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Rethinking innovation in the era of big data

Innovation has become increasingly complex as the world has become more interconnected, and new trends are changing how companies develop novel ideas and products, according to open innovation firm Presans.

The Paris-based company uses big data to track talent in five different industries, including agrifood, effectively bridging the divide between the corporate world and top-level expertise, wherever in the world it might be found. Presans itself has used digital tools to create a pool of six million science and technology experts, and its founder and CEO, Albert Meige, says companies in all industries must embrace digitisation to innovate effectively.

“Digitisation is both the source of disruptions shaking the companies of the old world and the solution that will allow them to transform and adapt,” he said.

In practice, this means adjusting to underlying trends in society, rather than simply reacting to emerging companies that have developed their own, often highly successful, digitised business models.

These trends include digitisation itself, but industry faces other major new challenges, too. For instance, specialist knowledge has become more fragmented, moving away from major companies and universities, and new products, services and technologies have become rapidly commoditised as consumer expectations have shifted.

Data-driven solutions

Open innovation – and open organisations – are needed to ensure companies can keep up, according to Meige. Among their defining characteristics, open organisations have access to expertise on demand, are user-centric, functional and data-driven.

“Taking a strategic decision without using data is becoming much less accepted or legitimate,” he said. “Data analytics is becoming a necessary method for taking decisions and especially convincing others that it is the right one. Of course there is no guarantee that this data will provide the solution. But a well-advised use of available data allows one to limit risks."

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Presans describes knowledge as “the fuel of innovation”, hence its focus on using data analytics to find the most relevant expertise to solve companies’ innovation dilemmas.

“Most experts leave digital traces on the web through scientific publications or international conferences,” Meige said. “We have tools to map experts at a global level.”

Cross-industry approach

This wide net approach has allowed him to identify some of the biggest problems companies face in their innovation models. He said a relatively new trend is that companies’ big strategic questions have started to become more systemic, and often relate to other industries as well.

“If you want to see your research and development roadmap related to the future of food, it’s at the convergence of big data, pharma, automization of the kitchen and so on,” he said. “If you are a big player you need to understand how the whole ecosystem is developing to be able to develop and optimise your brick.”

In response, the company organises calls for expertise to engage experts to crack a particular problem or to bring together know-how on a specific topic.

“Today we have more and more projects where we have not only several experts but also several industrial partners at the same time – so it is open innovation squared,” he said.

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