Perspectives on Connected Innovation and Collaboration

Don Smith’s Sabbatical Insights

Archive for the ‘Benchmarks’ Category

Social Innovation and Product Development 2.0

with one comment

I heard GM CEO Fritz Henderson say earlier this week that General Motors could no longer afford to launch a handful of successful cars each year, rather each car launch must be successful. Got me thinking – how might GM pull this off? How will they know what kind of car to launch? What do consumers want? Will traditional mass market approaches work under this constraint?

My guess is no.  GM will have to find a new way to bring product to market. A method that captures the wishes of its customers, iterates with them, and builds a loyalty base. This challenge begs for a social innovation process that over time, fosters relationships between GM and its customers through the product development process. What should the wheels look like? How can I customize my car beyond paint and trim? GM needs to let customers cut and shape metal with its designers and engineers.

Technology companies, like IBM, have been exploring this new product development 2.0 model. Using a social medium, like a blog, IBM shares its ideas with lead users ahead of beta testing. This interaction allows the beta to be better informed and accepted by users. Loyalty and adoption increase as well, after all the users are creators and have skin in the game. This model is improves IBM’s rate of success.

Threadless employs a social model too. Users upload their tee shirt designs and the community votes on their favorites. Threadless then only produces the top tee shirt designs, cutting their inventory to zero. They sell what the community wants and not what they don’t want.

More and more companies are embracing social innovation because it eliminates some of the waste involved with traditional go-to-market strategies. Waste like inventories, launch costs, and product failures. I love this recent quote from Chris Bruzzo about their social marketing strategy:

social media is the difference between launching with millions of dollars versus millions of fans. – Chris Bruzzo, VP Starbucks


Written by Donald Smith

June 5, 2009 at 10:13 am

Sukh Grewal and GE’s Support Central

leave a comment »


I had the pleasure of meeting Sukh this week at a round-table hosted by General Electric. Sukh took the group behind the scenes of Support Central – an absolutely awesome social and collaborative platform. Actually, it’s a work platform that just happens to be social. Brilliant.  I learned a ton about delivering value through media.

Oliver Marks at ZDNet wrote this article on Support Central in July 2008.

Written by Donald Smith

June 4, 2009 at 1:01 pm

Posted in Benchmarks

Modularity and Community Fuel Open Source Hardware Innovation

with 3 comments


Open Source Hardware, or OSH, is defined by the practice of openly sharing documentation that illustrates how to self-make electronic systems. In addition to document sharing, the OSH community strives to create modular electronic building blocks that make it easier for lay enthusiasts to develop their own customized gadgets, like a camera equipped with a GPS or accelerometer. These self-made gadgets then return customized information flows back to the enthusiast. Think of it this way, your Canon camera may not allow you to send photos immediately over WI-FI. These enthusiasts “hack” or re-model the camera using OSH building blocks that in turn, equip the camera with WI-FI functionality. This hacked camera could then upload photos to the web, like a cell phone does.

Consider the planter tool that Tweets the moisture status of the plant’s soil and nudges the owner to water. Or consider Bug Labs, who provides a consumer friendly electronic platform that can be customized into the desired end functionality. Using modules like GPS, mp3 player, and camera, each user can customize the exact gadget they desire, at any time. No longer are consumers chained to the product offerings of large electronics manufacturers.

Recently, I had the pleasure of interacting with leaders in the Open Source Hardware field. OSH builder and E-commerce outlet Spark Fun, gadget gurus Bug Labs, industry publication Make Magazine, and AdaFruit. All contributed to a rich discussion on how OSH creates value by lowering barriers to category entry for enthusiasts.

OSH starts with sourcing of widely available and cheap electronic parts, such as microprocessors, and modularizing outputs, like the Arduino chipboard, that can then be widely used to make new products. Consider this fact, microprocessors that were once the centerpiece of high powered computing devices in the late 90s and early 00s are now widely available for pennies. These chips possess enough power to the drive basic computing functions. Combined with clever thinking and engineering, these processors can be put to use in ways that create new value. Like the Lilypad, which is a micro controller designed to be woven into fabrics. As an example, the Lilypad controller could be used to power LED displays on clothing.

Communities don’t want to be used, they want to be fed. – Peter Semmelhack, CEO Bug Labs

Communities of enthusiasts are involved at every turn in OSH, sharing new ideas, applications, and suggestions to manufacturers and other enthusiasts. Spark Fun interacts with their community by asking for feedback and input on new designs and prototypes. “Sounds simple,” says Spark Fun founder Nathan Seidle. Spark Fun provided a recent example where a customer presented and idea on Monday, and by Wednesday, Spark Fun’s designers were busy putting together a prototype. By using lightweight agreements, Spark Fun is able to connect with customers, collaborate, iterate in a matter of weeks. By comparison, mass produced chip development cycles take months and years to play out. Community not only reduces the discovery cost of “finding” new innovations and applications, but also helps bring the most relevant products to market faster.

OSH is a small but fast growing segment of the consumer electronics industry. By leveraging open innovation models, OSH companies are not only faster to market than their big box competitors, but through their communities, keep development costs low while delivering the most relevant products to their customers.

