Innovation in the enterprise via social computing

In recent years, managing innovation has increased in importance for CEOs. Lately, it has consistently been among their top five priorities (see for example, The Conference Board's CEO Challenge Survey). It has also become more important in the public sector, at both the federal and state levels. Pennsylvania, for example, just last month formed the Governor's Innovation Office to improve efficiency and generate savings for taxpayers.

Nonetheless, in the course of our research on innovation, Unisys has found very few organizations claiming that they have mastered their innovation management processes. In fact, most have said they are average at best. They all want to get better, and social computing may be the key.

Social computing can give an organization a more open approach to sourcing ideas, throwing the process open to employees, customers and business partners. But the process has to be managed properly. Steps must be taken so that employees feel empowered to submit ideas; they need to know that their suggestions will be taken seriously. Employees also need to be ready, willing and able to share their insights on a regular basis in an open forum. To make sure that great ideas are actually recognized and acted upon, the organization needs to have the back-end processes and funding in place to ensure that ideas get reviewed, prioritized and evaluated.

This is where technology comes in. Social-enabled idea management platforms can help spur the sort of cross-chatter within an organization that will bring good ideas to the fore and can also serve as vehicles for expanding on and sharpening those ideas. But it's also important to recognize how social computing can support group events within the organization at which ideas are brainstormed and developed. Such innovation workshops tend to be highly focused, with well-defined goals and objectives. Several group decision-support software tools are available that let workshop participants submit ideas to an electronic whiteboard, comment and build upon each other's ideas, and then vote on competing ideas using voting criteria that can be tailored to the session.

Creating a road map

So how do you go about implementing social computing for enhancing innovation within the organization? Appropriately enough, an innovation workshop may be just the tool you need to get started. You can source ideas and then prioritize while tapping into the collective expertise of the group.

A good way to evaluate the ideas that the workshop uncovers is to look at business benefit versus ease of implementation. You may well have two or three criteria feeding into each of these dimensions. You can then chart your application opportunities for social computing on a cost/benefit matrix to illustrate the quick wins versus the must-haves. Both will have a high business impact, but the quick wins will have relatively high ease of implementation, while the must-haves will be more costly or timely to implement due to their more strategic nature. A solid social computing strategy will have a balance of both quick wins and must-haves.

Of course, the next step is to turn all those ideas into action. That's where the heavy lifting comes in!

Nicholas D. Evans leads the Strategic Innovation Program for Unisys and was one of Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders for 2009. He can be reached at

Read more about web 2.0 and web apps in Computerworld's Web 2.0 and Web Apps Topic Center.

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