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What are the essential digital tools for innovation?

Updated: Jun 5, 2022

Erik Schumb: I would suggest the following digital tools for innovation – organized in four types, each accelerating the innovation process in a particular way:

1. Business Intelligence tools

This includes analytical systems that provide an overview of the idea management process at the organization level e.g., via dashboards and special reports that present the progress of the innovation activities and insights that help functions such as budget allocation.

2. Enterprise Agile Planning tools

This includes systems that support the execution and management of digital programs and projects e.g., Jira or other cloud-based services.

Digital creative workspaces and rooms can make innovation processes more effective and agile. - Erik Schumb

3. Digital creative workspaces and rooms

These are primarily communication and collaboration platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Miro, Mural, HowSpace, etc. They are especially useful by supporting both asynchronous and synchronous innovation activities in a central, virtual, collaboration space. They support remote, visual collaboration and they have become even more important since COVID19 made in-person innovation spaces obsolete.

Such platforms connect remote and hybrid teams and can make innovation processes even more effective and agile. These types of tools span in their functionality between pure online conferencing tools, visual whiteboards, and virtual mid-/long-term rooms to host and document a whole innovation project.

4. Functionally focused digital tools.

In this category, I enlist tools to communicate (like Slack or WhatsApp), tools to enrich workshop settings with additional functionality like polls (e.g.,, tools to prototype solutions (like video, storytelling, simulations, wireframes, mock-ups, 3D modeling, etc.), virtual visual whiteboards to collaborate and creatively ideate. Also, I would include tools that help to distribute work and make workflows transparent, e.g., electronic Kanban-Boards (like Trello), cloud-based document repositories (e.g., OneDrive, SharePoint, File Exchange)

The criteria for selecting digital tools for innovation

Selecting the right tools for your business needs is not always straightforward. I would recommend to first specify the exact digital requirements of your innovation initiatives and then prioritize these requirements as ´must have´ digital functionality down to ´nice to have.’ Then I would suggest the following key criteria that can help the process of selecting the right digital innovation tools:

  1. Effectiveness and efficiency How does the digital tool help us get the expected outcome – e.g., faster and cheaper? For example, today´s virtual settings are very powerful, inclusive, and easy to adopt. At the same time, they minimize costs and efforts associated with meeting planning and business traveling. If facilitated well, communication and collaboration on virtual platforms can be at least as effective as in-person settings - whilst being unbeatable with respect to efficiency.

  2. Impact on mindset and collaboration patterns Here I would ask questions like Does a digital tool support the innovation mindset or could it be counterproductive? For example, digital Kanban-Boards are most flexible in helping re-prioritize to-do lists in line with shifting client requirements and provide transparency to all participants of an innovation project. They are very much appreciated to organize and execute innovation projects.

  3. Instant availability vs. upgrade vs. make or buy Well, digitally supported innovation is complex enough. To lower the barrier, it is recommended to first check with the IT department which tools are readily available. Other digital functionality might be available as an upgrade of the existing digital infrastructure. For example, Microsoft Teams is already powerful in its basic installation. Through the Microsoft Appstore, MS Teams can be easily expanded in its functionality (e.g. Mural is available as a more powerful visual whiteboard than MS Teams´ proprietary whiteboard). It can be easier to convince your IT department to upgrade an existing system than to implement something completely new. For reasons like data protection and security quite often the IT policies of an organization do not easily accept tools that just promise higher effectiveness and are fancier. Either an innovation team will invest some efforts to convince the IT department, or it will start bypassing the official policies and build a shadow IT which might introduce a certain level of risk on the initiative.

  4. Likeliness for end-user adoption People more easily accept and apply tools that they have used before. However, in innovation teams, there are typically early adopters who like to try new gadgets. The team must consider the benefits of these new ‘gadgets’ or ‘tools’, versus the cost of adoption – both in terms of taking it through IT compliance process and in terms of adoption from the broader team.

  5. Redundancy Before introducing yet another digital tool, it is essential to ask if there are digital solutions readily available that serve the same purpose? For example, there are so many tools for instant messaging like WhatsApp, Slack, MS Teams, and many teams use more than one tool just to do that: chat! This lowers effectiveness and efficiency and eventually confuses people.

There is also a very special capability that is essential for innovation: knowledge management. My recommendation here is to first think about the elements of knowledge & insights to keep along with the purpose they serve and the intended audience/stakeholders. In all cases, you have to keep it lean – only keep knowledge on a highly condensed level, keep the nitty-gritty and avoid the details. Then chose a simple technology under common use to organize this knowledge and ensure that other people and teams can access and benefit from it.

GK: What technologies would you recommend for managing the knowledge and insights produced through a streamlined innovation process in a corporate environment?

Erik Schumb: My recommendation would be to first think about which knowledge & insights to keep for which purpose and for whom. Keep it lean! Only keep knowledge on a highly condensed level, keep the nitty-gritty & avoid the boring details. Then chose the easiest and simple technology under the common use in the corporation or even externally (if the material is not confidential) to make sure other people and teams can access and benefit from it.

The table below shows types of knowledge to keep, how & for whom:

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