Unfortunately, there is no universal blueprint for planning and building an innovation ecosystem that can easily be transferred to different contexts. The specific circumstances and framework conditions of the companies are simply 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 that are 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 so far only been carried out in offline formats are often good starting points. Why not expand existing accelerator, start-up 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 be used to gather knowledge about the actual requirements or to uncover critical weak points.
Which tools and solutions for innovation initiatives are already used in the company?
The established approaches and tools determine how employees think and implement their projects. A complete realignment is therefore very complex and lengthy. However, the point is not necessarily to replace existing solutions, but to create new connections between them or to align everything with a central hub.
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 by facilitating access to them. This is particularly the case if the value and the innovation potential of the available data has not yet been recognized and, as a result, the interfaces required for this are still missing.
Define overarching goals
What is the big corporate goal that should be achieved by implementing an innovation ecosystem?
As mentioned at the beginning, the aim of the new approach is 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. In the best case, real added value is created in daily work, which can be felt across the entire company. This does not only refer to the people who manage the platform or the innovation programs. Instead, the purpose and benefits must be accepted and actively lived by all employees.
What about innovation culture in the company? Should it be actively promoted or act as a positive by-product?
The cultural aspects are an important factor when planning and designing an innovation ecosystem. The long-term success of the new approach is inextricably linked to an efficient corporate culture, which aims to create and implement innovations. It is important to find suitable forms of engagement and communication for the company in order to motivate employees to participate actively.
What is the long-term roadmap for expanding the ecosystem and involving additional stakeholders or data?
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. Ideally, the roadmap not only indicates which projects are planned, but also how the various initiatives and stakeholders in the ecosystem can be connected.
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 when it comes to large-scale innovation ecosystems. Therefore, the people responsible for implementation should be involved as early as possible and have an impact on 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 made 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?
It depends very much on the goals and the intended results of the innovation initiatives. Innovation ecosystems work best when as many stakeholders as possible from a wide range of specialist areas are involved. Ideally, the question should not be who you should involve at all, but which groups of people you want to start with.
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 have a 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 also differ. Regardless of 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 to make the work of the teams 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 different points in a networked innovation ecosystem. This is invaluable for innovation. Therefore, you should consider early on in which direction you want to expand yourself and which areas you leave to other stakeholders in the ecosystem.