Yesterday I was the co-chair of a Royal Society of Chemistry conference on open innovation. The concept of open innovation is that companies outsource some of their research and development activities to other organisations. There have been many very positive success stories, notably Proctor and Gamble. It was clear from the discussions that this is a very attractive R&D model, though not without some downsides.

One of the challenges to me seems to be the way in which mainly small companies are share information with often very large multinational companies, especially in the initial stages of the innovation process. The R&D team need to be able to set up shared project spaces with companies who could be anywhere in the world (and China would be a good example) and then IT come along with serious concerns about letting people in through the corporate firewall and into the SharePoint collaboration system. However one delegate spoke of the ease with which Johnson & Johnson, one of the world’s leading healthcare companies, are able to set up cloud-based services to support open innovation.

It occurred to me that here is a good business case for the development of a fully collaborative (i.e. with external partners) information and knowledge platform and digital workplace to support the R&D efforts of a company. I think perhaps we overlook R&D requirements because they may seem to be a niche user of an intranet and often have their own bespoke platforms. In the chemical and pharmaceutical sectors the use of electronic lab notebooks (ELN) is of particular importance. However with increasing adoption of open innovation perhaps more attention should be paid by intranet, collaboration and social media managers to understanding the information requirements of R&D pathways in their organisations.

Martin White