Driving innovation by sourcing ideas from the crowd has seen some of the world’s largest brands tap into the collective wisdom and creative thinking of employees, suppliers and customers to solve their most pressing challenges.

Beyond ideas for the improvement of technology, products, processes and customer service, internal and external crowdsourcing also helps your business benefit from the insights generated both from an improved intimacy with key stakeholders, as well as from the reach and richness of aggregated ideation information.

“Unilever, Eli Lilly, PepsiCo, Microsoft, Kimberly-Clark, PWC and Harvard are just a handful of some of the biggest global corporations, together with South African brands like FNB, Multichoice, the University Of Pretoria, Life Healthcare, Standard Bank, SA Taxi, PPC, Student Brands, the JSE and AfroCentric Health, that have embraced the power of collaborative innovation through crowdsourcing, creating a structured process of people, ideas and tools to enable the emergence of an exciting culture of collaborative innovation,” says Imran Patel, Managing Director of Inter-Net, an award-winning digital, loyalty and innovation agency.

Collective power of crowds

“Today customers and colleagues and even Joe Ordinary are able to co-create new products and processes to help businesses grow and at the same time, better meet the needs of their markets and enhance service delivery.

Driving and managing innovation within a business is fundamental to survival and now it’s given an entirely new dimension by crowdsourcing ideas online from both internal stakeholders as well as the open market. But we would be mistaken in believing that this is an entirely new development,” adds Patel.

The concept of harnessing the collective power of crowds is in fact very old – open source software that sees a software program made available to the open market to enhance and modify it as developers see fit for the benefit of specific communities was launched in the 1980s. In fact, even in the 1950-60s, almost all software was produced by academics and corporate researchers working in collaboration, often shared as public domain software. If you want a real throwback, even having ideas submitted via a physical suggestion box (does anyone still have one?) is an early form of crowdsourcing ideas.

Managing workflow

“One of the key challenges with harnessing crowdsourced ideas is documenting and managing the workflow and attribution of idea collection, what actually happens once an idea is accepted or rejected, and finally to implementation.

With the advent of innovation management software, the process of idea collection from across the entire globe, tracking, evaluation, rewards, workflow and implementation has become imminently more focused and manageable. With one big proviso – US and European developed software is massively expensive and subject to the volatility of the exchange rate.

It’s one of the key reasons why we developed Horizon, a home-grown innovation management tool that meets the demands of local businesses, providing one platform to submit, manage, judge, reward and track ideas without any exchange rate exposure, and a platform that’s flexible and scalable to local requirements. Horizon was designed to serve Africa and emerging markets, by incorporating the most-used functionality and leaving out the unnecessary frills. Language, access, UX, content, relevance and credibility are all factors inherent to our system, ensuring that the ideation process is extendable to all stakeholders in an organisation, irrespective of location, education, connectivity, background or role,” says Patel.

Crowdsourced innovation

“A key motivator in developing Horizon was that the cost implications often meant that cultivating a culture of innovation was typically only in the ambit of large blue chips with deep pockets.

Now small and mid-sized businesses, public sector organisations, non-profits and academic institutions can access, manage and drive crowdsourced innovation, firstly within their organisations, and from entirely new markets in a well-coordinated, digitally integrated manner. Previously, this process was likely to be labour intensive, with data manually manipulated using multiple excel spread sheets, or emails, or even paper, for tracking. It may get 10/10 for initiative, but gets a big fat demerit for governance, control, productivity, data recovery, cost efficiency, efficacy and ultimately, innovation!

Local development means that all businesses, regardless of size or budget can benefit from great ideation without being hamstrung by high integration and licencing costs, operationally invasive methods or exchange rate fluctuations,” explains Patel.

Even with such useful tools available, many companies still struggle with how to tap into crowdsourcing opportunities to drive innovation, despite the fact that it can mean greater problem-solving capabilities, efficiencies and cost savings.

It should be approached in the same manner as any other major program, with an understanding of risk-exposure, executive buy-in, operational entrenchment, a positioning and communications plan and financial commitment to execute great ideas.

Imran Patel
Managing Director, Inter-Net



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