BPM Helps Grace Chemical Innovate

 
 
By Michael Caton  |  Posted 2004-11-08 Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Imaginatik's Idea Central software streamlines innovation at W.R. Grace's Performance Chemicals division.

The Grace Performance Chemicals division of specialty chemical and materials company W.R. Grace & Co. needed to organize and review ideas to drive company growth outside normal product reviews. To that end, the company instituted idea generation campaigns using Imaginatik Ltd.s Idea Central software.

The division started using Idea Central two years ago. Since then, the division, based in Cambridge, Mass., has used the software to host 25 campaigns involving one-third of the companys employees to generate 2,500 ideas, according to Paul Westgate, director of innovation and the divisions director of marketing. Of those 2,500 ideas, the company has acted on 131, with 76 resulting in new products and 55 resulting in new processes, Westgate said.

W.R. Grace has experience using business processes in idea management. For example, the company employs Six Sigma Advantage Inc.s Six Sigma for quarterly reviews. But before adopting Idea Central, it didnt have a formal system for managing ideas.

Idea Central is available as a hosted service or via perpetual license. Perpetual licenses start at $20,000; a license for multiple instances with unlimited events is priced at $58,000.

Investing in idea management and adopting the software presented a cultural challenge. Westgate said he knew the company needed more than just software to help manage the flow of ideas. It also had to invest in the process the company calls "flash ideation." To that end, the company uses the software in conjunction with in-person and videoconference-based meetings to bring people together for brief gatherings and quickly generate ideas. Review teams then use the software to evaluate and refine ideas and prioritize implementation in the following week.

At these meetings, users log on via a Web browser to the Grace Idea Garden, the Web-based portal that organizes the companys campaigns. To stress the importance of the software to the companys goal, participants have a link to the Grace Idea Garden on their desktops. Furthermore, the company uses Idea Centrals award points system to encourage employees to participate.

A two-person team helps facilitate the process and manage the Idea Garden. This includes managing user access to 13 instances (the number of idea generation events the company can host simultaneously). Each instance serves a single area of the business. Grace runs Idea Central on a single server running IBMs Lotus Domino.

According to Westgate, Graces designated staff spends much more time reviewing ideas than putting them into the system, which enables the best ideas to be captured and understood. "The alpha risk is not getting good ideas, but the beta risk is getting a good idea but not fully understanding it," he said.

Understanding a good idea is one area where the software hasnt necessarily solved all the problems of idea management. For example, during one campaign, an idea was submitted that didnt make the cut, Westgate said. But during a later campaign, the same idea was submitted with a customer proof point and then was adopted.

The aim is to screen ideas quickly, as events can generate many ideas that need to be qualified and consolidated. Westgate said campaigns can generate more good ideas than can be acted on, so the company must pick the best ideas using criteria that users can input, such as market opportunity. The software lets ideas that dont get immediate action be saved for later implementation.

Westgate said he believes the return on investment might be bigger than can be calculated. Graces opportunity cycle times can be one to three years, and in the two years the company has used Idea Central, some ideas have come to fruition, particularly since 55 of the ideas have been the kind that the company could implement quickly to improve efficiency or save money.

Technical Analyst Michael Caton can be reached at michael_caton@ziffdavis.com.

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