05/08/2011

By Modwenna Rees-Mogg, AngelNews

Having interviewed P&G about Open Innovation, it seemed like a good idea to find another global brand business which is keen on the concept, but which is earlier on in its journey. We were fortunate therefore to come across Ian Mitchell at a recent 100% Open networking event. Ian and his team have just started working with Roland Harwood at 100% Open to develop Fujitsu’s Open Innovation strategy, having become convinced of the advantages it will bring in the future.

“We realised that everyone working in our main stream business was rightly motivated to grow what we already have, but that means we should not distract them with trying to do things differently.” Ian told me during our interview.

76-year-old Fujitsu has always been an innovative organisation, but it has recognised the world is changing quickly and many of the really high potential products and services are emerging not from its own R&D labs, but from its customers, the wider staff base at Fujitsu and especially from innovative young companies.

“We have been introducing the Open Innovation concept quite gently” Ian told me. “We see it as the perfect way to start a conversation between people who have a mutual interest in finding a solution. Thanks to social media we can do this quite easily using a range of social networks to bring customers and innovations from within and outside Fujistu, to identify and then work out ways to solve problems. The conversation might start with one of our customers bringing something to the attention of their Fujitsu relationship manager. It may be a bug in the system or a request for the system to do something more than it can currently achieve."

“We put the challenge into the community and members can start proffering solutions. The great thing about this route is that it is very market led. And we know it works because group members return time and time again when new challenges are presented to them. We had a great example of this recently. One of our supermarket customers wanted to find us a solution to stacking shelves more quickly as one of 80% of their salary cost was paying shelf stackers. Historically all the effort would have gone into finding better ways to stack shelves, but we found out by having a discussion with our Open Innovation Community that the real problem was the shelf stackers kept being distracted by customers asking them how to find products elsewhere in the supermarket and the stacker then taking them off to the right location for the Marmite or whatever. That’s a different problem entirely and if we had tried to find a technological solution without knowing it, we would have come up with totally the wrong answer.”

Having trialled this social media route successfully, Fujitsu is now keen to engage people from outside its known ecosystem. “We want to engage with everyone from academic research institutions to entrepreneurs. These people will have the answers we need, I am convinced” Ian told me “and I can promise them that they will enjoy our community because the challenges are interesting and worth solving.”

Fujitsu also wants to use the Open Innovation route to help other businesses succeed. It is particularly keen to share its own IP, such as its encryption technology, with young businesses who need such tools to differentiate their own products and services.

One of the big challenges is defining a challenge or a problem. “We have come to the view that it is not up to one person or organisation to define a challenge. The best outcomes come from someone identifying a problem and then letting the community interpret it. That way you get the most innovative solutions. And it’s often not the obvious person who comes up with the answer, so the more people we can get involved, the more likely it will be that a really novel, ground breaking solution will emerge.”

Fujitsu is also keen to bring investors whether venture capitalists or business angels into these innovation conversations. “I look forward to a time, in perhaps 12 months, when we start to see a three-way model where innovative young companies, Fujistu and investors will be working together to fund and develop solutions for our customers and for others. The finance side of the triangle is important because investors bring another perspective to the commercial impact of solving a challenge. At the end of the day, if investors do not believe a product or service to be investible, we have to ask ourselves why, and see if there is a more financially exciting solution that would attract them. If we can achieve that we will fundamentally change the Open Innovation ecosystem for the better.”

Fujitsu has not yet opened up its Open Innovation activities to the glare of the public. You reach them through a form on this page: www-s.fujitsu.com “We have decided, for now, to make it very simple to say hello and then we can bring you into the fold” Ian told me. “Once in, I am sure you will want to come back again and again, if you are anything like the people already involved. We particularly want visionary software people especially entrepreneurs and investors to get in touch as we are seeing a lot of needs that I am sure they can solve. We are heavily involved in tech infrastructure in many sectors and particularly in government related stuff. Lots of the challenges are about creating solutions that will flex and adapt automatically in environments where there are regular changes in government regulation, so if you know of anyone who knows something about that area, we definitely want to engage with them.”

Ian sings the praises of the team at 100% Open www.100open.com. “They are really helping us to understand how to extract the financial value from an Open Innovation model.”

"Being Open is great in theory, but if you are going to take it seriously, you need to understand how the money is going to flow. If we failed to consider that, we would be doing a disservice to our shareholders and our colleagues in the main divisions of Fujistu who, between them, finance our Innovation activities.”

Fujitsu may not, yet, be shouting from the rooftops about their Open Innovation approach, but I suspect that its rather quiet, but thoughtful approach so far will mean that sold foundations are being built. And from these foundations, no doubt, great things will come. Here at AngelNews we will follow their progress with great interest.

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