Hereafter is a short interview I completed with Dan Taylor, from Market Gravity, for his book on Innovation in Large Corporates, “which aims to help corporate entrepreneurs with practical advice and examples of overcoming the barriers out there”.
Dan: In you experience of overcoming innovation barriers, could you identify those small moments on any innovation programme or project that fundamentally change the outcome (either for better or worse!) and provide examples and anecdotes to bring it to life?
Nicolas: I’d like to develop about the benefits of ‘modular design‘, and the way that APIs facilitate Open Innovation in our digital industry.
The magic touch of digital for Open Innovation
Often we look forward for co-creation and cooperation with external partners in an Open Innovation approach. Orange has thus developed a comprehensive range of Open Innovation actions at international scale: Orange Fab (a network start-ups accelerator), Orange Partner (API exposure), Orange 4 Development (incubators network), Imagine with Orange (innovation crowdsourcing, and launchpad for entrepreneurs).
Various obstacles to OI can occur: one has to cross borders such as cultural gaps, a lack of trust, building a shared vision, mobilizing dedicated resources for co-innovation, tweeking vertical organization for transversal cooperation, and developing knowledge sharing and networking…
Partners often have their own priorities and roadmaps. Open Innovation means alignment which is not always natural. It requires a lot of flexibility.
However, in the digital world we can rely on APIs to let partners work together more effectively. Morover digital has become paramount, a common layer for innovation, and it is all the more true with the Internet of Things, linking every object and turning many domain into a Smart domain: Smart Phones, Smart Homes, Smart Cars, Smart Retail, Smart Cities.
Three years ago we built a social buzz platform that could feed our TV service on every screen (TV, PC, tablet, and phone) with social conversations filtered from Twitter (Social TV). Because of the API structure, various Orange applications were able to use simply the platform, and capture the buzz not only around TV shows but on sports events or video games.
We were able to connect quickly and simultaneously with several partners and other business units at Orange through the API. It’s far easier and more flexible as it has explicit knowledge on the shelf (knowledge circulation is an issue in open innovation), and functionality in the instructions. Because of this clarity and simplicity, it was easy to attract partners, build a community of users, and drive growth of the platform. API also enables to decouple innovation work streams: we were working on the API evolutions, while API customers were creating value on top of it, without interfering. API automatically creates parameters that side-line many of the normal issues associated with working with partners on Open Innovation. I was happy to repeat this successful experience initiating an API Toolbox for African mobile entrepreneurs, presenting a whole range of Orange APIs.
Coming back to innovation roots
The key is that innovation is fun. If it’s not fun for you, then don’t engage. It’s hard so if not fun, it’s even more difficult to succeed.
Firstly is the domain of bespoke creation, shaping the new product identity, capturing the meaning for the user, focusing on the key attributes which will create an awesome customer experience, and raising a personal belief.
Then you need to rely on the right team with a common vision of what you’re trying to achieve. An expert team is key to the fun, with specialists in fields of coding or UI or marketing or pricing, all working collaboratively together, being able to communicate with each other, aligned like a Rugby team, streamlining knowledge circulation.
Customer engagement is the last mile of the journey, building a relationship, shaping a return loop to iterate and improve your design, and turning customer from a passive user to an active co-designer.
Open Innovation improving business distribution
Every innovation project I design, I include APIs. If I can, I design the product on top of an API so it becomes just one example of how to use the API.
Then others can build other products around it, which can make a win-win for business: we give you the tools and you create.
Each service created on top of your API distribute your business to untapped markets: one stone, multiple birds.
Apart from making the idea bigger, it enables entrepreneurs to build services and the end customer can pay for the service revenue can be shared with the developer. The good thing is that no up-front cost is required, and we’ve both made money.
The role of the designer or innovation manager is then to create platforms and toolkit that will help others to design: I’m not selling you a service, I’m selling you the ability to build your own.
Often we build APIs with limited capacity that are available for free to entrepreneurs. When large corporates want something more scalable, with higher service level, or more features, then we charge a flat fee for the API.
Developers’ feedbacks help us build the API and make it strong and corps are paying for these improvement. It’s about developing the ecosystem in a virtuous circle for every participant.