To be successful these days companies must constantly produce innovative products and services. Brilliant people are, of course, essential to forging groundbreaking solutions. As important, however, are the means to disseminate fresh ideas quickly and to ensure the best among them are not stalled by lengthy approval processes.
That's where idea management comes in. Idea management software, which allows users to conveniently suggest ideas -- complete with cost and ROI backup -- and enables decision-makers to review, rate, and track submissions, has long been available to facilitate this process. Unless you're in an enterprise with deep pockets, however, those solutions have more than likely been out of reach.
This is no longer the case. General Ideas has taken the core functions of its fine NextNet Enterprise Edition innovation tool and has released them as part of Brightidea's brightidea.com hosted service. Priced within reach of midsize enterprises and divisions of large businesses, brightidea.com doesn't require the one- to two-month startup time and consulting fees typical of customized in-house idea management products.
High-end idea management software is usually tailored to specific areas, such as product development or process improvement. But brightidea.com provides a wide array of templates and workflows, not only for the aforementioned areas but also for intellectual property, IT adoption, marketing strategy, and business-model innovation. These templates allow for rapid startup and can be modified when necessary, so you're not stuck with a rigid system. Moreover, consistent operation throughout the service greatly reduces training. All this contributes to quick ROI.
The heart of brightidea.com is its Projects module, which enables users to organize ideas by category, such as, say, R&D or marketing. This module does not provide the elaborate tracking functions you'd find with Primavera or Artemis project management software, but it's more than adequate for executives to know when milestones are met and whether to shuffle resources when specific ideas are not being implemented on time.
Six other modules complement Projects: Ideas, for submitting concepts; Research, a secure blogging environment; Experts, to search for those with skills to help you evaluate ideas; Rewards and Recognition, which gives points to idea submitters; and two Analytics areas, which measure success.
Users should quickly be able to understand how to set up and track projects with brightidea.com. For example, submitting an idea takes little more than clicking on an icon in the Web interface, selecting the area (campaign) to which it fits, and completing a form. Importantly, brightidea.com asks for the information necessary to conduct a thorough evaluation -- for example, an idea's potential financial impact or whether something similar has been done before.
By way of a formal process, peers can then evaluate a proposed idea, ask questions, and rate whether the idea should be implemented. The service provides e-mail notifications to inform users when their idea's status changes, such as when it has been accepted or requires additional review. Alternately, when users log in, they receive notice of actions to complete, such as the rating of a proposed idea.
Putting hundreds of ideas in perspective could prove difficult. That's why I quickly appreciated brightidea.com's Idea Power Tools, which allow admins to group ideas around common themes. Moreover, brightidea.com's effective search tool helps users learn whether an idea they're contemplating has already been suggested.
I discovered several unique components that also support idea and project management, with Experts topping the list. This component allows evaluators to search for people in the system with proper skills, submission of similar ideas, or writings on the topic. Users can then ask these experts questions or solicit their advice.
As an added incentive to participate, the Rewards and Recognition module tracks contributors and experts, noting which are the most helpful. Managers decide the points awarded for each type of activity and the payback, which might include gifts, awards, or cash.
The big challenge, however, is keeping users interested after the novelty of idea management wears off. One way to achieve this is through brightidea.com's newsletters, which are easily created, edited, and distributed.
In my testing, the Research module proved invaluable to the idea management process. This secure, shared Weblog allows users to post any pertinent data -- from information about competitors, to what they've seen in professional journals. As with any Weblog, anyone can post comments. A rating system, however, moves the most important posts to the top.
What's more, I found brightidea.com's advanced reporting and analytics dashboards valuable. They quickly show the types of ideas under review, and they analyze the impact a completed innovation has had on the organization. For instance, Innovation Financials captures out-of-pocket expenditures, implementation costs, rewards, cost savings, and revenue.
Although brightidea.com is a hosted service, Brightidea does provide tools to ease large-scale enterprise rollouts, such as SSO (single-sign on) capability and integration with employee directories.
Overall, brightidea.com quickly delivers most of the features of installed idea management software. The end-user experience is very good, which should encourage participation. Collaborative tools and management analytics round out a solid, well-integrated solution that's likely to spark innovation in your enterprise.
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