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Innovation was something the R&D department owned, but this is no longer true. Certainly, R&D are more important than ever, yet innovation is no more confined to a single department. Innovation is becoming everybody’s business (see video), your business, no matter what role you are in. Sales, production, purchasing, accounting, HR, marketing. And it is the Internet of Things, which drives this trend towards Open Innovation.

It started well before the internet arrived, in the 80s, when Kaizen teams in production started making improvements in production and logistics. In most cases the results were not new products, but better quality, less scrap, and higher efficiency.

With the arrival of the internet in the 90s, knowledge workers in their Dilbert-cubicles for the first time had easy access to a wealth of knowledge well beyond company borders and could perform research on their own.

The internet of things expands the capabilities of employees, at least those carrying a smart phone – and who doesn’t? Carrying a smart phone makes them part of the internet of things, in part because every smart phone has a cyber-physical twin, tracking user data and making them available. The other reason is that it gives the people internet access from wherever they are: to social networks where they can share experiences and ideas.


It is not far fetched to extend from smart phones to other things with a potential to become smart, just by attaching an RFID or a SIM card. There is a threat in this new power, but it also is a chance. If people are willing to share on social networks, why not using this energy and desire to the benefit of the organization? Why not empowering them to improve their work and the products they procure, produce, distribute or sell?

I see two primary forces driving innovation:

  1. A pain creates a desire for relief. In a professional environment, such a pain could be a cumbersome procedure, unnecessary work, scrap – you name it. People are most creative on something relevant and removing a pain is always relevant. Thus, the forklift driver in a warehouse has not only a better knowledge of his problems but also a much stronger desire to innovate on his work environment than somebody in a detached R&D department.

  2. The interaction between diverse people. Contrary to common believe the best ideas are not created in the toilet or in the shower, but when people interact. Different viewpoints and different ways to think about a problem yield the best solutions. People with a common background act the same and think the same. This is, why traditional R&D departments bring little innovation. There is nobody making them thinking outside the box. They need to involve customers, suppliers, partners, and co-workers from other areas of the company.

The internet of things makes everybody in an organization an innovator and intrapreneur. Including everybody expands the diversity in contributions. It gives people a chance to address the problems they encounter every day and, thus, have a strong motivation to solve.

Open innovation needs something better than the traditional suggestion boxes, which often was rather a black hole for ideas than a driver for innovation. A new tool like SAP Innovation Management has been built for open innovation. It invites idea givers or teams to enter, share, score and comment on ideas, very much like in a social network.

Do you still have an R&D department or are all your employees/colleagues already intrapreneurs?