Co-Innovation: always define your problem first

“No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking,” said French philosopher Voltaire. Thinking may be the first step in the problem solving chain – but you need to define your problem first. The same approach is necessary for co-innovation to succeed.

All too often co-innovation projects fail. Why? Because the problem isn’t properly defined. If the problem isn’t adequately scoped out, there is no clear framework for the business case that needs solving or how decisions between co-innovators will be made.

Co-innovation with customers, suppliers, academic institutions, start-ups and even competitors allows enterprises to share skills, resources and expertise to problem solve and bring new products and services to market faster. Technology is moving so fast and has become so specialized that few can innovate to the highest level on their own.

The benefits are there to see, but it doesn’t come without risk. Both parties have to understand that they are relying on each other for the quality of innovation input. This is why partnering to innovate makes business and economic sense if, as I’ve said, it is triggered by a business case.

Keep your innovation plans on track

There is too much co-innovation for co-innovation’s sake going on, which at best achieves nothing and at worst can be an expensive mistake. Co-innovation needs to be tangible and should start with the business challenge and not the technology. The technology is there to provide a solution to the problem – it shouldn’t be the point of the initiative.

This is why so many start-ups have failed. The Startup Genome project, which is working to develop a global start-up ecosystem, maintains that around 90% of start-ups fail. This is down to scaling up too early and basically because they haven’t fulfilled a basic market need. In other words, they haven’t spotted a case and solved a problem.

In addition, the freedom to experiment and fail may be possible – and even actively encouraged – in some central parts of an organization, but in others, such as the sales channel, failure isn’t an option. I’m not saying sales innovators can’t learn from their mistakes, but they rarely have the budget to follow a fail-fast ideology.

Figuring out the problem

With technology moving so fast, it is extremely difficult for enterprises to put together a roadmap for a future they can’t foresee – but they can solve problems and, in some cases, turn them into new businesses. Co-innovation can accelerate this process.

Recently, for example, we have been working with a large, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) company who came to us with a business case. It wanted to hit zero incidents in terms of its health and safety record. Together we analyzed the problem and came up with a wearable monitoring device that addresses its business needs. This solution, in another guise, may address similar issues in other industries.

Or take the energy company who came to us wanting to improve health and safety using the Internet of Things to monitor staff on site. Initially our own health and safety experts worked with the company’s HR team to work out exactly what the issue was before we approached the technical side. By having experts in health and safety talk to each other initially, we could get a full understanding of the problem before approaching it from a technical point of view. Again we came up with a bespoke wearable health and safety monitoring device to keep a check on workers’ wellbeing.

Choosing the right partner

Choosing the right partner to innovate with is crucial. You need to find a partner with whom you can build a trusting, committed relationship – one that will bring something new to the problem-solving scenario. Longevity is also vital, because if you opt to co-innovate with start-ups, they may not be there for long.

Here at Orange Business, we search out different solutions with big and small enterprises and look to engage as far as possible with local companies. The wearable prototypes we have been working on with the FMCG enterprise were initially the concept of a local Russian company. We consulted with them and made some changes to come up with the solution the customer required.

Collaborate to succeed

At Orange Business, we have been promoting the concept of co-innovation for a long time. Enterprises are now realizing the benefits it can bring if a robust and sustainable co-innovation program is put in place. But, remember – before you start looking for answers, you must have a business case worth answering.

To find out more about setting up co-innovation partnerships, read our article: Co-innovation: how to make it a success.

Richard Van Wageningen

Richard van Wageningen is CEO of Orange Business in Russia and CIS and is the Head the IMEAR (Indirect, Middle East, Africa and Russia) region. He has extensive leadership experience in the IT and telecommunications industries – both in services and equipment manufacturing – and holds degrees from Groningen State Polytechnics and the University of North Carolina. Richard has lived in Russia for more than 10 years and speaks fluent Russian.