As innovators, we sometimes feel like we are living in two separate worlds simultaneously.

There's so much happening at a high pace outside of our organization – we need to stay on top of developments to play the desired role in those ecosystems.

Internally, things seem to move less fast, yet you can't afford to miss being part of the right conversations with the right stakeholders, not in the least to keep getting the necessary support and resources.

How to find balance and orchestrate what's happening outside and inside your organization?

At our recent Innov8rs Connect on Startup Collaboration & Ecosystem Engagement, we learned how Eric Action (Head of Innovation Ecosystems at R2 Data Labs - Rolls Royce), Veronica Ogeto-Tchoketch (Head of Strategic Partnerships and Ventures at Safaricom), Simon Maechling (Innovation Manager at Bayer Crop Science) and Lilac Ilan (AVP, Innovation and Partner Ecosystem at AT&T) tackle this challenge.

Why Partnerships?

Bayer, Safaricom, Rolls-Royce, and AT&T are leading companies in different industries. But Simon, Veronica, Eric, and Lilac share the same opinion: no business exists in isolation – most promising ideas exist outside the company. That’s the main reason why to engage in partnerships.

Rolls-Royce and R2 Data Labs: partnering to unlock new opportunities

R2 Data Labs is the data innovation catalyst for Rolls-Royce. Applying advanced data analytics, industrial Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning, the Labs accelerates the development of new data insights, services, and apps. And the Labs’ working model is made exponentially more powerful by the collaborative approach adopted by the company.

When Rolls-Royce recognized that some of the best digital capabilities exist outside of their business, they created their own ecosystem to work with innovative startups, educational institutions, industrial partners, public sector bodies and customers, and build on one another’s technological expertise.

Working with this community, the corporation can engage with new data streams, ideas, and techniques to accelerate data innovation and develop the needed expertise to solve industry challenges and meet the demands.

Safaricom: partnering to solve new rising customer problems

Safaricom is a mobile telecommunications company based out of Nairobi and committed to transforming lives. Their products and services, including voice, SMS, data, and payments solutions, play a central role in the daily lives of more than 29 million customers.

The company continuously seeks to extend the innovative approach to problem-solving and meeting the needs of customers and society at large. As the head of strategic partnerships and corporate ventures, Veronica acts as a catalyst to link strategic partners with Safaricom to fuel both telco and non-telco innovations that solve customer problems at speed.

Furthermore, through the Safaricom Spark Fund, the company invests in promising startups to bring external innovation in.

Bayer Crop Science: partnering to create positive change

Bayer’s leaders have realized that turning today’s impossibilities into tomorrow’s breakthroughs requires strong collaboration with scientists, innovators, regulators, and other stakeholders. And this requires open, transparent dialogue that builds trust with consumers.

The Crop Science division at Bayer is committed to improving lives through a better food system for farmers, consumers, and the planet. It's the conductor of the innovation ecosystem and interacts with different groups of experts within Bayer's ecosystem, finds out which technologies are missing, searches for those technologies, and conducts how they interact with each other to drive maximum value for the whole organization.

AT&T: partnering to accelerate the adoption of new technologies and create unique expertise

Lilac begins by assessing that partnering for purpose is key. She explains that for AT&T, partnering and engaging within the ecosystem is about igniting innovation within and outside the company in order to accelerate the adoption of new technologies and develop new conductivity expertise to ultimately connect the world.

How To Make The Orchestration Work?

It’s the innovators’ role to act as matchmakers and create connections between internal business and the ecosystem partners (or potential ecosystem partners).

It all starts from understanding the problem you're trying to solve internally and having the right conversations outside. It follows that communication is crucial to help orchestration between internal and external ecosystems work. Yet it’s not enough.

