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Editor's Note: Andy Seferta is Head of Ecosystem and Analyst Engagement, Digital Technology Services, Fujitsu EMEIA. This post was originally published on May 12, 2019, on the Fujitsu UK Blog.

I recently had the pleasure of attending the INNOVATE Bonn forum hosted by our strategic partner HYPE Innovation. At the conference, I hosted open-innovation-themed customer workshops alongside HYPE's head of open innovation, Dr. Oana-Maria Pop.

The insights from the event showed me that we’re changing the conversation on how to work with partners, so I’ll be noting down the lessons learned on the value I see with working in an ecosystem.

When talking and engaging with various market analysts (for example, TechMarketView describes 2019 as "The Year of the Relationship”), it is increasingly recognised that ecosystems and relationships are cited as being fundamental to organisations adapting and thriving. I’ve written previously about the importance of dynamic and flexible relationships with partners to have an effective ecosystem (see Co-Creation by Nature (PDF) and Co-Creating Through a Collaborative Partnership Ecosystem (PDF)) and will look deeper here at open innovation considerations along with perspectives being key to succeeding.

Satisfying customer needs by developing value together

Technology is forcing the market to change. So, it is no surprise to me that companies are using effective knowledge flowing from various parties to differentiate.

This is open innovation in action, and I’m pleased to be part of it firsthand. 

Open innovation is, of course, nothing new. We can go back to 2003 with Henry Chesbrough defining it as “the use of purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets for external use of innovation, respectively.”

My provocation here is that different perspectives are what really drives success. Leveraging our ecosystem allows us to have different customer conversations, and, through the diversity of thinking and skills, we’re driving new opportunities for our customers.

“Through the diversity of thinking and skills, we’re driving new opportunities for our customers.”

Our deeper ecosystem: a combination between academia and industry

Through our deeper ecosystem working with universities and research institutions, for instance, we are finding that our working relationship with students in academia, in particular, has many mutual benefits. 

The digital skills gap and challenges across the market are increasing, and, given the pace of change in our industry, we need to move quickly. Through working with students in our research projects and co-creation with our customers, we are able to come together in a commercial environment to not only benefit our external stakeholders but also benefit our organisation.

Students, in particular, seem to benefit through learning on the job, with support from Fujitsu colleagues and the organisation at large. In the process of collaboration, students also enhance their digital skills, employability, and research impact. Finally, the project learning feeds back into students' ongoing academic work and supports their future potential.

For example, we have formed an exciting strategic relationship with Nottingham Trent University in the UK. We recently supported a Grand Challenge project where, in just five weeks, 150 students (16 teams) came up with "Smart Campus 2039" innovations, impacting categories such as well-being, workplace, mobility, facilities, social, and international.  

The winning team demonstrated brilliant use of innovation via a tool that helped empower people with accessibility needs to more safely and reliably navigate their environment. Specifically, this tool supported disabilities such as visual impairments through utilising AI and other technologies. It was inspiring and refreshing to see the output of young people’s work. These students are motivated and have been trusted to strive towards a better future for our learning spaces through digital technologies. 

This demonstrates the power of an ecosystem of perspectives. Such an ecosystem helps bring fresh and different thinking to address challenges through innovation, and I’m excited we took this conversation further at the Fujitsu World Tour 2019.  Here is a link to a video from the event

Innovating for new opportunities

Another brilliant example of an ecosystem of perspectives driving an outcome is Fujitsu's BuddyConnect solution. BuddyConnect delivers assistive technology to users suffering specifically from autism as well as wider mental health support and addresses diversity, inclusion, and accessibility needs.  

BuddyConnect is an excellent depiction of a successful ongoing ecosystem collaboration with charity and academia with a real-life impact that is experienced daily by our employees. It is focused on helping employees plan and manage the issues autism may present in the workplace and provides easy access to information that will help them connect and communicate. We are really excited about the opportunity for us, our partners, and our customers to support people in the workplace now, as well as the future roadmap through our academic collaboration.

