May 10, 2021

Why you should integrate your external network in your innovation activity

Every company has an enormous network around it. Invisible ties link hundreds and thousands of possible ideas. To get the most out of such a productive network companies need to make these ties visible, see the possibilities within their reach and make the best out of it.


There are some ties that are very apparent. Every company has employees who are involved in every step and progress an idea makes. They are the core of every new development in your organization because they believe in an idea or a collaborative approach with a partner. Without this internal culture, innovation has no chance. Employees are the central node. You just need to get your company ready for digital innovation tools. However, they are not the only relevant player when it comes to innovation.


Besides the internal network every company has, there is also an external network full of opportunities. This network can be divided into two different groups: customers and external partners. Your customers are a well of suggestions for improvement and ideas on new products or services. The challenge is to use this potential and get your customers involved. Do you already know how to win customers for innovation and co-creation? Whether you do or do not – you can also think about reaching out to the third part of your network, your ecosystem of opportunities.The third part is external partners, who are fantastic co-players in new possibilities and innovation.


But how can companies figure out which partners to talk to? How do they find those possibilities? The simple answer is to speak to them and be really open about what they have to say. Obviously, it is a little more complex than that. First, companies need to find out what potential partners are floating around in their network – it is possible they are not aware of all of them. Then the question is how and when to involve these partners in ideation and innovation activities. And the last question is, why is this beneficial for both parties?


The who is who of networks

Let’s start with the first question. Who are potential partners? Who is part of my external network? Well, there is a broad range of possible connections that depend on your kind of organization and business. So here are some partners to think of:


Your supplier and/or stakeholders along the value chain: Have you ever thought about how you could integrate your suppliers into your innovation process? No? Well, you should. Stakeholders along the value chain profit when working together. At the beginning of the chain, suppliers are often well informed about trends, new patents, and things to come in their field.Thus everyone later in the value chain could profit from this knowledge and maybe profit even more by supporting the supplier in adapting certain trends early. The better your supplier is in their field, the better your product will be. The same is true for the stakeholders that come after you in the chain. They know best about the market; they know what they need to be successful, and thus you need to be successful.

Another possibility would be to tell your value chain about things you plan. The chances are good they have an idea on how to make your idea happen effectively, maybe even saving you time and money.


Start-ups fishing in your waters: Small, innovative companies pop up in every market segment, and they can be a real challenger for more established companies. They aren’t dependent on grown processes and hierarchies. They can be a lot more flexible when it comes to changes, new needs, and products. The crucial thing here is your outlook! Are they a challenger or potential partner? Maybe they are both. Get them on board as a partner and let them challenge the way you think. Relationships between bigger organizations and start-ups are usually beneficial for both sides. As an established company, you already sailed through the difficulties of the beginning, shaping processes and learning how things work in the market. On the other hand, start-ups are in the position of flexibility, not being bogged down by the way things were always done. Learning from each other, supporting each other (as an organization, maybe even with financial support) is fruitful for both parties. Now, you only need tools for the following purpose: start-up collaboration made easy.


Experts in their field: Depending on your company and product, there is a good chance researchers or other experts who don’t work for you exist. They might work at research facilities or have expert knowledge coming from a personal interest. And they could be onto the next big thing disrupting your market. Don’t you want to be the first one to know about this? Well, there is something you can do. Get involved! If you talk to people in research, they probably need resources. If you have these resources, you can easily be the first one to profit from new discoveries. Joint forces are beneficial for both sides and accelerate progress.


Partners you didn’t think of because you don’t know them yet: Of course, having connections with all these partners above you are on a good path. However, no matter how good you are at finding and collaborating with partners, there is no guarantee you find the right partner at the perfect time. Maybe they are out there, and you don’t know it. Therefore, opening your company up to and letting others approach you with their ideas is an important part of innovation. You can’t build up relationships without knowing your counterpart. Hence create visibility for your openness and let them come to you.


Pair up but do it right

Every network this size needs at least one central hub where the single threads come together. This is where all the information, the exchange, the communication, and the innovation are happening. This hub can be one single company or a specially founded place where collaborations deliver results.


Unlike collaborating with employees or customers, companies that work together face a special challenge – their own economic interests. While employees who work for a company are always engaged in a company’s effort to progress, and customers (can) have a personal benefit in improved products or services, different organizations must balance their interests. This is one of the main things to consider when working with external partners. You have to find the sweet spot between collaboration and secrecy. A difficult but not impossible effort if you create the right infrastructure.


Create a digital hub

To establish a network that stretches far, the best solution is to build it on a digital platform. Available from all over the world at any time. But of course, there are many things to take into account when choosing a tool for your external innovation efforts. How does the infrastructure have to look like? What degree of openness do you want and need with specific partners? On what level do you need to analyze the generated data?


One point of collaboration on a larger scale is to funnel ideas towards relevant results. This happens by starting with broader choices and narrowing them down to a manageable size. For a classic open innovation approach, this is crucial. Therefore, you need a tool that enables you to find the perfect idea, analyze the things happening, and support you to reward ideators.


When working with other companies like suppliers or external research facilities, intellectual property and competition regulations need to be considered. So talk to your legal department to figure out what degree of openness is (legally) possible for certain topics or with particular partners. Transferring this to a technical level can be done with an experienced software supplier. For example, with innosabi software, you can assign users certain competencies that restrict their access to selected topics or ideas. This way, you ensure the balance between open collaboration with external partners and the secrecy needed for intellectual property issues.


If you want to know more about working with external partners or about the innosabi orbit software, get in touch with our experts.

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Antonia Paal
Antonia Paal

Antonia is one of the Marketing people at innosabi. She tells the stories of innovation, writes about methods and technology, and loves to discover the new. If it's not about innosabi nerdy topics are her favorite.