Michael Fruhling's Blog

A bunch of stuff about innovation…

Enhancing Productivity of Innovation Portals

Posted by mdf4u on February 11, 2010

While attending CoDev10 a couple of weeks ago, a speaker representing a multinational consumer products company discussed the productivity of their open innovation web portal.  He shared that the site annually accepted over 3,000 submissions, out of which 8% were being worked on across various parts of the company. 8% out of 3,000 is “pretty good”, he exclaimed. 
 
8% actually is pretty good.  I feel it could be even higher if submitters actually tailored their submissions to address the company’s stated technology needs.  In my experience in working with this company and others with web portal programs, far too many submissions represent what an individual has to offer.  This is quite often not what the company has expressed as its need.  As a result, the signal to noise ratio for submissions is typically quite high…a fact that most companies will readily concede. 
 
Are there things that companies can do to encourage higher numbers of well-targeted submissions made to their web portals?  I believe there are:
 
For example, Procter and Gamble and others often prepare a detailed spec for each of their published technology needs. Web portals do not currently require an individual to “check off” on whether, or to what extent, the submission meets each of the individual criteria specified for the technology prior to hitting the “Submit” button.  Some online job submission applications incorporate this type of “self-qualification” approach within their process.  What if innovation submissions required this, as well? 
 
I’m also convinced that numerous submissions are dismissed because they are poorly written by the submitter.  Could web portals be configured to allow submitters to produce and upload short video product demonstrations instead of relying exclusively on the written word?  A picture is often better than 1,000 words…especially in instances where the innovation has been reduced to a functional prototype.  Pepsi is accepting video submissions as part of its Refresh Everything initiative (see www.refresheverything.com).  Why not others?
 
Companies should also consider rewarding “good behavior”.  That is, reward submitters who both adhere to published guidelines and also passed the first cut.  Companies could call these “entrepreneurial grants”, or simiilar.  For a modest financial outlay, they would encourage submitters to replicate good performance.  Not too long ago, I participated in a Your Encore challenge in which I was awarded a nominal sum for my submission, even though it was not selected as the winner.  Incentives can be used to encourage desired behaviors. 
 
They could also seek to enter collaborations with individuals with a track record of quality submissions.  At present, companies treat each online submission as a discrete event, with roughly 92 of 100 applications being rejected in the first pass, and many others ultimately being declined.  The relationship between the applicant and the company essentially “ends” once the company declines the opportunity.  Certainly, each web portal sponsor should be able to track which submitters consistently provide the highest quality submissions.  They could actively seek to cultivate these as more attractive technology provider resources.  What a pleasant, impactful surprise to applicants for companies to actually reach out to contact these individuals to enlist their assistance on a paid engagement or even on opportunities that had a high likelihood of a payout!   
 
In summary, open innovation web portals are a useful tool to enable companies to consider unsolicited opportunities.  It’s not too early for companies to start to explore ways to make them more productive.   
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