For example, at healthcare giant Aetna, the company’s ability to analyze that data provides it with enormous leverage in developing new products designed to cut the cost and improve the quality of healthcare. The company’s head of innovation, Michael Palmer, cites a striking example: Up to one-quarter of the U.S. population has metabolic syndrome, which, left untreated, is associated with a significantly increased risk of stroke, heart attack, and death. Aetna engaged in a data analysis exercise that determined which of the five component factors of metabolic syndrome had the greatest impact on future health risks and costs. This work led to the development of a predictive model that identifies which individuals are most likely to develop metabolic syndrome in the future, including which specific individual risk factors they are most likely to develop next. This information can now lead to the development of more effective, targeted clinical strategies to mitigate future clinical risks and costs associated with metabolic syndrome. “That helps corporate healthcare plan sponsors decide where their best bang for the buck would be if they’re trying to decide on which program to use to improve the health of their employees,” Palmer explains. “And it encourages employees who have one or more of the factors to be more engaged in trying to reduce the risk.”
Meanwhile, Philips Lighting, a maker of commercial lighting systems for large-scale installations, can outfit (with the customer’s permission) each light fixture in a system with technology that gathers data such as hours used, dimming level, sensor switches, motion detectors, and the like, and sends it back to a central information system. “Eventually,” says Bob Esmeijer, head of Philips Professional Lighting Solutions NA, “we’ll be able to use that information to develop lights that do the work themselves—that can sense the amount of light coming in from outside and how much activity is in the room, and adapt accordingly.”
Crowdsourcing—opening up idea generation to sources inside and outside the company—is another tool with fairly high usage rates (it’s used by 41 percent of respondents). And although respondents had mixed reviews on its effectiveness, anecdotal evidence shows that it has the potential to help companies engage with customers and generate ideas. Salesforce.com, for one, is experimenting with expanding its enterprise social network, Chatter, to the outside world. Says Blau, “Chatter communities enable the sharing of ideas and information inside what is in essence a social network, but outside the company walls. We can launch our own communities around specific industry verticals or product areas and gather product feedback as well as new ideas for what people would like to see in the next release of our products—or really any crazy idea out there that they think might be great for Salesforce to take a look at.”
Catalent has also established a crowdsourcing process—called “Bright Ideas Are Everywhere.” It enables scientists and other innovators across the company, globally, to send in ideas. Evjatar Cohen and his team are always on the lookout, scouting for the “game changer.” “It provides a central location through which everybody can submit an innovation idea,” says Cohen. “I see every one of those ideas personally and my staff is available to jump on them immediately.”
The Tried and the True
The new digital enablers offer exciting opportunities for innovators, but they won’t diminish the importance of the more mature productivity tools that companies have turned to for years. Indeed, many of these tools are must-haves, as indicated by the frequency of their use among our survey respondents. The most common, project management tools, are used by almost 70 percent of companies in the development phase, and are also ranked among the three most effective tools in this phase.