A final example relates to supporting people returning to work from long-term illnesses. Cancer is a really important issue for us at Fujitsu. As one in two people will experience the disease in our lifetime, most people have been affected by it directly. We had powerful discussions in shaping an application we’re developing with our partners Clic Sargent (cancer charity), Nodes (hackathon app partner), and Nottingham Trent University (research insight), as well as our own Diversity & Inclusion network with personal experiences and colleagues from other organisations bringing their own insights, too. See more details on the hackathon here.

For me, pursuing an ecosystem of perspectives and skills drives value at various levels, not just for the individual but all stakeholders involved. We aim to give our customers the benefit of everything the industry has to offer and to do this we need to start with our people – the most valuable assets. We are now looking at how to support individuals affected by life changing events, dealing with complexities of interacting across government departments and helping them with returning to work – so do look out for more progress in this area in due course.

Continuing the open innovation conversation

Having recently attended HYPE’s annual innovation managers forum, I have also discussed a few additional perspectives on this diverse field with Dr. Oana-Maria Pop. I offer you a summary of this conversation below.

What open innovation means to customers at the HYPE forum

Open innovation is both a belief in as well as an ability to effectively include external knowledge and partners into one’s innovation process. This ability is purposive (strategic), guided (knowledge either enters the firm, leaves the firm, or flows in both directions), recurrent (takes place regularly), institutionalized (formalized through dedicated budgets, special infrastructure, people etc.), and includes stakeholders within as well as outside the firm’s boundaries.

It’s also important to note that open innovation is not the opposite of closed innovation. In fact, the two processes are complementary.

The major difference between the two lies in the attitudes they promote regarding progress and chance. For example, while the supporters of closed innovation typically see collaboration with external parties as cumbersome, unmanageable, and potentially dangerous (IP-wise), open innovation practitioners believe the opposite. As a general principle: companies should establish strong internal programs first and then gradually add external elements to them – e.g., activities with established suppliers, startup challenges, customer co-creation exercises, and even consultation with society at large.

Blockers and successes to open innovation

The biggest blocker to open innovation is often trust – or, better said, a lack of it. Organisations that cannot create an atmosphere of sharing and collaboration and that fail to communicate regularly and transparently with their partners are often setting themselves up for failure. Other blockers include inadequate “process hygiene” (low or no rigor of process), poor planning and/or resource allocation, and a broad range of pre-conceptions and fear regarding, but not limited to, scaling the innovation process once external stakeholders and involved, effective motivation of partners to share ideas, as well as the adequate legal wrapper.

The future of innovation ecosystems

Self-sustaining collaborative arrangements will be more frequent than ever before. While in the past alliances and portfolios have been the preferred forms of inter-firm collaboration, the future belongs to networks and ecosystems. In other words, it belongs to the ever more complex, self-contained, and self-adjusting structures that can help organisations combine each other’s know-how in diverse and even surprising ways to solve complex problems.

Suggested reading: "The Ecosystem of Shared Value" via Harvard Business Review

Before networks and ecosystems can become the norm, companies will need to find more common ground, learn to identify and combine the capabilities of their partners, as well as explore ways of working and reporting on their work.

“Before networks and ecosystems can become the norm, companies will need to find more common ground…”

Even if you get the engagement of people, relationships, and technology right through various perspectives and innovations, without the institution (which we can lose sight of), then it’s questionable whether the willingness and ability to scale business outcomes can actually be achieved. The key is to build long-lasting partnerships by establishing synergies between the parties and various perspectives.

Summing up

So, what have I taken away from being part of an ecosystem where we challenge the different perspectives? We forcefully push the boundaries of what opportunities arise for our customers. And, in this form of co-creation, we deliver success through a powerful diversity of perspectives.

What does the future look like? A diverse ecosystem of partners, skills, and capability to drive innovative thinking. If you want to have different conversations that lift the lid for open innovation, you need to collaborate to draw on the advantages that different perspectives bring.

Further reading on Open Innovation:
A complete guide to Open Innovation

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Andy Seferta

Andy Seferta

Andy is Head of Ecosystem and Analyst Engagement, Digital Technology Services, Fujitsu EMEIA. He has considerable IT and business leadership experience over 20 years – a unique blend of depth and brea