro Partner Sprint Innovation Workshop’, the day’s session was modeled around Design Thinking with teams comprising of Wipro’s key vendor partners and managers from the CPO team. Some of the partners included JLL (facilities management), Johnson Controls (HVAC systems), SIS (security), KPMG (employee background verification), Move and Sync (employee transportation), Ford Mobility (employee transportation), and BI Worldwide (employee engagement).
We had participants of the level of Business Directors, Presidents, Vice Presidents, and Business Head, amongst other senior audience in presence. As you can see, these are all support functions, which are mostly less glamorous, keep-the-light-on type.
The idea was to start with domains which are typically perceived as less innovation oriented, and get the confidence there. Lo and behold, in over a eight hours outing, we had identified key pain points from the partner’s and Wipro employees’ perspective, some candidate solutions, and a few demos. All that is 8 hours!
All the six teams got to demo their top ideas, seek feedback, and make a implicit commitment to take some of those ideas forward. Pragmatically speaking, even if the ideas do not see the light of the day (sooner), we, at least, got to know of the pressing problems and a commitment to solve those, collaboratively. I deem this to be a good start.
Next up, we are engagement with top tech vendors of Wipro, once again co-innovating on the more non-routine dimensions of business and technology and helping create a new way of thinking on this rather dry relation.