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sts.components.contact.mr.placeholder Sebastian Webel
Mr. Sebastian Webel

Editor-in-Chief

Tel: +49 (89) 636-32221

Fax: +49 89 636-35292

Werner-von-Siemens-Straße 1
80333 Munich

Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation
 

Innovations

Open Innovation: Fertile Ground for Innovations

Siemens’ independent unit for start-ups, next47, is an example of the open innovation process. The unit works closely with start-ups such as Plethora, a company based in the U.S. that develops software designed to transform digital models into physical parts.

Hoarding knowledge decreases a company’s competitiveness. Companies are therefore turning to open innovation processes that holistically incorporate both their own internal knowledge and external expertise. As they do so, they are expanding their own innovation potential. Siemens laid the groundwork for fast, open, and collaborative knowledge transfer years ago.

As data flows ever more quickly between research and development, innovation cycles are becoming shorter. In this context, an unhindered exchange of information regarding trends and new technologies is becoming ever more important. Many companies have therefore turned to open innovation (OI) as a means of bringing together knowledge from different departments – and even from outside the organization. Open innovation is an established method at Siemens. Online knowledge exchange platforms link the company’s research and development community worldwide.

One example of this kind of networking is the online communities known as crowds, which often include several thousand experts. Here, employees can discuss problems, identify the best ideas, and develop them to market maturity.

Limitless Exchange of Ideas

Siemens promotes such approaches to open innovation in a targeted way – for example, with its in-house open idea competition called Quickstarter. This competition has been conducted twice, with €500,000 being invested each time. Quickstarter’s special feature is that decisions concerning which projects to fund are not made by management, but by the employees themselves. Employees who have a good idea have four weeks to present it on an online platform. In many cases, these presentations generate interesting professional discussions between colleagues from different business units. At the end of the competition, investors – employees who have registered for this purpose – can distribute the central budget. The projects that receive the funding they need through this method are implemented.

Quickstarter, Siemens’ in-house ideas competition, is an example of how the company promotes open innovation approaches in a targeted way. The competition was recently held for the second time.

From Ideas to Reality

Quickstarter’s two competitions generated 78 ideas. Investors were so impressed by 26 of these project ideas that they voted to provide them with full funding, and 15 other projects have been enabled to continue until they reach clearly defined project milestones. “The range of proposed projects is extremely varied,” says Dr. Christian Homma, Quickstarter’s initiator and project leader. “The focus is on core issues of digitization, such as a generic driver platform for Industry 4.0 and new approaches to IT security.” But more offbeat ideas have also found supporters. One of them is the “Offshore Algae Farming” project, which is examining how the targeted cultivation of algae near wind farms on the high seas can help to stabilize power networks. Quickstarter rounds will be held at regular intervals in the future.

Knowledge is the only thing that increases when you share it.

The Siemens Innovation Fund

Another example of Siemens’ active implementation of the open innovation approach is the Siemens Innovation Fund. Through this fund, the company is supporting innovative employee ideas in Germany with €10 million during the current business year. Every Siemens employee is called on to submit an innovative idea as well as concrete recommendations for its implementation. The key proviso is that it should be possible to implement these ideas within three years.

Ideas that deserve funding do not necessarily have to be aimed at the development of new technologies. They can also aim to establish new business models and services or strengthen customer loyalty in sales. The competition’s organizers are also specifically looking for innovations that lie outside the Siemens divisions’ current fields of activity. A panel made up of decision-makers and experts will decide which submissions will actually be implemented.

San Francisco-based Plethora requires only three days to produce physical components based on digital models. Previously, engineers often had to wait for weeks before CAD models could be translated into their real-world counterparts.

Research Partnerships

There are numerous examples that illustrate how Siemens utilizes the benefits of open innovation outside the company. For example, Corporate Technology (CT) has been working closely for years with top universities and research institutes around the world. And that’s not all: The establishment of next47, an independent unit within the company, is meant to increase support for disruptive ideas and drive new technologies forward faster. Siemens is consolidating its involvement with start-ups by means of next47.

Siemens is also constantly on the lookout for new developments. In view of this, CT established an internal Trends (2014) and Technology (2012) Scouting Department. Siemens is using this department to help internal research groups find the right external technology partners for their work and to identify relevant trends and apply them to their activities.

All of these examples represent new ways of generating ideas. At the same time, however, they demand cultural change – away from a “my knowledge – your knowledge” mindset, and toward a culture that recognizes that making use of employees’ tremendous potential is to everyone’s advantage.

Julia Hesse