Tips for collaborative innovation
Collaboration is one of the flagship strategies of open innovation for business growth
More than 15 years ago, American organisational theorist Professor Henry Chesbrough noticed a shift away from the old paradigm of siloed research and development (R&D) towards a different model of innovation that was more borderless and fluid. He coined the term ‘open innovation’ in 2003 to describe this new phenomenon, highlighting how enterprises can reap benefits by looking beyond their four walls to ideate and create greater value for their clients and consumers.
One of the key elements of open innovation is collaboration. By seeking out external partners with capabilities that complement and synergise with their inhouse expertise, business owners can move more quickly to plug gaps in their value chain, develop better products and services, colonise a niche in existing markets, and even expand into new markets. Here are some strategies to increase the likelihood of establishing productive collaborations, as well as lessons from companies that have managed to make open innovation work for them.
Heading in the same direction
Before jumping in and signing a collaboration agreement, it is important that all stakeholders meet to establish well-defined goals. A common agenda is necessary so that everyone has a unified vision and everyone’s efforts are aligned. What is the problem that needs to be solved? What are the actions that need to be taken by all parties involved? What are the resources that each party brings to the table? These are some questions that ought to be asked and answered at the start so that expectations are managed, redundant work is avoided, and time is not wasted on resolving conflicts down the road.
One success story that began with a common objective is the partnership between Singapore-based firms Global Interface Wireless Technologies (GIWT) and 1Rwave. GIWT specialises in ultra-wideband technology which allows large amounts of data to be transmitted wirelessly over short distances, while 1Rwave’s competency lies in active radio frequency identification technology.
Both companies shared a desire to enhance the tracking of assets in real time, and in 2017, collaborated to co-develop a hybrid location tracking system after identifying how their technologies could complement each other. Their invention allows objects to be tracked indoors and outdoors wirelessly with greater precision across a wide area. The system has since received certification, allowing it to be deployed in Japan. In this case, the common goal and combined strengths of both companies helped them chart a path into an overseas market, unlocking further opportunities for future growth.
Keeping track of progress
Getting a collaboration off the ground is just the first step. Once past the goal-setting phase, collaborators should then proceed to define timelines and milestones. For example, when local machine vision and imaging SME SODA VISION collaborated with Slovakia-based Photoneo to utilise the latter’s 3D vision scanner and software for its robotic bin picking project, it also had clear deliverables in mind.
By end-2017, SODA VISION became the distributor and integrator of Photoneo’s 3D vision products to not one, but three markets—Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. The integration of their technologies was also completed by May 2018, and two work stations demonstrating the use of Photoneo’s 3D vision scanner and a robotic arm have been set up at SODA VISION’s vision laboratory in Woodlands, Singapore. Evidently, having a ‘game plan’ with tangible criteria to measure progress has benefitted both companies.
Nonetheless, business owners should recognise that the process of collaborative R&D can be unpredictable. The degree of uncertainty varies from industry to industry, and even for products or services within the same industry, hence schedules may have to be adjusted accordingly. But through it all, clear and open channels of communication are critical in establishing meaningful collaborations. Like any relationship, the ability to have frequent and objective conversations about problems or potential solutions can help build trust and rapport among stakeholders.
Done correctly, collaboration can help companies establish strong alliances that are more than the sum of their component parts, accelerating innovation and driving business growth. Looking for a R&D partner that could take your business to the next level? Let IPI be your companion on your journey to embrace open innovation.