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This is my first SDN blog entry since February. Time to first blow out the dust and cobwebs and try to remember how to do this again.  It’s been a super busy 2011 in the SAP Co-Innovation Lab. COIL worldwide hit the ground running right after Christmas last year and I don’t think any of the team had time to look back once.  For starters, we joined forces with SAP Research, and started up a COIL in Sao Paulo, Brazil where the project pace has been fast and furious to say the least.  The dreadful Tsunami in Japan early this year shifted our focus to COIL colleagues in Tokyo but with the determination of the local COIL team there, projects were not disrupted for  too long.

There have been many projects spanning a wide range of topics. Plenty of project work surrounding the usual suspects’ mobility and In-memory (Hana) but right alongside of these there has been project work on Discovery Server 5, Gateway, Analytics, Cloud and Virtualization, sustainability plus security and manufacturing. As a small team we stay really anchored in the present and always with a heads up towards successfully completing project goals. The partners participating with us do the same.  Additionally, we put large efforts into ensuring we could showcase COIL project achievements at ShapphireNow and TechEd in 2011 as well as supporting a handful of local and regional events.

We of course put considerable time into what is required for SAP to enable co-innovation in its ecosystem.  We possess a solid platform of complementary IT assets contributed by our sponsors and project members, an IP framework designed to facilitate co-innovation all surrounded by project and operations management that features an adept ability to broker knowledge. Increasingly, we continue to improve COIL ability to capture and share tacit knowledge and spillover from the projects pursued here. We spend time examining how co-innovation, as a form of open innovation, gets done and how our model can scale to meet the needs of SAP and the partners who run projects in this lab.

While we find much success in what we do, evidence by our growth each year since the lab’s formation in 2007, we recognize that there is room to expand our open innovation practices in ways which can contribute more strategically.  We are not alone as COIL is joined by other open innovation programs going on around the company; each with its own goals and objectives with corresponding measures to signify successes and failures.  All of the programs have this in common and yet they perhaps share something else too, which is that they are not fully organized and orchestrated in a way in which can serve a broader open innovation strategy.

To have the opportunity to think a little more deeply about such a strategy, I directed my investigation and research on the topic into formulating a paper. The intent was simply to offer insight and understanding for what matters in looking to develop a more unified approach to Open Innovation.

What emerged, largely from the perspective of what we do in COIL as well as having a front seat view of some of the other OI-based program is that there are 3 pillars of importance to be considered:

-Business Strategy
-Intellectual Property
-Organizational Practice

Each is interrelated. For instance, without the business strategy, you are not going to formulate an iProperty strategy.  The appropriability that spawns from this strategy; in other words how much exclusivity is a factor, will impact the scope of what the firm does relative to open innovation with partners and customers within its ecosystem.

The firm is of course organized operationally to fulfill its business objectives and to insure the right structures are in place to preserve its intellectual property rights. An OI strategy needs to be aligned to these 3 pillars as it will have a bearing upon how the firm organizes around its pursuit of open innovation and determining its scope. The broadest understanding of OI could involve fitting a firm’s IP to another firm’s business model or joint development and ownership of IP. In other instances another firm may feel adequately served by developing the ability to crowd source new ideas that it may then decide to act upon or use to influence its product roadmap.

It is important to know what the intent is for conducting OI so the firm can accurately communicate OI objectives to employees, partners and customers.  All our interested to know the potential benefits and outcomes from OI activities and efforts, but there is a need for clarity around how this is communicated as it easy to set the wrong expectations if what is pursued is not carefully defined in an OI context.

I will make an effort over the next 2 or 3 blog postings to focus on a specific dimension of the paper which should at the very least, provide a summary view for those most interested in one or more aspects (e.g., IP, strategy, OI organizational management, field-based OI) of the topic but not all.

While my avid interest in the topic of IP and how it fits to any OI strategy will continue, the work I have done over the past several weeks has really increased by desire to further explore how open innovation serves to strengthen the knowledge base of the organization.  One particular COIL project this year demonstrates to me the immense value of tacit knowledge, provided we uncover the best practices needed to capture and share it. So far during an earlier stage of this one project, we shared some key lessons learned at a network lounge expert session at TechEd in Las Vegas and became overwhelmed with the interest so many took in what we had discovered- the sorts of things that never make the user manuals. We are amking large efforts to capture and share tacit knowledge across all of our projects.

If such knowledge capture is occurring across all of the different programs where others are in engaged in OI, then I have to believe all of these programs could benefit even more if they could somehow share the tacit knowledge they each glean with one another. As an example, there could be someone working out a technical issue in a SAP landscape where collaborators in the SAP Code Exchange program uncover information that could prove useful to a team working on a similar landscape for a different project taking place in COIL.  Finding a way to share such silos of knowledge would be very valuable.

It’s a lengthy paper to be sure, but it’s a big topic that takes time to explore the depths of the subject to the extent that it can lead to a firm developing an OI strategy that serves its business and can be fitted to properly leverage the formal and informal structures and social networks unique to every company.

Thanks in advance for taking the time to check out the paper and I will look forward to comments. If you have a specific point that you’d like to see covered in a future blog, please share.