Through this series of articles we have built a case that large organizations should invest energy in actively designing their early phase of the innovation process – the so-called “Fuzzy Front-End” (FFE) – in a way that delivers more meaningful and promising innovation ideas and concepts.
Up till now, we have spoken about “hard facts” and “soft facts” in designing the FFE. In this article we discuss the role of software as an enabler for effectiveness in the FFE. The results are superior innovation performance.
Effective Software: The innovators’ new best friend
For the last few years, software to support the FFE inhabited a niche in the overall market for enterprise software. Now it’s becoming much more widespread.
Recently, SAP released software explicitly targeted at supporting the FFE. Given SAP’s footprint in the market for enterprise software it will most likely increase the interest and the budgets that firms will allocate for optimizing their FFE.
The factors that make up an effective software
From our study of leading companies we looked at the priorities for software support in the FFE and found a number of factors that need to be considered.
We found that some factors are infrastructural in nature – such as the preference for one global platform for all of the firm’s staff working in the FFE. Other factors address the functionality of the software to support FFE work.
In our study we have found that the following would be like “rocket fuel” for innovation:
- Big Data Analytics – Capturing the noise and eliciting meaningful insights from the market, from technology and existing IP.
- Enabling Ideation and enriching ideas; particularly radical or breakthrough.
- Connecting new ideas with existing ones and with finding relevant experts globally inside and outside the company.
- Use the “wisdom of the internal crowd” to select the best ideas and turn them into stronger concepts.
- Assisting innovation managers with innovation concept writing, discussion and selection.
- Ability to solve tough technical challenges – enabling more “radical” innovation – by finding the right experts from the firm and from other domains.
Additionally, we found a third set of factors addresses the cultural aspects such as providing transparency on the idea processing status for the ideators. Visibility is a key factor in encouraging a positive behavioural shift. We’ve all seen ideas suggestion schemes where the suggestions go no where – creating a negative feedback loop.
When all these factors come together, they support a fertile climate for changing the pace of innovation.
Industry sector priorities in FFE software support
What about the differences in industry and across sectors in how they are seeing FFE software?
We found that priorities differed from industry to industry but interestingly, Consumer Packaged Goods and Process Industries were similar. Software priorities in the FFE are (in descending order of importance per industry):
- Discrete Manufacturing: One global platform for the firm; Ability to manage a large number of ideas and concepts; Automation in connecting ideas with other ideas and with experts.
- Consumer Packaged Goods and Process Industries: Ability to avoiding the “black hole effect” for ideators in idea management; Automation in real-time connection of ideas with other ideas and with experts.
- Life Sciences: Easy anywhere, anytime, playful engagement of people working in the FFE.
- Utilities: One global platform for the firm; Managing a large number of ideas and concepts.