I had a chance to talk with… the team at Sopheon about their recent product enhancement in the customer needs management (CNM) space. Through an OEM agreement with German based idea management vendor, Hype Software, the product portfolio management company has announced Idea Lab, an idea discovery, management, collaboration and analytic offering – areas that were partially addressed by their existing idea management offering. With Sopheon’s existing portfolio management and product planning/roadmapping strengths, these additional capabilities at the very front end of innovation give it a strong offering in the customer needs management space.
What do they Offer?
My expectations going into the meeting were that Idea Lab would be yet another idea capture and campaign management tool – but it is more than that. With its analytical and social networking capabilities, this is a rich offering when combined with Sopheon‘s portfolio and product planning capabilities. We look forward to hearing about customer successes, as the solution gains traction.
Two of the most interesting points discussed were the need to connect innovation to corporate strategy, and the ability to “develop communities around the concept.” For the latter, users have the ability to search the system for like ideas, and collaborate with people across the company who are working to solve the same problem. Really, it facilitates internal social product development: a simple way to reuse IP and innovation (perhaps in a different product group) and avoid the age old corporate problem of multiple groups working on the same thing. There are also idea portfolio analytics layered in, enabling the innovation team to filter to the best ideas, based on how each division (marketing, manufacturing, R&D, supply chain) ranks an idea; thus ensuring the entire company has a voice in what products get brought to market.
As far as connecting with corporate strategy, amen! Too often, PLM happens in a box, disconnected from corporate strategy – whether a brand new idea or (most likely) a product enhancement, it needs to be connected to a corporate goal, whether that be (for e.g.) to grow market share in X market by 10% in 2009, or increase revenues by 20%. I like the “Message from the CEO” on the front page of Idea Lab, stating the importance of finding a solution to the posed problem. One enhancement opportunity would be to be to have the CEO be specific about what corporate goal the idea would support. In other words, why should I, the employee, take the time to participate in this idea campaign?
Taking a page out of 3M’s innovation book, a nice touch in Idea Lab is the innovation recognition program. Top innovators in the company can be recognized through number of innovation credits, built up through number of ideas and comments submitted. In other words, it’s a mechanism for companies to expedite involvement in innovation through healthy competition with fellow employees.
How Does it Fit into the Ecosystem?
As my last post noted, there are few PLM and idea management solutions that see the full benefit of linking together the front end of innovation with the rest of the PLM process – where ideation is connected with product modeling, roadmapping, and requirements management. I think Sopheon realizes this – that said, you wouldn’t buy Accolade from Sopheon for your modeling, PDM, requirements management, or manufacturing process planning needs; there is still the need to integrate with a PLM system.
I like the concept of innovation governance – as noted in my last point, I believe that the creative innovation process needs to be corralled at some point into a portfolio of ideas/feature enhancements, a portfolio of products, a set of requirements, and a product roadmap. “Governance”, however, can be a scary word for front end of innovation practitioners like designers, marketers and brand managers – but what Sopheon is striving to do with Idea Lab is build the bridge from the free-form ideation process to innovation governance, not impede it.
I expect this move will spark a continued push from primary rivals Planview (which partners with Siemens PLM), and CA (with their Clarity product) into product planning and portfolio management, from their roots in IT portfolio management. These vendors with an “IT governance” heritage are competing now in, as Sopheon calls it, the “innovation governance” space.
So that’s what I hear from Sopheon. I hope you found it useful. What do you think? What else should I have asked them?