Innovation Center Best Practices
Why a dedicated innovation center can be the optimal setting to generate ideas.
Contributor: Jo Bennett
Fidelity Investments is one of the largest privately owned businesses in the U.S., but if you have the innovator’s DNA, what’s most likely to make you green with envy about the company is its sandbox.
Fidelity Labs has a dedicated innovation center, with its own space, goals and staff, all focused on developing the company’s next big pushes in digital business. This is the incubator from which industry-leading apps, cool visualization technologies and more than 100 U.S. patents have been created.
“A dedicated physical innovation center can focus time, attention and resources on generating impactful new ideas,” said Jackie Fenn, vice president and Gartner Fellow, “and provide a safe place for those ideas to be developed and evaluated apart from the bureaucracy and short-term pressures of mainstream business.” Organizations as diverse as Ford Motor Company, with its Ford Research & Innovation Center, and Westfield Corp., with Westfield Labs, have run with this concept to fuel focused collaboration and creativity.
If you’ve thought about creating an innovation center with its own distinct, physical space, here are some best practices to keep in mind:
Determine high-impact, strategic goals
An innovation center with assigned staff separate from day-to-day operations can be a big investment. Start with a three- to nine-page innovation charter in hand that clarifies sponsorship, and defines roles and success measures.
Most innovation centers focus on high-impact, strategic opportunities, said Ms. Fenn. “Goals such as local and incremental innovation, and driving a culture of innovation more broadly within the rest of the company, are not usually primary goals for an innovation center.”
Goals are typically focused around projects, relationships and the physical space itself. For example, a project goal might be accelerating innovation in mobile to drive revenue and competitive advantage — which is a big focus at both Ford Research & Innovation Center and Westfield Labs. A relationship goal might be creating open innovation relationships with nearby academic institutions or technology partners (Ford, for example, has partnered with home automation company Nest, located nearby in Palo Alto, CA). A physical space goal might be having a demo showcase for branding and marketing.
Select location based on access to talent and ecosystems
If you could locate your innovation center anywhere in the world, where would that be? Some companies opt for global networks of interconnected centers — an approach that offers multicultural perspectives and 24/7 speed.
Tech talent hubs, like California’s Silicon Valley, Toronto, Canada, and London, offer great pools of tech talent — although attracting and retaining talent in these areas can be difficult and expensive. You might want to also consider establishing a joint innovation center on a university campus, where academic expertise and student expertise can help fuel your efforts. A side (though significant) benefit of a dedicated site, said Ms. Fenn: “It’s harder to close when business conditions wane.”
An off-site or stand-alone innovation center might not be financially or culturally feasible for your business. The upside in this situation is that having an innovation center that’s close to the strategic decision makers ensures that higher-ups, investors and customers can stay engaged with the fruits of your labors.
Clarify internal and external relationships
How frequently have you learned about an innovation project only when it’s well into the development stages? When you establish the center of innovation’s goals and charters, and even after it goes live, clarify your center’s relationship with other pockets of innovation that might exist on the business side.
External partnerships might also be a part of your innovation center — say, with universities, as mentioned earlier, investment companies or startups. Once you’ve stepped down that path, advised Ms. Fenn, “You need to pay close attention to intellectual property (IP) issues.”
Gartner clients can read more recommendations and analysis in Seven Best Practices to Create an Innovation Center.
CIOs can learn more at the Gartner CIO & IT Executive Summits taking place June 6-7 in Munich, Germany. Follow news and updates from the events on Twitter at #GartnerCIO.
For more visit Smarter With Gartner website.