We launched Innoventures with the belief that Softtek employees possessed solutions to some of the most critical enterprise software challenges. Unfortunately, we were wrong.
Softtek, Mexico’s largest IT-services company with 10,000 employees, formally launched an innovation platform in the summer of 2013.
Blanca Treviño, CEO of Softtek, introduced the new initiative through a widely advertised WebEx that invited the Softtek community but drew an audience of about 200. Her talk, titled FIRE, was inspiring and invited every Softtek associate to participate in building a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Blanca understood that innovation would be a key component to addressing Softtek’s strategic goals. Softtek hoped to strengthen the concept of nearshore, Softtek’s core advantage, enticing American companies to choose Mexico instead of ‘offshoring’ services beyond the oceans. Also, software solutions jeopardized the IT-services industry as never before.
In response, Softtek geared up for a full throttled innovation effort to transform itself from a services organization to a solutions organization, integrating software and services.
I am the co-founder of Innoventures, Softtek’s innovation platform. Following Blanca’s electrifying talk, I expected applications to roll in speedily. I expected ideas that would excite me and inspirit an entrepreneurial community. Instead, I remember logging on to my computer every ten minutes for days and finding a slew of displaced, muddled ideas that could neither be funneled nor progressed within the Softtek framework. I remember my disappointment well.
Our mistake was that we did not have a strategy. Innovation, too, needs strategy.
Energizing a non-traditional innovation center to develop a culture of entrepreneurship does not come with a standard formula. Those who were being asked to innovate, Softtek associates and employees, had never done so before. They had not, in fact, spent countless hours considering their own business solutions. A generic, “innovate-and-you-shall-be-rewarded” mandate doesn’t quite work.
The fundamental problem lay in finding common grounds to innovate upon – one that utilized Softtek skillsets and strategically aligned with Softtek’s growth. A new innovation center like ours was in a rush to produce new initiatives; and, in the hurry to find success, we missed a critical step in defining our parameters for innovation. It’s imperative to take this step at the early stages.
At Softtek, more than thirty years since its inception, senior management spoke through the Innoventures platform to create a cacophony of interests and expectations. While there was a general commitment towards innovation, there was wide divergence and variation in terms of expectations of the program.
We identified a group of 20 individuals who had a strong understanding of both Softtek’s inherent market challenges and the company’s espoused strategies.
Over the next seven weeks I got to know our thought leaders really well – really, really well! I spoke with them at least once a week. The group, as a whole or in parts, joined me for conference calls every ten days. I sent out bi-weekly surveys that usually set the agenda for our brainstorming sessions. We discussed strategies freely and without criticism. We exchanged ideas, challenges, and reservations. Over time, we developed a relationship that was committed to defining our innovation parameters and purpose.
To do this well, the process is key.
First, I needed to be transparent. Second, I needed an organized process of regulating scrambled, convoluted data to find meaning and value. Third, I needed to be genuine, impartial, and concerned about each individual idea and opinion.
Managing expectations across high-powered individuals in a fair and honest manner is often the basis for finding wide commitment for innovation.
By the end of the seven weeks there was a natural harmony to focus on market-driven solutions. By early 2014 we were able to define key challenges in three areas of focus – enterprise mobile apps, technologies for CMOs, and productizing existing services.
We re-introduced Innoventures and our areas of focus with much needed fanfare. This time around, we received over a 100 ideas that just ‘made sense.’ Although the fanfare surely helped, strategy was key.
Yes, and this time around, too, I kept going back to my computer every ten minutes to find something new and exciting.
It’s important to understand that we only needed ideas that we could advance within Softtek. Everything else just did not matter.
Answering the question, ‘why we innovate?’ is so, so critical. Finding strategy is like finding the equation of a line that represents a scatter graph. Finding that equation that describes the perfect symmetry of scattered strategies ultimately produced ideas that matter.
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