Innovation is a matter of connecting people, but how do you do that across the various disciplines within organisations?

Companies must innovate continuously in order to survive in an increasingly complex market, and many companies choose to have extremely high innovation ambitions. To be able to meet that ambition, the company will set up a central innovation department, appoint a senior VP Innovation, put aside a budget and set stiff targets. The question that remains is: how do we link up the rest of the organisation? An innovation platform offers the solution.

A reasonably sized organisation is neatly organised into various divisions, sectors, etc. Each part of the company has a management with responsibility for results. Within these parts, various disciplines such as Marketing & Sales, SCM and R&D are engaged in a range of innovation initiatives. Usually, these disciplines have their own focus, based on their own initiative. In practice, it appears to be quite a challenge to have these disciplines work cohesively within one division on the same innovation initiative. They know little about each other’s initiative, they do not speak the same (innovation) language, or there are simply no good support instruments for sharing ideas, knowledge and experience.

The challenge of getting an innovation initiative out beyond the boundaries of a company division is even greater, if anything. The fact that a division is accountable for its own separate profit goals, differences in culture and market-specific features, with its non-integratable information systems, would appear to present impenetrable barriers to the most dedicated knight innovators. Despite all these challenges, innovation ambitions are created that require us to work intensively with partners outside our own organisation (Open Innovation). The walls get higher and thicker: who will become the owner of the innovation? Who is going to make the investment and take the biggest risks?
The trick is to get people to work together on innovation, independent of their role and position in the company. New approaches and instruments are needed for this. Charles Leadbeater ( speaks of mass-participation, whereby everyone can contribute to innovation. The concept that we, as Capgemini, are working on together with customers is the creation of an innovation platform. This platform connects people, and puts innovation in a broader perspective. The platform enables people within an organisation to look beyond the boundaries of their own department, division or even organisation. It is a means for thinking about innovation in a structural, effective and creative way, across the various disciplines. The innovation platform consists of the three following dimensions: Innovation Events (network meetings), a Digital Innovation Portal (marketplace where employees with “low entry barriers” and “easy-to-use technology” are supported) and Innovation Workspace (a place where it is possible to work on innovation projects).
For a platform like this, the organisation first of all needs to arrange regular network meetings, where people from different departments and divisions with varying perspectives come together to deal interactively with an innovation theme. In these themed events, a vision is presented and a case in practice is dealt with. The participants will then translate this into their own specific situation. In organising these events, the company is building a community. People who actively participate in these events eventually become the thought leaders or innovators in their organisation, division and/or department.

A digital innovation portal is then set up. This is a type of digital marketplace that provides access to people who have knowledge of innovation in various areas and who can thus easily exchange expertise. Means of communication include e.g. Skype, chatrooms, best practices, news facts on innovation, etc. Capgemini has an excellent eco-system with over four hundred services and application providers who are capable of setting up such portals.

Finally, an innovative idea – arising from one of the sessions – must be worked out. There should be a place within the organisation where a group can work in a structured and creative fashion on an innovation project. Capgemini offers this place in the form of various Innovation Workspaces, both at Capgemini and on site. When an organisation sets up such an innovation platform internally and has gained experience with it, eventually partners and third parties can also form part of it. This will shape and maintain the Open Innovation concept.

To achieve a successful result, you should not omit any of the above-mentioned parts, as they complement each other strongly. If only one or two of the dimensions are present in the organisation, the result will be significantly poorer.