I interviewed Sarah Husk who discussed Structured Innovation Communities for Supply Chains.
It’s great to speak with you again, Sara, and I’m looking forward today to hearing your views on a new topic about structured innovation communities for supply chains. Before we start, can you give a brief background of yourself?
Sure. Currently, I work for a company called Imaginatik, and we are a full-service innovation provider; that means we bring people total solutions that include pieces of technology, maybe pieces of consulting to really achieve business results. I’ve been in the innovation space since about 2003 and really just started that at the Hartford Insurance Company; met up with Imaginatik and have been with Imaginatik since 2006. It’s been a really good and interesting journey for sure.
Thanks. Can you talk about what exactly structured innovation communities for supply chains are and who would be using them or who would form these communities?
Sure, absolutely. When we think about communities in the supply chain specifically, when we think about the communities taking a setback, one of the trends we’re really seeing is, as people become more familiar with things like Facebook and Twitter and all those great programs that are out there, that’s really permeated the workplace, and it’s really started to take hold at work. When we think about the communities within the supply chain, it really goes in two different directions. First of all, we’re being asked by large organizations, “Hey, we need a way to engage with our suppliers and the people in our supply chain around innovation.” We know that we don’t know everything as a large corporation, nor do we want to; we really want to engage people in how they might be able to help us, how we might be able to do things better together, really with a win-win mentality so that it’s good for the supplier, it’s good for the large company.
So, that’s one thing we’re being asked to do. In the other direction, this is also an opportunity, we believe, for any type of supplier to say, “I’ve got these great things to discuss, to offer, to talk about”—maybe it’s new research, maybe it’s new technology you’re coming out with, it could be a wide variety of things—“and I really want to engage those larger companies in the discussion so that maybe we can serve our existing customers better, maybe we find new customers in that fashion.” It really could go in either direction. I guess if some met up, it would really be the supply chain members, their customers. We could start there but there’s really no limit to who could be involved in the conversation. I know you’re working in university education right now. We’ve got people who collaborate with universities and try and get some of the newest, freshest research coming out, so that’s a possibility too.
I know you mentioned a little bit about why, but can you say again about why form these communities?
That’s a great question. I think that what we’ve all seen—not just at Imaginatik but I think it’s just a trend that everybody knows and understands—our customer needs are all changing. It’s so much faster than it was before. Customers can now go out and find what they need in so many places; just doing a quick Google search or those types of things. Even in business. It’s not just the consumer; that behavior’s definitely gone over into B2B behavior as well. The technology advances that are coming are almost mind numbing, I think, for everyone how quickly technology has changed, and everybody is really looking for that competitive advantage.
The benefit to everybody is: As a supplier, you can bring your unique value proposition to those large companies in a faster, quicker, more collaborative way rather than just, “Hey, I have this. What do you think?” It can really be much more of a collaboration. I think that’s why the large companies are really driving that as well, to say, “If we don’t go and ask our supply chain for their newest, best ideas, their freshest thinking, boy, our competitors probably will or are doing that, and we could lose a significant competitive advantage because of that.” We really see it as a win-win for everybody, but I think it’s just, really, the changing environment, the speed at which we’re all working now, the competition across the globe; all those pieces are really, really feeding into this.
Can you talk about how it’s done? The title of this interview, the first word is structure. Is structure important as far as how these communities are implemented?
Yeah, that’s a great question, Dustin, and it really is important. What we’ve really found—and I would imagine at most companies today—people would say, “Wow, we are so good at getting things done, operations. We are focused on cost,” that kind of thing. But when it comes to innovation, collaboration, and some of those human dynamics, it gets a little messier, and it’s a little more iterative and a bit more creative, and I don’t think that everybody has a good structural map for that right now. So, yes, I would say the structure is really important, and that’s really what we try and help people with so that we can understand some key things. First of all, how can I structure this so that it’s beneficial and people will come and it’s engaging and it really leverages the knowledge of my people at my company and the knowledge of the people that are joining the community as well? It really is important to think about how we structure that, and we do it with a series of a few different things.
First of all, what’s important is really to align on, all right, this isn’t just let’s stand up Facebook for Business or that type of thing. It’s really: What are the strategic objectives that you want to get out of this community? Is it we’re collaborating on a specific topic? Is it we are sharing some of our best technology with others? Is it, hey, I’ve got a really tough problem that I sure can’t solve, but I’d really like your help? What is it that we want to get out of this? We always start there and then we try and figure out, okay, if that’s where you want to get to, what are the gaps that exist today? Are we missing a key component? Are we missing a person? Do you have a way to collaborate with people both online and face-to-face? Those types of things; we’re really looking at how we make sure we’ve got everybody included and we’ve got the foundational structure in place to really make this work. With most people, what we’ll do is go ahead and stand this up and we create it and we do a small-scale test and make sure that we’re on target and then we move forward with it.
The it is usually some type of community rhythm, so it could be that we are doing some online collaboration around a specific topic. Like, it could be we’re really thinking about all of the science, technology, engineering, and math students that are not in the universities today. How do we collaborate and bring that knowledge into companies today? It could be that we’re collaborating online on that; it could be that we’re collaborating face-to-face. A thought around face-to-face is, “Hey, I’ve got a great new technology; however, we’re not sure exactly how to use that yet.” Or, “I have a business issue and I can’t seem to solve it and we really need some fresh breakthrough thinking around that.” We start to put together that rhythm. Maybe once a year we get together at a conference or some type of—I know a lot of large companies have supplier day, that type of thing, so maybe we have some type of get-together and we’re really richly collaborating during that time.
And maybe before and after that, we’re teeing up some topics. It could be “Help us resolve these issues. When we get together face-to-face, we’re going to talk more deeply about that and really apply some breakthrough thinking together. And then when we leave, we’ll come back to the virtual space—the online space—and really continue to flush that out and really make those ideas that we had when we were together, really make them real.” It’s really kind of how do we have an ongoing community rhythm so that it’s not just once and done, but it’s always an ongoing conversation.
Do you have any recommendations for businesses in the supply chain that are considering this type of innovation community?
Yeah, definitely. I think that the biggest piece is really step back and think about what you want to accomplish with your online community. I think we’ve seen a lot of—and this should resonate with people—we’ve seen a lot of the Field of Dreams, the “if we build it, they will come.” I think what we know is that that’s not necessarily so, and I think people have seen that in their own organizations where they’re standing up a share point or they’re standing up a yammer or something like that, and everybody says, “This is cool but I’m really not sure how to use it. I’m not sure of the business value,” that type of thing. That’s why we really start there. It’s a good lesson learned by everyone. But, really, start with what we want to accomplish out of that, and we’ll figure out how to get there together. It really is a little bit of a journey to do that.
Thanks, Sara, for sharing your views today on this topic of structured innovation communities for supply chains.
Okay, thank you, Dustin.
About Sara Husk