Lilac shares some practices to take into consideration when building an ecosystem:

  • Know your market: as an innovator, you need to know where you add value and who are the key players in your marketplace.
  • Build trust over time: don't hold on to your ideas when it comes to partnerships. Instead, build a personal relationship with your partners. One you start with a personal relationship, the ideas start to flow. And when the ideas flow, that's when you know that it works.
  • Partner outside of the box: don't stay in your lane. An illustrative story is the 5G Smart City created by AT&T together with a real estate developer – definitely an unexpected partnership.
  • Define the purpose, outcome, the process of the partnership: don’t be strict, but be clear about what you're doing and what you want to achieve.
    Communicate with your partners throughout the process: communication can't be a one-shot activity.

How To Measure The Orchestration?

Is there a way to measure and ensure that the orchestration between the two ecosystems is actually working? In exploring this question, different opinions emerged.

Traditional KPIs are (probably) outdated

Simon is a big fan of KPIs. “We need to have targets and goals to run and clearly know what we want to achieve in a given period of time before we start”, he says.

Lilac addresses Simon’s idea of using traditional KPIs in the innovation context. “Only a third of all Fortune 1000 companies have KPIs and formal metrics to measure their innovation output”, she points out.

Today's competitive environment is totally and radically different from the industrial environment where traditional KPIs like “growth” and “revenue” were created. Thinking about innovation and measuring it in a different way is paramount.

Innovation is not only about bringing new ideas. It’s also about defining new ways to measure yourself against the traditional metrics – e.g., the percent of new products that you get to market (versus your existing product lines). Last but not least, it’s essential to give relevance to the market feedback and pivot accordingly.

Influencing the mindset and the culture of the legacy business: a new KPI

Eric thinks that some KPIs and vanity metrics – e.g., the number of companies in the ecosystem – are sadly unavoidable, especially within large organizations.

However, other metrics are certainly more crucial to measure and more difficult to frame. An example is the impact or the influence innovators may have on the mindset and culture of the legacy organization, which usually is very inward-looking.

Every time innovators manage to make the legacy organization accept building a new solution to complex problems with other partners, it's a sign that the orchestration is going well. And that’s a new kind of KPI to take into account.

Avoiding Double Development And Silo Mentality

How to leverage the synergies between the people from the external and internal ecosystems in order to avoid either double development or silo mentality and ensure sharing of resources? The panelists have different yet somehow aligned opinions.

Understand your company’s strategy and goals first

Prior to going outside and looking for partners, as an innovator you should have an in-depth understanding of both your company goals and what the different teams across the organization are working on, warns Veronica.

Once you know that, clearly identify the critical gaps your company can't fulfill and only then engage externally to identify best-in-class partners that can successfully address those critical gaps. That way, you can be sure you're not trying to address the same gap internally.

Foster communication between partiess

Silos and duplication may occur either way. The most effective way to minimize the resulting negative effects is to foster communication between parts and encourage sharing information about who is doing what.

"It's all about systematically going through the organization and making silos talk, share success stories, and not necessarily expect anything directly in return".

Simon agrees and states that to avoid double work and break down silos, the first step is to create transparency around the performed tasks. In this regard, Bayer (and Bayer Crop Science accordingly) uses a platform that enables the company to make all the information about innovation projects, as well as all of the interactions that they're having with third parties, available to anybody from the organization.

“This helps people understand what we're doing. It helps break down silos and avoid the double work”.

With the platform, Bayer has facilitated cross-regional and cross-functional fertilization on partnerships. The company has also noticed a significant increase in operational excellence amongst the innovation and technology scouting teams.

As all teams are enabled to share information and evaluate opportunities on the platform, this resulted in a significant reduction of emails, calls, and meetings, hence boosting efficiency, productivity and motivation by creating a common ground and a shared goal across the organization.

In summary.

From unlocking new opportunities to solving new customer problems and creating new skills, partnering with external entities serves multiple purposes. Yet balancing what happens internally and externally is crucial and challenging.

To make this orchestration work, define the partnership's purpose, outcome, and process – be clear about what you want to achieve and what you’re doing to get to that goal. Communication with partners throughout the process is key, plus it greatly helps to minimize duplications and silo mentality. Eventually, to measure the success of ecosystem orchestration, consider new metrics like the percentage of budget invested in new products – traditional KPIs and vanity metrics no longer capture the nuance of innovation outputs.