Innovation Management using Social Media and Analytics
by Chandan Agarwala and Prasad Ramanathan, Ph.D
The technically-educated, English-speaking middle class has helped develop a USD $60 billion "offshore" IT services industry in India. A majority of this work is focused on providing low-end IT services using a global delivery model. Both international IT services players and customers have been setting up operations in India to take advantage of low-cost labor. As the cost-advantage started to erode, Indian offshore IT service players tried to differentiate by developing expertise in business process knowledge, emerging technology skills, and creation of intellectual property-based products. However, the companies have enjoyed limited success, so far.
With this background context, IGATE introduced ‘Research Update’ to help its employees cultivate an attitude for innovation. The goal is to proactively identify business opportunities and collaborate on this knowledge sharing platform. Also, the hope is that employees will acquire additional knowledge relevant to their area of expertise contributed by peers. Meeting this goal can bring additional value to their output.
‘Research Update’ started as an in-house journal. It was intended to be a platform for sharing thought leadership. It carries ideas on emerging business opportunities related to current service lines. It is not meant to be a technical journal inundated with jargons. The conscious effort was to lure the audience engaged in day-to-day programming and project management to think differently by sharing information on exciting business opportunities. In the beginning, it was emailed as a “closed-ended” read-only document (in .pdf format). Initially content was prepared by the editorial team with some help from subject matter experts, but now subject matter experts are the authors.
Later, the editorial team engaged in deep analysis of readership behavior to understand the patterns and choose individuals with higher motivation for cultivating thought leadership. By leveraging Analytics and Collaboration tools, target contributors were identified and encouraged to develop innovative ideas.
COLLABORATION TOOL IMPACT
In early 2007, an internal knowledge sharing platform termed as Knowledge Exchange was developed using Microsoft SharePoint for use by all employees. Research Update adopted this Knowledge Exchange. To begin with the in-house journal was shared on-line as a document. Users had to access Knowledge Exchange to download the monthly journal to access the thought leadership articles published within it. The platform supported collaboration by promoting the writing of blogs, wikis, tweets as a reaction to reading Research Update.
User activity on Knowledge Exchange could be tracked for each item, to know the name of users and time of usage. This data about readership is stored on the server.
The editorial team was able to evaluate the success of each issue, in terms of number of downloads. An average of about 80 to 90 persons from the target group of about 1,500 persons designated at Project Manager and higher (seniors) was recorded. It was not the low turnover that necessitated a turn-around. Rather, it was the ability to measure, that inspired the team to try something different, and inspire greater innovation in the organization.
Informally, the editorial team realized that pressure from existing projects was preventing many from spending time reading the contents of ‘Research Update’. Especially senior people felt the need to groom new joiners and team members with innovative thinking. In this context, the decision was taken to share the ‘Research Update’ with everybody in the organization. Anybody and everybody, regardless of their position and/or role are free to think differently – there cannot be any shackles on innovation. The result -- An average of about 200-250 downloads from the target group of about 12,000 (all employees of iGATE in 2007-08).
INNOVATION MANAGEMENT WORKSHOP
In an internal workshop for ‘Innovation Management’, the editorial team evaluated the Dainik Bhaskar case study which used Research Update as a platform for further spreading the culture of innovation across the organization.
‘Dainik Bhaskar’ demonstrated how it could end up being the number one newspaper on the first day of its publication in different geographies including Chandigarh, Ahmedabad and Mumbai.  It indicated radical innovation is possible by empowering the customers, in this case the readers of Research Update itself. The editorial team decided to interact with the customers of ‘Research Update’ to understand their motivations and inhibitions on utilizing the contents of Research Update.
The target audience had no mandatory obligation to use Research Update. They have been bombarded with multiple in-house publications. ‘Research Update’ should try to differentiate by cultivating a brand, which people associate with innovation. It can be created over a long time, by being consistent in communication, and honest in value creation. To motivate people, the brand should appeal to users’ perception, not by rolling out standardized processes in the name of best practices.
The users of Research Update were in two groups, as follows:
Analytics enabled by tracking features on Collaboration tool has helped to track the impact of changes on readership pattern of ‘Research Update’. The usage pattern analysis is helping to evaluate the success of social system in a scientific manner.
Innovation is not the prerogative of a few persons belonging to the R&D group. Rather, the group has the responsibility to build a platform for co-creation for innovation culture to succeed. Open innovation seeking inputs from all persons in the organization is more likely to have higher success. Sharing the Research Update with all employees in the organization, seeking inputs from readers (especially repeat readers and people who browse multiple articles in a single issue) can enable an organization to achieve higher levels of co-creation.
Making a repository of articles with superior thought leadership is only the beginning of Service Innovation. It is more important to promote collaboration amongst all the stakeholders through a Social Media platform that enables people to contribute blog, write wikis, submit tweets, etc.
For innovation to be practical and relevant, it is important to provide the right context and direction. In the context of the IT Service Innovations, it is important that the key decision-makers contribute innovative ideas in areas of adjacency to their existing service line, thereby creating a critical mass of people who would be interested in taking up activities related to maturing that idea into a new service offering.
When compared with similar efforts at large organizations who have used social media to encourage employees to innovate ‘Research Update’ stands out. In terms of technology it uses collaboration tools, wikis, blogs, twitter, etc. In terms of human involvement, it persuades contributors to structure ideas for improving service delivery in the form of an orderly article. Most similar efforts lag in engaging contributors to deeper levels. Writing an article helps in sifting out casual observations and focuses on worthwhile business ideas. Overall, the social system is showing emergent behavior that is not possible from any individual stakeholder.
 Grzegorz Pietruczuk, “Is Everything We Know About Offshoring Innovation Wrong?,” in Innovation Investment Journal, May 2011
 “How eBay Developed a Cultue of Innovation; A Talk with CEO John Donahoe,” Harvard Business Review, pp.84-89, March 2011.
 Josh Bernoff and Ted Schedler, “Unleash Your Employees on Social Media,” Harvard Business Review, pp.78-85, July-August 2010.
 Porus Munshi, “Dainik Bhaskar: No.1 from Day One,” in Making Breakthrough Innovation Happen: How 11 Indians Pulled Off the Impossible, February 2009, pp. 16–33.
IGATE Corporation has the majority of its operations in India and most of its 30,000 employees are based in Bangalore. It's flagship company is IGATE Global Solutions in Whitefield in Bangalore, India. IGATE was founded by Ashok Trivedi. n 2011, iGATE merged with another Indian IT services firm Patni Computer Systems. "IGATE's Business Outcomes based approach focuses on the realization of tangible and measurable results, unlike traditional models which are driven by work, effort, time and manpower. By pricing our services on results, we exchange fixed costs for a variable cost structure in an attempt to get clients to ‘market minus’ versus ‘cost plus’, while helping clients adjust to the peaks and valleys of their demand.".
About the Authors
Chandan Agarwala and Prasad Ramanathan are members of Research & Innovation IGATE, Mumbai, India. Chandan Agarwala is the Manager of Strategy & Research. Dr. Prasad Ramanathan is leading Emerging Technology CoEs.
Some Questions for Further Analysis and Discussion
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Agarwala, C. and P. Ramanathan, "Innovation Management Using Social Media and Analytics", August 20, 2014 at URL DSSResources.COM.
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