Written by Donald Smith

April 9, 2009 at 2:09 pm

Interview with OptumHealth

leave a comment »

unhOptumHealth, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, provides personalized health management solutions and makes health care more accessible for its consumers. One of Optum’s main communication channels with consumers is via its core websites,  like OptumHealth actively engages users in conversations and provides digital spaces that help them connect with other users, experts, and professionals.

OptumHealth’s interactive team, builds collaborative websites that are flexible, scalable, and versatile. It’s important for consumers to not only have a rich experience on sites  like MyCancerHub, but an easy to use community that facilitates connection during challenging times. Similar to Caring Bridge, MyCancerHub provides multiple resources for those individuals just diagnosed with cancer, living with cancer, and caregivers. The site also provides an “Ask a Nurse” feature which connects users with health professionals. MyCancerHub encourages patients and caregivers to share stories, learn more about their condition, and exchange emotional support with each other.

Optum also provides digital services for professional communities. In one example. a 6,000 member nursing community had a business objective to build a culture of retention. By building a on-line nursing community, Optum was able to improve retention for this nursing community by allowing nurses to make valuable connections with each other, thereby upping sentiment and retention.

OptumHealth’s successes and best practices are now being considered by its parent company for use in other areas of United Health, including possible internal applications behind the firewall.

Written by Donald Smith

March 17, 2009 at 1:42 pm

Posted in Benchmarks

Corporate Guidelines for Social Media

with 13 comments


I have been asked these questions a number of times during my sabbatical tenure.

What is an acceptable or unacceptable post?
What if someone says something bad?
More importantly, what if a customer says something bad about us?

I thought this would be a good time to share some of the insights I’ve gleaned from leading organizations engaged in social media, both within and outside the enterprise.

IBM’er Jenn Okimoto offers up important insights into these issues through her blog commentary.

  1. How detailed should social media guidelines be?
  2. When introducing social media into the workplace, how do we address HR concerns about reduced employee productivity?
  3. How do you guide employees or manage employees in navigating the gray with respect to posting content that is or is not appropriate in the work environment?
  4. What about content that falls squarely in the HR domain? What if employees use social media to publicize HR issues, or to gain “supporters” to their cause?
  5. Do we have IBM or client examples of stats, use cases or any other stories that address these concerns?

HP, published their blogging code of conduct publicly. It’s a simple 9 step code for HP employees to manage their content and tone.

  1. We will strive to have open and honest dialogues with our readers.
  2. We will correct inaccurate or misleading postings in a timely manner. We will not delete posts unless they violate our policies. Most changes will be made by adding to posts and we will mark any additions clearly.
  3. We will disclose conflicts of interest.
  4. Our Standards of Business Conduct will guide what we write about — so there are some topics we won’t comment on such as information about financials, HP intellectual property, trade secrets, management changes, lawsuits, shareholder issues, layoffs, and contractual agreements with alliance partners, customers, and suppliers.
  5. We will provide links to relevant material available on other blogs and Web sites. We will disclose any sources fully through credits, links and trackbacks unless the source has requested anonymity.
  6. We understand that respect goes both ways — we will use good judgment in our posts and respond to you in a respectful manner. In return, we ask the same of you.
  7. We trust you will be mindful of the information you share on our blogs — any personally identifiable information you share on a blog can be seen by anyone with access to the blog.
  8. We will respect intellectual property rights.
  9. We will use good judgment in protecting personal and corporate information and in respecting the privacy of individuals who use our blogs.

Personally, I find HP’s guidelines a good starting point for content management.  I constantly challenge myself to adhere to the following self-imposed guidelines:

  1. Follow HP blog guidelines
  2. Be open and honest
  3. Be mindful of my tone
  4. Ask interviewees for approval upon release of an interview or story
  5. Engage. Be open to feedback
  6. Use first person, conversational language
  7. Keep posts brief, factual, and full of data
  8. Respect all firewalls

This topic requires more thinking and collaboration. If you have questions or ideas, shoot me a comment.

Written by Donald Smith

February 24, 2009 at 5:29 pm

Posted in Benchmarks

Tagged with ,

Social Media: Now on McDonald’s Value Menu.

with 5 comments

mcd1I had a chance today to talk with Joe Curry, Global Web Communications at McDonald’s, about their current social media efforts – Mindshare and Station M.

Mindshare was started at McDonald’s in 2005 as a blog forum, where avid employee bloggers would write on topics of interest. Over time the zeal faded and only a few bloggers remained. Today, Mindshare is a vibrant internal web 2.0 community that allows employees to share  knowledge and best practices. Part Facebook and part discussion boards, Mindshare fills the communication voids created by org silos and barriers.

McDonald’s built Station M exclusively for the restaurants to communicate with each other. Joe told a story of how a particular store manager was able to improve his drive-thru times by engaging with colleagues on Station M.

Platform adoption has not been without its challenges though. Like many other organizations adopting social technologies, McDonald’s learned how to tweak their platform and culture in concert for improved outcomes.

Driving traffic to each site required internal promotional marketing. Joe and his team also made sure to celebrate and promote success stories conceived within the platform. The more people can see and feel the value of participation in social platforms like Station M and Mindshare, the more  interactions take place on the platform. As these interactions grow, McDonald’s will realize even more value returned on their investment.

I hope to re-connect with Joe on-site at McDonald’s later this spring for a deeper download. Until then, I’ll take a #4 meal, with a side of social media please.

Written by Donald Smith

February 11, 2009 at 9:16 pm