A couple weeks ago, Inova Software hosted a seminar on Partnering for Innovation, providing an opportunity for over 80 professionals from a range of industries including consumer goods, energy, high tech and life sciences, amongst others, to learn best practices from experts at Sanofi Pasteur, Boehringer Ingelheim, Purdue, Thomson Reuters and EBD Group. In this blog post, we’re going to recap some of the insights shared by the speakers regarding technology scouting, sustainable innovation, partnering and how they intertwine. Read on to learn more.

Managing Innovation Better

Innovation was, of course, a recurrent theme throughout the day and one excellent definition we heard was that innovation is about implementing things that are really successful, not necessarily about finding lots of new ideas. After all, the real winner isn’t the inventor who created the product, but rather the innovator who was able to harvest value from it. But, what are some ways that organizations can improve their innovation process? One way, is opening the process to external sources. By opening the innovation process, organizations multiply their access to the right people – indeed not all the smart people in the world work at your company. Yet, companies must also be careful about what information they share, because although open innovation must be linked to strategic goals, too much information will reveal strategic plans.

Another mechanism for improving the innovation was Inova’s Enrichment Technology, which came up in the presentations by Ling Lissolo of Sanofi Pasteur and Dr. Alexander Jung of Boehringer Ingelheim as boosting the innovation process by helping users to make links they wouldn’t have on their own and to “find things your eyes cannot see”. By uncovering new links between technologies, projects and ideas, this technology facilitates serendipity for innovators, providing the connections crucial for innovation and enabling innovators to be “lucky” more often.

Speaking of things you can’t see, multiple speakers mentioned that “you don’t know what you don’t know” and determining this is an important part of the innovation process. For example, in order for Purdue to break out of the opiates market, they had to figure out what they did and did not know as well as who their customers are now and who they will be in the future. Figuring this out gave them an idea of where they wanted to take the company and what they needed to learn in order to do it.

Ultimately, successful innovation isn’t all about effective idea management, it requires that companies balance their ideation and technology portfolio management to optimize the process. The best strategy is to reward people for having the best solution, not the best idea.

Executing Technology Scouting Prudently

Finding the best solution often involves deploying a robust, intelligent technology scouting program. This is especially true because, as we heard during the seminar, the trend towards outsourcing is stronger than ever. As a result of decreasing product lifecycles and rapidly evolving markets, there is no longer time to develop all of the necessary technology in-house. Rather, organizations must find someone that has already started developing the technology and negotiate a deal. At Sanofi Pasteur, it was determined that a technology portfolio was important to the sustainability of the company and, as a result, an initiative to lead in technology innovation was created and a technology scouting program was developed.

Yet, technology scouting comes with some cautions. Brian Meltzer M.D. explained that at Purdue, one strategy towards improved technology scouting and innovation was to engage the entire company as scout, but only to a certain extent and with some restrictions. As was widely agreed during the panel discussion, there needs to be some accountability with scouting. Simple crowdsourcing with a “like” function runs a serious risk of promoting ideas without properly vetting them first. There is definitely still a need for scientific and technological expertise in the scouting process.

Another pitfall of technology scouting, as several presenters argued, occurs when organization develops a technology, but then is not able to implement it or harvest value from the investment, causing a significant waste of time and resources. To avoid this, organizations must coordinate their innovation process from beginning to end, including players from across all departments. Sanofi Pasteur, for instance, has pushed their R&D and manufacturing teams to collaborate closely in determining what technology is needed and what will work.

Partnering profitably

The last step of successful technology scouting and open innovation management is effectively managing partnerships and alliances. During the panel discussion, it was once again noted that partnering is essential because there is no time to develop all technologies from scratch. Further, partnering helps to broaden horizons and break into new markets. As we heard from Dr. Philip Ledger at EBD Group, with 50-60% of the pharma pipeline coming from in-licensing and with competition increasing for these licensing opportunities, it’s vital that companies manage their partnering opportunities effectively.

In perhaps the most interesting segment, the speakers shared their opinions on how to make partnerships work. Arguably, one of the most important steps is laying a strong framework for a successful, profitable relationship. This requires developing trust between partners and treating each deal as a one-to-one relationship that needs cooperation and teamwork. Mark Gordon from Thomson Reuters suggested that one way to accomplish this is to include an alliance manager in negotiations before deals are concluded, this way a relationship is already established and maintaining open communication after deal conclusion is more straightforward. For pharma, partnering meetings, as an important source of licensing opportunities (46% of opportunities come from partnering meetings, 25% of which were meetings the pharma company proactively sought and 19% of which were reactive to a request by a biotech company) were also a recommended solution.

Another important tactic for successful relationships was choosing partners appropriately. Jung argued that in pharma partnerships, doing well or doing poorly depends on your partner choice, you should not choose someone with the same capabilities. Rather, companies should look for partners that can complement and enhance their capabilities. Finally, Meltzer suggested that one of the best practices is to be sure you and your partner have the same goals and agree on what success and failure looks like before the project gets started. Partnerships are, fundamentally, relationships – you have to focus on making the relationship right in order for it to thrive.

Summing it all up

Throughout the seminar, the speakers offered honest insight into the pros and cons of open innovation, technology scouting and partnering, giving the audience a chance to learn from their experiences. One of the most important lessons of the day was that open innovation is a continuous process that requires constant monitoring, learning and modifying. With the right tools and the right attitude, however, organizations stand to gain a lot, as our panel of experts demonstrated.