What is Open Innovation?

Open innovation is simply put the act of looking outside internal research and development departments. It is used to source novel and forward thinking ideas to solve an existing problem or develop new products for an organisation.

It may take the form of something as simple as an ideas bank or include more structured strategies such as the development of a data repository or a full scale accelerator programme.

Open innovation can be split into three main focus areas:

  • Incentivised ideation – encouraging external parties to input on problems and providing rewards for this input. This can take the form of competitions, challenge based contests and prize led accelerators.
  • Innovation clustering – bringing together small, agile companies to encourage innovation through hackathons or incubators
  • Data and software platforms – products which help to facilitate the innovation process such as APIs, data access platforms or partially completed products.

Open innovation can be run independently to the current innovation policies of an organisation or it can be run as a small project stream that is ‘bolted on’ to large scale existing projects or workstreams.


Benefits of open innovation:

The biggest advantage of an open innovation programme is accruing a wealth of innovation and knowledge from potential SME partners. This partnership works advantageously for both parties; SMEs are able to gain invaluable client engagement and connections whereas the larger organisation can benefit from the original solutions and agile workstyle of SMEs.

On a wider scale open innovation helps to build local economies and business communities by connecting businesses together in working towards shared goals. The building of open and closed data platforms for projects also encourages innovation beyond the data owners initial challenge providing a catalyst for economic growth.

Open innovation can also help to strengthen the industry as a whole by improving technical excellence and digital innovation across the board. Opening the industry up to new ideas and technologies from disruptive SMEs helps to secure its future.


The key players in open innovation

The key to open innovation is bringing together multiple parties to work towards a single goal. In order to maximise the success of a project it is essential to think about how each of the following stakeholders can engage with the process.

  • Leadership – when embarking on an open innovation project having the full support of the management and leadership within the organisation is key to ensuring the project has the support and resources it needs to succeed.
  • Internal teams – internal staff are invaluable in moving the innovation process forward. They can support SMEs coming in to work on a project with their existing expertise and facilitate overcoming any barriers which occur.
  • Corporate partners and suppliers – linking your existing corporate suppliers with SME partners can be hugely beneficial in ensuring a successful outcome to a project. It will ensure any practical barriers are identified at an early stage and a collaborative solution can be found.
  • Public sector organisations – public sector organisations often have a wealth of resources available which can aid open innovation. This can include open data from local councils or public funded organisations or specific innovation aid given by bodies such as Innovate UK.
  • Local communities – both the business community and local citizens can play a key role in shaping the open innovation process. Driving local engagement and buy in can ultimately facilitate behaviour change for project success and uptake.

Applying a programme of open innovation helps to futureproof an organisation’s innovation process and new product or service creation for an organisation. The programme can provide significant benefits both for the development of internal policies and skills and to ensure the organisation is leading the way for within its sector.