Unfortunately, there is no universal blueprint for planning and building an innovation ecosystem that can easily be transferred to different contexts. The companies’ specific circumstances and framework conditions are too different for this. Depending on the industry, size, or structure, there are other requirements to consider. Above all, the respective strategy behind building a long-term solution makes it necessary to consider different variables and points of contact in the company.
It is, therefore, all the more important to formulate a clear roadmap right from the start, based on individual needs, goals, and resources. Nobody expects an innovation ecosystem to take shape overnight and deliver the first results the next day. Nevertheless, you should define a clear schedule, set priorities, and identify the right starting points. In this way, impulses are set for all subsequent steps, and the operative start is set up as quickly as possible.
For this purpose, we have compiled a list of questions that serve as guidance and assistance in formulating a strategy. The focus is on fundamental considerations essential for planning and building an innovation ecosystem.
Understanding the Status Quo
Which initiatives and programs aimed at innovation or digitization are already in place in the company?
Instead of implementing something from scratch, it can be easier to use established programs as a stepping stone and build on further steps. Digital extensions for initiatives that have only been carried out in offline formats are often good starting points. Why not expand existing accelerator, startup, or intrapreneurship initiatives?
Who is responsible for these initiatives and programs? And what are the goals in the long run?
Supporting and strengthening existing initiatives with new methods and technologies is an excellent way to demonstrate the benefits of the new strategy. In this way, those already involved in innovation initiatives can be convinced and integrated at an early stage. Their perspectives and experiences can gather knowledge about the actual requirements or uncover critical weak points.
Which tools and solutions for innovation initiatives are already used in the company?
The conventional approaches and tools determine how employees think and implement their projects. However, the point is not necessarily to replace existing solutions but to create new connections between them or align everything with a central hub. A complete realignment is, therefore, very complex and lengthy.
What types of data and information are already collected and used in the company?
The quality and quantity of added value can often be increased by connecting existing information sources or facilitating access to them. This is particularly the case if the available data’s value and innovation potential have not yet been recognized. As a result, the interfaces required for this are still missing.
Define Overarching Goals
What big corporate goal should be achieved by implementing an innovation ecosystem?
As mentioned initially, the new approach aims to quickly achieve measurable and visible results. However, it is even more important to develop the underlying long-term strategy. It doesn’t matter whether you want to equip the processes with more speed overall, plan to dismantle silo structures, or improve customer orientation – the goals determine the priorities below and thus influence the way forward.
Which parts of daily business are affected by the new approach, and what changes for the individual stakeholders?
The advantages of an innovation ecosystem should not feel abstract or follow an exclusive perspective. Instead, all employees must accept and actively live the purpose and benefits. In the best case, real added value is created in daily work, which can be felt across the entire company. This refers to the people who manage the platform or the innovation programs.
What about innovation culture in the company? Should it be actively promoted or act as a positive by-product?
The long-term success of the new approach is inextricably linked to an efficient corporate culture, which aims to create and implement innovations. The cultural aspects are an important factor when planning and designing an innovation ecosystem. It is important to find suitable forms of engagement and communication for the company to motivate employees to participate actively.
What is the long-term roadmap for expanding the ecosystem and involving additional stakeholders or data?
Ideally, the roadmap indicates which projects are planned and how the various initiatives and stakeholders in the ecosystem can be connected. It is best to start with one or two clearly defined use cases or stakeholder groups. It should always be clear which expansion stages will follow next.
Who needs to be involved right from the start to ensure successful setup and operation?
A failed or faulty transition from strategic planning to actual implementation can cause many problems, especially in large-scale innovation ecosystems. Therefore, the people responsible for implementation should be involved as early as possible and impact the specific design at the operational level.
Which innovations or initiatives does the ecosystem promote, and which departments in the company are needed for this?
If collaboration across departments and companies is possible, previously separate locations can now work together on innovative ideas and projects. This creates completely new ways of working and processes. The structure of an innovation ecosystem must take these developments into account and be able to react flexibly to changes.
Get to Know the Stakeholders
Who should be involved in planning and building the innovation ecosystem?
Innovation ecosystems work best when as many stakeholders from a wide range of specialist areas are involved. Ideally, the question should not be whom you should involve at all, but which groups of people you want to start with. It depends very much on the goals and the intended results of the innovation initiatives.
What motivates stakeholders to actively participate?
Employees strive to promote their careers or create internal visibility for their expertise. Customers get involved out of sheer curiosity or keen interest in the topic. Suppliers, startups, or partners could look for potential business relationships or need support for a specific challenge. Knowing what motivates individual stakeholders is the first step in successfully integrating them into the ecosystem.
What can the individual stakeholders contribute?
Just like the motivation, the knowledge and know-how that the individual stakeholders can contribute to the ecosystem differ. Whether this involves technical solutions, new trends, or personal experiences, it is crucial to understand what added value each stakeholder can deliver in which phase of the innovation process.
Aim for Long-Term Success
How can results and success stories be made visible?
It is important to raise awareness within the company of the positive effects of the ecosystem and the successes achieved. You don’t need detailed reports and figures for this. Interesting interim results, personal stories, or experience reports also help make the teams’ work visible and motivate other employees.
What does “end-to-end” mean for a company’s innovation ecosystem?
Operating innovation “end-to-end” means dealing with consistent and seamless processes along the value chain. Many different stakeholders are active at other points in a networked innovation ecosystem. This is invaluable for innovation. Therefore, you should consider which direction you want to expand yourself and which areas you leave to other stakeholders in the ecosystem.