Technology seems to make the world go ‘round. Tech has become such a fundamental part of modern business life it’s hard to believe that only 30 years ago, entrepreneurs were starting businesses without a computer, smart phone, or even an Internet connection. But new innovations are changing the way we live, and some are even referencing the increase as ‘the fourth industrial revolution.’ With the development of artificial intelligence, the Internet and big data, big businesses need to act quickly, smartly, and efficiently to keep up with the latest innovations and technology.
One of the ways older companies can keep up with rapid changes is by enlisting the intrapreneurs within their organization. These individuals incorporate an entrepreneurial mindset within a large, established business and can address new market opportunities, develop new ways of operating, and move quickly outside the normal scope of activities.
IdeaScale is the largest cloud-based innovation software platform in the world. We spoke to Vice President Jessica Day, about IdeaScale and how large corporations can use their services to better serve and utilise the intrapreneurs within their organization to better keep up with the changing times.
WHAT IS IDEASCALE?
Jessica Day: As your readers already know, the fourth industrial revolution has begun. It’s being led by information and innovation, which is changing the future of work for all of us. With technology trends shifting on a daily basis, organizations need a way to act quickly on new ideas that are already being shared at all levels of their organizations.
IdeaScale is software that allows organizations to gather ideas from employees or customers or citizens, but then also allows organizations to take scalable actions on those ideas— connecting them to other theories, thought leaders, money, and more. Organizations can then develop these larger concepts into new products or processes that will shape the future. It means that a good idea can come from anyone, anywhere, at any time.
It’s funny how we got into all of this, though. A couple of our co-founders were in the market research space, and their survey customers kept talking about how they were only able to gather information on questions they knew to ask. They weren’t able to gather quantitative and qualitative feedback in their blind spots. So we came up with IdeaScale as a way to answer that challenge [and] gather suggestions but [also] get real time feedback and information on those ideas, whether they were on your radar or not.
HOW DOES THE SOFTWARE AID LARGER COMPANIES IN UTILISING AND REWARDING THEIR INTRAPRENEURS?
JD: At our core, we want to change the workplace. We want everyone within an organization to be able to take action on good ideas, regardless of their position, job description or even employment status. We want companies to be able to solve their problems in a transparent, collaborative way that keeps huge organizations aligned and human.
So how does that work? Well, if a marketer has a great new product idea, even if he or she is in the marketing department and product development isn’t in their purview, they can share their basic product pitch in an IdeaScale community. Others in the community can then vote and comment on it, which can trigger a decision maker in the product team to review that idea.
That little idea becomes an opportunity to invest in the original idea author and bring them into the prototyping, testing, and launching process. Once that product goes live, it offers the company the ability to recognise the idea author for generating millions of dollars in new revenue. Other staff can then see the value they can add to the organization and get excited about sharing their own ideas.
WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF THE WAYS YOUR CUSTOMERS USE YOUR PROGRAMS?
JD: An intrapreneur shares her suggestion in a searchable, always-open idea database for product ideas. Lots of organizations do that – organizing by subject matter or department. They can search for ideas on a topic any time and reach out to idea authors for more information.
Some organizations will run time-limited challenges, asking for help solving a particular problem by a fixed deadline. But most of our customers do a mix of both, with those time-limited challenges delivering on new ideas in short sprints and keeping attention and interest alive, and the always-on database for ongoing idea development that creates a mine of ideas that can be tapped at any time by decision makers.
Here’s another example: the City of Atlanta wanted to find a way to save their city and taxpayers’ money, so they asked their employees for new ways to be more efficient or ideas for new programs that would help save money. The top three ideas alone amounted to a potential cost savings of $7.1 million annually. Those ideas include a new work release program for blighted city properties, a pay-as-youthrow waste management program, and e-records for all city communications. All those program ideas came from uncommon places in response to this one time-limited challenge set by the city and weren’t being explored by the existing business unit. It was the intrapreneurs who had this vision.
DO DIFFERENT COMPANIES HAVE DIFFERENT WAYS OF IDENTIFYING AND DEFINING AN INTRAPRENEUR?
JD: Oh my gosh, yes! Some are looking for continuous improvement ideas and some are looking for true disruptors. Some companies simply want an idea and others want to mentor and nurture the idea author. I will say our customers, that invest in training and celebrating their intrapreneurs, generally enjoy better long-term performance and higher delivery rates on good ideas.
HAVE YOUR CUSTOMERS TAUGHT YOU ANYTHING ABOUT BUILDING A SUCCESSFUL INTRAPRENEURIAL PROGRAM?
JD: Definitely. I’ve learned that for talented intrapreneurs to succeed, they need a strong intrapreneurial culture. Think of Kodak, where one of their intrapreneurs invented the first digital camera, but Kodak failed to deliver on it. Or, a more recent example from our customers: Reyanne Mustafa and Kristian Krugman were working at a large restaurant chain where they noticed pounds and pounds of nutritious grains, such as brown rice and quinoa, were being thrown away every night. These weren’t the scraps on customer’s plates, these were unserved grains straight from the rice cookers. At first, they went to their restaurant leadership, proposing that the restaurant up-cycle the unused grains to create new saleable food products. But when the restaurant didn’t take action to that idea, Mustafa and Krugman quit their jobs and founded their own company, and they now sell that product back to their former employer.
Both of these stories underscore the potential loss for businesses that don’t invest in intrapreneurs: obsolescence and disruption, or eventually paying for the thing that you failed to invent. And, the failure wasn’t for the lack of ideas, but because of the inability to recognise, act on, and celebrate change.
IF SOMEONE WANTED TO TRY LAUNCHING AN INTRAPRENEURIAL PROGRAM AT THEIR ORGANIZATION, WHAT WOULD YOU TELL THEM?
JD: I’d say prototype, test, and iterate like you would with any other new idea. Start by creating a community where people can share ideas. Start with one specific problem and a few hundred people. Use that to identify where you need help. Is it communications to get people involved, or matching good ideas to the decision makers with resources? Then, roll it out to a larger group working on a larger problem.
One of my favorite stories is from one of our healthcare customers. They made innovation part of everyone’s job, requiring everyone at their organization to share and implement one new idea within the year – all 12,000 employees. It could be a simple idea – a way to time hand washing or a new product that could cost the company less. The result is that the innovation team received ideas large and small that saved the company millions of dollars by the end of the year.
But even more importantly, they achieved 100 percent participation and created the expectation that everyone at the company could be an intrapreneur and solve problems. Now, they’re using our software to solve larger problems with more complicated new technologies, but they have 12,000 people who feel they are part of a larger plan and purpose. They got there because they were able to start small.
DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF AN INTRAPRENEUR?
JD: I think everyone employed in a startup is inherently an intrapreneur. You encounter challenges all day long, and you have to find a solution for them even if it’s not in your job description. It’s what I love about IdeaScale. On any given day, I can be working on product updates, helping to pilot a new customer service process, or collaborating on the vision for our company. It happens all the time with our employees.
One of our innovation advisors, Ben Bronsther brought on a new client, using a customized welcome video message from our CEO. Ben’s job didn’t relate to onboarding or video creation, but it was a great way to welcome that customer. Now we do this whenever we can for clients who want that sort of personalized experience.
I do think it’s easier to be an intrapreneur at a start-up though… where the challenges of connecting ideas to other natively occurring ideas or finding new resources to test a concept is a matter of a few conversations with easilyidentifiable people. This is easy to do at IdeaScale where there are 50 of us.This type of challenge is different at an organization of 5,000+ people. That’s why systems like IdeaScale help to maximise innovation efficiency.