Here’s the challenge: How best to capitalise on the potential innovation that could in theory be created by users and developers who are based outside of the companies that are centrally responsible for a product platform?
This is the question of how best to make Open Innovation work. Recall the following contrasts between Open Innovation and so-called Closed Innovation – taken from the pioneering book by Henry Chesbrough, “Open innovation: the new imperative for creating and profiting from technology”:
The “closed innovation” mindset:
- The smart people in our field work for us
- To profit from R&D we must discover it, develop it, and ship it ourselves
- If we discover it ourselves, we will get to the market first
- The company that gets an innovation to market first will win
- If we create the most and the best ideas in the industry, we will win
- We should control our IP, so that our competitors don’t profit from our ideas.
The “open innovation” mindset:
- Not all the smart people work for us. We need to work with smart people inside and outside our company
- External R&D can create significant value; internal R&D is needed to claim some portion of that value
- We don’t have to originate the research to profit from it
- Building a better business model is better than getting to market first
- If we make the best use of internal and external ideas, we will win
- We should profit from others’ use of our IP, and we should buy others’ IP whenever it advances our own business model.
In the modern world of hyper-complex products, easy communication via the Internet and other network systems, and the “Web 2.0” pro-collaboration zeitgeist, it is easy to understand why the idea of Open Innovation receives a lot of support. The challenge, as I said, is how to put these ideas into practice.
It’s tempting to answer that the principal key to successful Open Innovation is Open Source. After all, Open Source removes both financial and contractual barriers that would otherwise prevent many users and external developers from experimenting with the system. (What’s more, “Open Innovation” and “Open Source” share the prefix “Open”!)
However, in my view, there’s a lot more to successful Open Innovation than putting the underlying software platform into Open Source.
To see this, it’s useful to review some ideas from the handy summary presentation by leading Open Innovation researcher Joel West, “Managing Open Innovation through online communities”. Joel makes it clear that there are three keys to making Open Innovation work best for a firm (or platform):
- Maximising returns to internal innovation
- Incorporating external innovation in the [platform]
- Motivating a supply of external innovations.
Let’s dig more deeply into the second and third of these keys.
Incorporating external innovation in the platform
The challenge here isn’t just to stimulate external innovation. It is to be able to incorporate this innovation into the platform. That requires the platform itself to be both sufficiently flexible and sufficiently stable. Otherwise the innovation will fragment the platform, or degrade its ongoing evolution.
It also requires the existence of significant skills in platform integration. Innovations offered by users or external developers may well need to be re-engineered if they are to be incorporated in the platform in ways that meet the needs of the user community as a whole, rather than just the needs of the particular users who came up with the innovation in question.
- This can be summarised by saying that a platform needs skills and readiness for software management, if it is to be able to productively incorporate external innovation.
Motivating a supply of external innovations
The challenge here isn’t just to respond to external innovations when they arise. It is to give users and external developers sufficient motivation to work on their ideas for product improvement. These parties need to be encouraged to apply both inspiration and perspiration.
- Just as the answer to the previous issue is software management, the answer to this issue is ecosystem management.
But neither software management nor ecosystem management comes easy. Neither fall out of the sky, ready for action, just by virtue of a platform being Open Source. Nor can these skills be acquired overnight, by spending lots of money, or hiring lots of intrinsically smart people.
Ecosystem management involves a mix of education and evangelism. It also requires active listening, and a willingness by the platform providers to occasionally tweak the underlying platform, in order to facilitate important innovations under consideration by external parties. Finally it requires ensuring that third parties can receive suitable rewards for their breakthroughs – whether moral, social, or financial.
Conclusion: On account of a legacy of more than ten years of trial and error in building and enhancing both a mobile platform and an associated dynamic ecosystem, the Symbian Foundation will come into existence with huge amounts of battle-hardened expertise in both software management and ecosystem management. On that basis, I expect the additional benefits of Open Source will catalyse a dramatic surge of additional Open Innovation around the Symbian Platform. In contrast, other mobile platforms that lack this depth of experience are likely to find that Open Source brings them grief as much as it brings them potential new innovations.