Not Profiting from your Companies Bright Ideas? – Brightidea might Help

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I had the chance to talk with … the team at Brightidea about their products to generate, manage, track, and prioritize innovative ideas. Brightidea is helping companies leverage social computing technologies for innovation with a suite of solutions to drive innovation and foster the resulting ideas through the innovation pipeline. I was impressed with a number of aspects of the solution, but perhaps the most surprising observation was the solution is “enterprise aware.” That is my term, not theirs, and not something that they specifically pointed out. But in an area where I see a lot of light-weight “solutions” being built internally or quickly rushed to market, it was refreshing to see that Brightidea developed their solution to address the complexities of the enterprise. It was also nice to see that they spent quite a bit of time understanding the process by which ideas turn into winning products instead of just developing a portal and a database.

My Views on “Idea Management” Software

Put simply, Brightidea is one of a number of “idea management” vendors. I am not a big fan of that term because I think it understates the importance of what some of these companies are doing. They are not simply “managing” information or acting as an online suggestion box. They are helping companies drive innovation in targeted areas and nurture the ideas in a social setting to help them mature. That, in  my opinion, is much more than “idea management.” Moreover, the solutions that I think are adding the most value are not just ones that help gather ideas, but those that help companies determine which ones to pursue. As one manufacturer I spoke with explained getting a lot of ideas isn’t the problem, it’s filtering through all of the ideas to find the good ones. Managing ideas is boring (although it has to be done). On the other hand, using social and collaborative technologies to incubate  ideas and drive further discussion to help raise the best ideas to the top and give them a jump start in product development is compelling.

What Does Brightidea Do?

OK, with my diatribe over, let’s turn back to Brightidea specifically. I particularly liked the analogy that Vincent Carbone, Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Brightidea, offered me. He explained that what they do is similar to what Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems do to manages leads. But instead of leads, they manage ideas. He points out that a sales lead isn’t worth much at first but could turn into a multi-million dollar deal. CRM systems offer lots of management capabilities, pipeline reports, etc. for leads. He says that Brightidea gives executives what they have for leads in CRM but for their ideas, including dashboards to observe/optimize innovation. I like the analogy because one of the big challenges companies face with sales leads isn’t getting a lot of them, it’s picking out the good ones to pursue through a process of lead qualification. CRM also recognizes that leads go through a lifecycle, starting small and gaining value over time as they are nurtured – or fizzling out and becoming a part of the historical record for later use. I may be taking his analogy too far, but to me it speaks volumes about their understanding of the nature of ideas.

What do they Offer?

The offering from Brightidea is the Brightidea Innovation Suite. The solution consists of three primary parts:

  • Webstorm is an online solution used to collect and drive innovation. It offers capabilities to prompt, post, and discuss innovation ideas.
  • Switchboard is used to prioritize, collaborate, and score ideas. It provides the ability to turn ideas into product proposals to take to the next step.
  • Pipeline is the execution piece. It includes “social project management” and helps track milestones, stages, gates, and provides visibility to projects.

The suite provides a broad array of capabilities, although I am sure that some companies choose to integrate to existing tools for some of the processes covered. Brightidea demonstrated a lot of ability to customize the Webstorm sites. Each individual site can be set up appropriately to fit the social environment and match the company culture. As they explained, each Webstorm can look completely different. The innovation sessions can be directed by some upfront ideas to get them started in the right direction. They can also support ad-hoc webstorms using a button that says “run your own webstorm.” All of the ideas stay in the database, and people can search on them.

What surprised me most, as I mentioned earlier, is the ability to fit into the enterprise. The software can have multiple sites by location or can be shared across business units, geographies, product lines, business units, or functional areas. Those sites can be rolled up to higher levels based on permissions. To me, it looks like a model that is ready for the enterprise.

Who do they Work With?

So who should consider Brightidea? The solution supports multiple industries and is in use by companies both large and small. The Brightidea website lists a host of companies across industries. It doesn’t appear to have any limitations. Some examples they gave in our discussion included:

  • R&D people using it
  • A pharmaceutical company using it for chemical reactions
  • A consumer packaged goods company putting in new names for products

In fact, I used the solution when I acted as master of ceremonies for Aberdeen Group‘s Leadership in Product Development Summit and the solution fit our process well. Unfortunately, I have to admit, we didn’t put enough of our own effort into it to get the most value out of the solution. But the potential was clear, the site was nicely developed, and it was easy enough to work with.

Brightidea also has a partner strategy. For example, HP is a global reseller. They are also including Brightidea inside other software solutions. The examples we discussed were Planview (Product Portfolio Management, PPM) and Rally Software (Application Lifecycle Management, ALM, Agile). In addition, they discussed a strategy to partner with specialty consulting firms to tailor the solution to specific industries.

So that’s what I hear from Brightidea, I hope you found it useful. What do you think? What else should I have asked them? I have talked with others about this as well, including a view into the idea management application Colgate partnered on with SAP. Who else should I talk to in this space?