Over the couple of years I have been working on a very interesting collaborative project for Nesta and Oracle. The project started off as a small prototype based on an idea that was designed to encourage innovation at large corporate companies, and over several stages turned into an IP spin out of Oracle that is now being used as a business development tool.
The initial idea
NESTA and Oracle wanted to design an online collaborative tool to make it easy for participating companies to brainstorm ideas and invite suggestions from their colleagues.
The project started with a group of large companies to pilot the scheme. Arup, BBC, BP, BT, Cancer Research UK, the Department for Transport, Interbrand, Lloyds TSB, NHS, Pfizer, Rolls Royce, Unilever, Virgin Atlantic and Vocalink.
Senior executives from each of these companies met at a kick off dinner to decide on the main themes for the project. They decided to focus on brand, digital identity, networks, and personalised information provision. This formed the structure for the programme. For the next eight weeks the companies used the Open Alchemy platform (which we designed and developed) to innovate and share ideas. They would then between them pick the best ideas which would warrant further development.
How do you get corporations to innovate more?
This is the big question. We spent a lot of time working with stakeholders and innovation experts, Innovaro, to come up with the best workflow and incentives for employees. Getting employees to take time out of their day to post ideas and innovations is not an easy task.
Along with Nesta and Innovaro we decided that the application needed to be:
- Really easy to use (almost no learning curve)
- Different, a funky design that is fun and engaging
- Multiple methods to pull people back to the site; email alerts, daily digests, RSS feeds etc
We had multiple iterations for the prototype, each time the workflow was tested with users to gauge their response. Quick iterations, fast feedback and short sprints were the key to meeting the tight deadline.
This project was more than just technology so we spent a lot of time on the design. In fact overall we probably had an even split in terms of design and programming resources. Innovation is about people; the prototype should support people and their ideas giving them the freedom to innovate.
We developed the first beta version of the prototype in less than six weeks.
At the end of the Open Alchemy project, which spawned some very interesting spin-offs (including WellBe, a points-based wellness programme designed to incentivise the public to adopt healthier behaviour which I am also a part of), what would become of the software now?
It was decided that as the software had proved so useful within Oracle that it should be deployed internally within Oracle and developed further. Over the course of the next year the software was improved, stress-tested and enhanced to meet the needs of a corporate giant. It gained a lot of traction and as such justified extra development.
IP spin out
Since deploying within Oracle the application has trialled internally within: Nesta, BT, NHS and other large corporates. Oracle made the decision to spin the IP of the software out into its own vehicle, which was a bold move. There was a lot of legal work in order to do this, but late last year it became a reality. The Open Alchemy platform will continue to grow and evolve, whilst providing strategic opportunities to the original creators Nesta and Oracle.
This project shows an interesting approach to technology business development. The Open Alchemy platform is not an expensive product but one of the software requirements is that it runs on the Oracle database and middleware stack. This embedded software approach means that every software licence means opportunity for Oracle.