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Innovation teams need purpose-built tools to be more effective

Implementing the right digital tools for the jobs we face today.

calendar icon November 4, 2020

We recently partnered with Innovation Leader to conduct a survey and learn how innovation teams are using software — whether to build cultures of innovation, manage the innovation pipeline, or improve collaboration and efficiencies across the organization. You can access that survey report here.

More than three-quarters of innovation leaders surveyed reported they are somewhat or significantly interested in adopting digital tools due to the Covid-19 pandemic. When we asked which type of digital tool satisfied their needs and delivered ROI — general-purpose or innovation-specific — the verdict was mixed. Satisfaction levels were comparable, but general-purpose tools scored higher on ROI.

We use what we know

I’m reminded of Maslow’s observation “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

I know that people are resourceful in adapting familiar tools to get work done. I’ve spent many a late-night wrangling Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to fit a job it wasn’t well suited to. If an innovation team’s software suite includes Microsoft Teams, then that’s often what they’ll use, and they will adapt it to their particular tasks whether it’s effective or not.

I also know the digital transformation of the innovation function is still in its early stage. It will take time and iteration for innovation-specific processes and software to take hold because change is hard. We’re asking people to change the way they’ve historically done things, stop using a tool they’ve invested time in learning and shaping to meet their needs, and switch to something new.

The art of the possible

Of the innovation leaders we surveyed, only 46% reported using an innovation-focused tool. This underscores my point: innovation teams are, by necessity, picking up and hacking familiar tools to get a job done. When we do this, however, we miss out on the “art of the possible.”

Instead, innovation teams should be thinking about their vision, purpose, and goals. How they plan to scale the innovation function and collaborate with product management, R&D and other organizations whose responsibility is to bring new products to market. This is a unique business process that requires purpose-built software to execute well.

Closing the gap

I believe that innovation software vendors will close the ROI gap only when they can deliver on the premises of all great software platforms:

  • Ease of use. Innovation-specific tools must be as easy to use as Slack or email.
  • Expanding access and integration. To make an innovation platform the “hub” of collaboration and ideation they aspire to be, they must integrate with other tools in the workflow, including 3rd party databases, contact management and other systems of record within the enterprise.
  • Intelligence. Tools with built-in intelligence make the work of innovation far more efficient and provide the necessary market intelligence to navigate the fast-moving technology landscape and find emerging stars in the startup ecosystem.

At Startgrid, we believe that, when done right, the work of innovation in the enterprise is as vital a core business function as others that have been successfully digitized and transformed, from customer relationship management to marketing automation to supply chain management. These core business functions could not be as efficient as they are today without process and purpose-built tools. It took an entire industry to focus on a specific business problem, develop solutions and processes, learn from real customers, adapt, and evolve.

History shows us that the digital transformation of a complex business function is not only possible, but it has opened up massive efficiencies that are now table stakes for competitive survival.

Today’s pressures and challenges demand that we do the same for enterprise innovation.

Imagine the possibilities!