Building a Platform for Open Innovation

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This is an interview from my recent book, Social Media for Corporate Innovators and Entrepreneurs: Add Power to Your Innovation Efforts, which you can download for free or buy as a Kindle e-book.

Here we go…

In 2010, Psion, a pioneer in quality mobile handheld computers and their application in industrial markets around the world, launched Ingenuity Working, an open innovation community site that enables Psion to work directly with customers and partners to co-create new variants of the company’s mobile hardware, software and services. With IngenuityWorking Psion can cater to an explosion of micro-niches in the market, recognizing that all customers really do have different needs. (Note: Psion is in the process of being taken over by Motorola Solutions).

According to John Conoley, Psion’s CEO: “The open, online community in Ingenuity Working brings us closer to our customers and their thoughts and will allow us to socialize and commercialize innovation. We are using social media to bring our developers and resellers together with our customers, all over the world. Essentially, everyone is putting their heads together to help create technology that best fits a company’s individual requirements – that has to be a good thing.”

In this interview, Todd Boone, director of Open Innovation at Psion, answers questions about IngenuityWorking.

Lindegaard: Todd, you have been the driving force behind Psion’s IngenuityWorking community since its launch in 2010. Can you give us the elevator pitch on why this is relevant for your innovation partners?

Boone: IngenuityWorking (IW) as a community provides a window into Psion that is simply not possible with most other companies. Comprised of partners, customers, developers, and, of course, Psion, IW is a place where diverse discussions occur between the various participants. Problems are solved, ideas are born and overall cross pollination of knowledge increases. Not only is IW a barometer of the market for Psion, but it also acts in the same manner for partners who can learn of new opportunities, both short- and long-term, by participating.

Finally, it gives our partners an opportunity to promote themselves when they do have offerings. And they have full control over how they market themselves; we actually give them dedicated space on the community where they control the content relevant to their business.

IW enables Psion to have a social media presence that it controls. Rather than trying to hinge the value of our social media initiatives to other well-known entities, we wanted to attach value to a Psion-specific site that we control, monitor and measure. By control, I certainly do not mean the content; rather, I’m talking about having control of the infrastructure itself and the destiny of the site.

Lindegaard: What benefits have you seen so far?

Boone: The most immediate and obvious benefit is increased communication and knowledge within the entire Psion ecosystem. Knowledge is no longer geographically constrained as customers and partners from all over the world contribute to the content on the site. IW is an incredibly powerful support tool, driving the volume of calls to our helpdesk down substantially as the online knowledge base continues to grow. And due to the lower volume, the helpdesk can spend more time and do an even better job for customers when calls do come in. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

By opening our company in a very public way, we have extended useable knowledge throughout the entire ecosystem. Product managers and engineers used to lament the lack of visibility or dispute the authenticity of customer issues. Now, they have a more global outlook fuelled by the customers and partners themselves. While it might seem counterintuitive, prospective customers can also see these same issues and make decisions based on how they see Psion responding. How many of our competitors can say the same?

Lindegaard: What were the expectations for this initiative and how are you doing today?

Boone: Our expectations for the community were always realistic, and perhaps even modest. We didn’t expect it to solve all the company issues. However, we did expect it to open a dialogue with the market that was previously unavailable. Within nine months of going live, IW surpassed the traffic on our traditional .com site, which showcases the value that customers also see in having two-way communication. Eventually, we intend to evolve the site into part of our product develop process by incorporating ideation capabilities that help us uncover new business opportunities.

Lindegaard: I know you track the development of the community quite closely. Can you share what metrics you are focusing on and let us know why you have chosen these metrics? And can you give some examples on how you use this information?

Boone: We track obvious metrics such as site visitors by category (employees, partners, registered users and anonymous) and by whether they’re new or returning visitors, page views, growth in registered users, top areas visited by user type, traffic sources, and what regions users come from.

Site-specific metrics are often used to tailor the site in a way that is responsive to the usage of the community from both a content and navigation perspective. By tracking where people spend most of their time, and what topics they are most engaged in, we have the knowledge to tailor the site in a way that supports this.

Perhaps more importantly, we follow which topics are most important and sometimes can get alerted to an issue in the field. For example, if a customer posts about a problem and the traffic and dialogue surrounding that post are high, then we will put a bit of extra scrutiny to ensure that the issue is dealt with. Further, these types of traffic spikes could be the result of a new idea that gives us information on what we need to be aware of.

Lindegaard: I noticed that you also monitor your competitor’s activity on Ingenuity Working. How do you do this? Does this approach provide you with any interesting insights?

Boone: I wouldn’t say we monitor their activity so much as we are aware that they are there. Because the community is open to anyone, even our competitors are welcome. However, we don’t see a lot of activity on their behalf, but rather they tend to browse through the site in a passive way. So, no real insights except for the fact that they are consistently on IW!

Lindegaard: As you know, I believe online communities such as Ingenuity Working are becoming a very important element of open innovation strategies. Can you share some insights on what companies should be aware of as they embark on this journey? In other words, what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started?

Boone: How much work it is! In all seriousness, it’s a lot of work to get a community like this off the ground and then evolving as the environment changes. We have already done three major redesigns of the site, including site architecture, based on changes in how users interact with the site.

Also, companies need to get over their fear of “letting go” of control. Within Psion, there was much consternation over what would happen when we just let customers, partners and employees post freely on the site – without workflow and without approvals. But we did. And, in my opinion, this is absolutely critical. A community, and social media in general, needs to be authentic. You can’t PR it and you can’t just get rid of the little bits that annoy you because if you did, your social media credibility would be gone in a heartbeat. In the two-plus years we have had IW, we have only taken about five or six pieces of content down. And these were because they were offensive in nature – except for one post where an employee talked about a yet to be released product!

People tend to self-censure when they are representing themselves professionally – regardless if they are a customer, partner or employee – and this has made the moderation of the site much less intensive than first expected. And when somebody does raise a sensitive issue, you learn as a company that it’s not the end of the world and you deal with the issue. In the end, people tend to be happy that they were heard and that their problem was solved.

If you wondering if this is the exact type of marketing spiel that I denounced earlier, I’d encourage you to go to the site and see for yourself. There are lots of juicy conversations fully accessible by anyone who goes to the site – you don’t even need to sign in!

Lindegaard: What other social media does Psion use for your innovation efforts? Have you had any big positive surprises – or disappointments – on this?

Boone: Psion does utilize other social media tools like Twitter and Facebook. However, we are not as active on these tools as a whole as we might like. Probably the nicest surprise has been Twitter in terms of how we can use it as listening tool more than as a broadcast tool. We have even incorporated a Twitter feed into IngenuityWorking to showcase real-time tweets that have the #psion hashtag.

Lindegaard: What types of comments have you received from your partners about the community and how it’s benefitting them?

Boone: Although feedback has been very positive, it has taken a surprisingly long time to get many of our partners active on the community. Some understood the value right away, while others were not sure as the entire social media arena is new to them. But, given the reality that only a small percentage of any social media community is consistently active this is not necessarily unexpected. Further, those that “lurk” are still able to benefit from the discussions and content that are accumulating on the community.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stefan Lindegaard
Stefan is an author, speaker, facilitator and consultant focusing on open innovation, social media tools and intrapreneurship.

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