An Interview with Denise Powell

We interview Denise Powell, Open Innovation Manager at IQE


How do you think open innovation has developed in the last 5 years?

Open innovation has definitely become much more widespread in the last 5 years, not only across industries, but also across supply chains. It has moved away from being an intriguing concept to becoming increasingly integrated in business development strategies. There has definitely also been a large growth in the number of OI software providers and sector-specific OI support organisations and agencies. Perhaps the most striking development in OI has been the explosion in innovative ways of using crowdsourcing.

On the other hand, open innovation has become the latest buzz term and with that comes a risk of dilution. I have come across organisations claiming they do open innovation, but don’t understand the shared risk, shared reward concept and become very worried that other companies want to steal their IP!

What challenges did you face in starting an OI programme from scratch at IQE?

The first real challenge was to pick the right approach and tools for IQE. There are numerous OI methodologies, strategies and software available to pick from, but not all of these are right for every organisation. Our key enabling materials and technologies feed into various downstream applications, including Wireless, Solar, Photonics, Power and Computing. As IQE doesn’t take end products to market, some of the OI tools are less applicable to our position in the supply chain.

We needed a first-time-right approach and worked with 100%Open, a well-established OI agency, to put together a programme specific to IQE. The OI programme, OpenIQE, was launched in February 2014 and allowed us to have some influence on downstream applications; an influence we normally would not have.

Once the programme began to take shape, the next challenge was to ensure that incoming ideas were aligned with internal activities and this can be tricky when internal resources are already fully deployed.

Do you think that open innovation lends itself to the high tech industries better than others?

It may perhaps be easier to engage in open innovation in high tech industries due to the nature of the supply chains; modules and technologies can be integrated relatively easily into new products, but also, significant resources would be required to be able to create all the modules and components in-house. Perhaps the outcomes of open innovation are more tangible in high tech industries, but the concepts and processes are certainly equally applicable to other sectors.

However, even today, there is still a fine line between OI and contract manufacturing in the high tech industry; with some organisations exploiting the term open innovation to find the hottest component they can plug in immediately, but are not wanting to share any risks of innovation.

What advice would you give to somebody who is implementing an OI strategy?

Be ready internally! Everyone tells you this when you first begin to develop an OI programme, but you only truly appreciate the meaning and importance of internal readiness once you go through a steep learning curve! At the same time, you need to go through a learning curve to know what processes are needed to allow a smooth flow of external ideas and technologies into the business. Organisations are made up of people, processes and influenced by cultures, so methods for internal readiness are not always transferrable from one company to the other.

How would you define success in an open innovation programme?

The success factors can be different depending on a company’s position in the supply chain, but ultimately, the common denominators here are probably linked to money and people. If your business has become more profitable through open innovation strategies and your internal culture has changed to allow for better external engagement and easier adoption of new ideas and technologies, then you’re probably heading in the right direction


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