SAP and Colgate Innovate on … Innovation!


I had the chance to talk with … SAP and their customer Colgate in June, and learned that they have been hard at work improving the way manufacturers innovate. I was attending an SAP customer event on PLM to get updated on the progress of SAP’s PLM efforts. SAP continued to showcase their new PLM interfaces (now including Recipe Management for the process industries). But the thing that caught my attention most was a presentation on a newly co-developed solution for product innovation codenamed “Edison.” While this isn’t a formal SAP product as of yet, it shows some real promise on how companies can use social computing to drive innovation.

Note: Hopefully this wasn’t the only thing I learned in June, but things have certainly busy and I am behind in sharing!

What they are Doing

The solution, presented jointly by SAP and Colgate, is labeled as an “idea management” solution. To me that description falls a bit short of what they have developed. The solution handles a broad range of the innovation process, including:

  • Idea Solicitation – to help target innovation as opposed to an all purpose suggestion box
  • Idea Submission – to capture ideas from participants, including any supporting media they choose to submit
  • Review and Processing – to help companies find the ideas they want to focus on, including search, filtering, sorting, tagging, and commenting
  • Evaluation – allowing companies to score innovation and promote the good ones
  • Execution – although this was a little less clear to me, this is the idea that the promoted ideas would flow into SAP’s PPM solution to turn into product development projects

The first thing that stood out to me as evidence that this was based on practical experience was that they didn’t assume that getting more ideas was better. I run into vendors all the time who like to talk about helping their manufacturing customers get more ideas. All of my research and interviews end up with the same conclusion from manufacturers: “I don’t need more ideas, I need help sorting through all of the junk to find the good ones!Manufacturers want better ideas, and they want a way to make sense of the volumes of input they get. Kudos to Colgate and SAP for getting this right, which I have to imagine came from Colgate’s real-world experience in innovation.

Another thing I was impressed with was the objectives of the project. They set out to build something “simple, usable, flexible, and extendable.” As well thought out as the solution seems, it doesn’t appear that they over-designed it. The solution does not look or feel like SAP, but instead is a light, web-based experience. While this might not be appropriate for the highly transactional world of traditional SAP solutions, it is ideal for this application where broad use by untrained participants is a key to success. After all, you don’t want all of your innovation coming from a few trained insiders!

One final point that Colgate made which I think is important to consider, is that the solution is not only valuable in the front end of innovation but throughout the new product development process. In fact, early use of the tool at Colgate has helped solve supply chain issues like cost reduction.

Implications for Manufacturers

The use of social computing techniques to drive innovation is beginning to take shape. SAP is clearly interested in providing this capability, as are standalone innovation management solutions such as BrightideaImaginatik, Ideajam, and others.  Some upcoming research I will publish soon with Kalypso shows that many manufacturers are getting started in the use of social media in innovation, and those that did are going to increase usage next year. Times are changing, and it will be interesting to see who can best take advantage of this new opportunity.

So that is what I heard from SAP and Colgate, I hope you found it interesting. Who knew? I didn’t, if you did let us know about it. Who else should I be paying attention to in this space?