Idea Management Wars

The idea management wars

You can blame Forrester and Gartner. They predicted every big company would have an idea management system in place within the next five years. Suddenly Innovation is the byword at every organization and executives are telling their directors to “Go out there and get us an idea management system”. Hurry up and don’t be too picky because that’s what Forrester and Gartner (and Aberdeen and Frost & Sullivan) says we’re supposed to do.

And of course that premise is ridiculous. But the need for innovation is not ridiculous. Companies, and for that matter industries, business corridors and even countries all recognize that pursuing an innovative approach might be the key to survival in the hectic, competitive, highly technical world we all live in. And an idea management system is certainly at the heart of such thinking.

Idea Management: really needed?

First, without a doubt a culture of innovation is more important. People need to know that their employer is open to new ideas. Specialists need to know they’re allowed to spend some time on their pet projects; their novel ideas. They need to know that if they fail it’s not a disaster. In fact it’s a sign they’re stretching, trying something new, something different. It should be rewarded.

It’s often hard to believe at large corporations that disruption, chaos and failure may feel like an uncertain sea, but it is instead the nourishing soil for great new ideas and innovations. The team members must feel it is OK to fail in fact “we’re impressed you tried”. Having got the “you need more than an idea management system” phrase out of the way….You still need an idea management system. It has to have a couple of attributes: It has to be collaborative, it has to have a social science driven idea promotion scheme and it has to let contributors see the progress of their contributions. And there are lots of systems to choose from.

I examined the market earlier this year and found oodles of solutions (the number keeps changing with new introductions, failures, mergers, etc.). A couple of these companies have been quietly deploying systems for as long as a decade. Some led the market, but made the mistake of selling perpetual licenses and have since sagged under their own weight. Some others have had huge capital infusions and in light of Forrester and Gartner have used the money for marketing (sometimes instead of development).

A couple of the vendors are spitting out the seeds from their sour grapes, being critical of the competition. It is a stressful world we live in, but still we should all learn to be gentlemen. The fact is the market is so huge every vendor in the space can make enough sales to sustain themselves. But there is pressure, and the visionaries who create such cool innovation software sometimes can’t understand why the market doesn’t see appreciate their vision.

The acquisition of idea management software should be pursued the way any other enterprise software is acquired. Good discovery needs to be conducted internally. A survey of the vendors (including demonstrations) needs to be conducted just so the team can learn what features should be asked for. A requirements list (and a wish list) needs to be composed. Then a healthy survey of the available software (with a grading mechanism) needs to take place (“who did we see again that had that doohickey we liked?”).

Of course you want to check the financial stability of the company. You want to see their track record at other companies. A good place to start is to talk to your competitors, your partners, your customers and your suppliers and see what they’re doing.

By Ron Shulkin

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