Poor uses of idea management systems

On his blog this week, Imaginatik CEO Mark Turrell talks to a Forrester researcher about idea management systems and what makes them work ... or not. Below is his post:

I was chatting recently with Chris Andrews, an analyst at Forrester Research, on the topic of Innovation Management. We discussed how the industry was evolving, indeed how interest in the area has exploded the last 18 months. At the same time, he shared concern that many of his research clients on the company side complained of poor results from the systems they had implemented, mostly from vendors, but some internally built and supported.

This is rapidly going to become a problem and it is worth delving into what the problems are, before we as an industry risk turning off the late adopters from implementing these systems for innovation and idea management (and Collective Intelligence too).

The bulk of complaints come from poor usage, rather than non-functioning technology. Poor usage can mean a variety of things:

  • no one is using the system
  • the ideas and concepts being submitted are not good
  • and within this category there can be ideas outside of scope, poorly thought-through, politically insensitive ideas, too many me-too ideas and duplicates, etc.
  • the volume of contributions is too high to be manageable
  • the is no political or executive will to move ideas forward
  • the ideas are not manageable within the system (one example given was the difficulty navigating between concepts, on a base functional level)
  • people enjoy the system as a social tool… but the business does not get value from the inputs (typically a response for firms focusing too much on ‘engagement’, with fancy prediction market stock markets and points systems distracting people from submitting quality content)

These issues are all to do with people and management, rarely with technology. And hence the real root of the problem: organisations that treat innovation and idea management as a technology will fail. This is a human problem, a human system, and that requires strong, pragmatic work on how the systems are used within the firm, much more so that the technology itself.

This problem is definitely true of companies building internal systems. Very few IT organisations – or outsourced IT shops – have any business experience in this area. This means that they miss out entirely on the human aspects. This was a topic we covered in an Imaginatik Research paper on 'Build versus Buy' a while back.

This problem is also true of the new software-centric vendors who have appeared on the market place in the last 18 months. The two issues with these vendors are:

  • they are explicitly focusing on software, relying on ‘something else’ to provide the service input (I.e. Any vendor offering a free trial, or a SaaS use of the software without any need for consulting – ‘just $5 per month!’ types)
  • they have only been in business a year or so and do not yet have enough time to experience the issues that reveal themselves with larger-scale live implementations

A further issue, related to the ‘youthfulness’ of the new vendors is the lack of genuine experience in enterprise implementations. It is one thing to claim to be a vendor of large-scale systems – and another one entirely having the multi-year track record to prove it.

Hopefully the innovation management industry will overcome these growing pains. The area is vitally important for the future prosperity of firms, and the techniques – when properly applied – have achieved vast benefits for the firms (as these case studies demonstrate). So, here’s wishing Forrester Research and others luck in coaching clients and prospective users to take a proper rounded look at the area, not to over-focus on fancy tools, and to look past any poor experience they are having so far.

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