How to evaluate collaboration and idea management platforms

Today's companies are recognizing the vast amount of knowledge that exists among their employees, customers and partners and seeking ways to harness this valuable resource to their benefit. Increasingly, these companies are exploring collaboration platforms like Imaginatik's Innovation Central to help them collect, develop and prioritize ideas from the crowd.

When beginning to research these platforms, organizations typically try a pilot approach as you would with traditional software. Very few know what to look for or how to judge success at this early stage.

Here are some criteria to ensure your collaboration and crowdsourcing evaluation provides the best outcome for your needs:

What are you trying to prove?

When piloting a collaboration platform you’ll want to:

  • Prove out the technology
  • Test your culture. Will people participate? And how?
  • Have an easy way to generate new ideas to solve a specific problem
  • Understand and meet internal needs – management, procurement, etc.

Think ‘Idea Challenge’
The traditional suggestion box is dead. An always-open repository for ideas too often becomes a graveyard for the insights in your organization. If people can’t see the progress of their ideas or understand the implementation process there’s little motivation for them to participate.

Instead, run a time-based idea Challenge that asks a specific question to a specific audience. Our 16 years’ experience has shown that two weeks is the optimum timeframe to keep people's attention and maximize the quality of ideas. Idea Challenges will enable you to address any business need - from revenue growth to process improvement, new product design and cost reduction.

Think partner, not vendor
There are lots of platform vendors, but only a few companies (like Imaginatik) who can be a long-term partner in your innovation success. A crowdsourcing platform is a start, but long-term success requires defining a strategy, developing process and expertise, evolving attitudes and creating a culture where innovation is part of everyone's job. From the beginning, work with a partner who can help you address your short and long-term innovation needs.

Go big
Consider the three biggest challenges that your business is struggling with today. One of these will make a useful Challenge topic. Generating a multitude of good ideas around the company's biggest pain points can potentially provide a huge win and really demonstrate the power of crowdsourcing. Thinking big generates big results.

Go small
Large, weighty campaign topics can take weeks and months to develop into new innovations. In the meantime there are incremental wins out there that help keep people motivated and interested in the innovation program.

Communicate often
The success or failure of a pilot can hinge on how compelling your message is and how you communicate. Get Marketing and Corporate Communications involved early to help refine and strengthen your message.

This is important early to drive participation, but also critical after the event has ended. One of the greatest innovation-killers is the perception that ideas are going into a “black hole” never to be seen or heard from again. Post-event, send an email that thanks everyone for their participation, shares results and next steps and previews the next idea campaign. Employees who feel that they are being heard will continue to participate in your challenge process.

Establish success metrics
Unless it's a cost-cutting challenge where impact can be measured immediately, it will take time to measure the ROI from generated ideas. Consider measurable criteria that demonstrate the enthusiasm of your organization for collaboration - metrics like the number of ideas submitted, number of comments and participation rates. If these measures are positive, it would indicate that your culture is ready for crowdsourcing.

Know what happens next
So what happens after a successful outcome? If the pilot is Phase 1, map out your Phase 2 and be ready to move. After all, you've just generated momentum, captured a ton of exciting new ideas and created buzz and excitement. Put yourself in a position to ride this wave to the genesis of a successful innovation program.

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