Monday, January 22, 2007

Air Products, Part 2: Air Products cont., Alerts and Conversations

In addition to having structures and people in place for encouraging internal innovation, Air Products also scans the environment to inform employees about developments in the industry, in markets and throughout the world. Kerri Freidl highlighted the process by which external ideas are brought into the organization. Air Products has an excellent system that uses many of the principles and goals of information science and business research. Automated tools (e.g., data retrieval systems, text mining, etc) scan several external databases (from the structured such as patent filings, to the unstructured such as blogs) for ideas and innovations. Managers have profiles and personalized alerts about key developments are sent to them individually. On average, 1000 sources are searched and over 4000 alerts are sent out per year.

Managers can then choose alerts that that are of interest, and commission background reports – backgrounders. About 50-100 backgrounders are created each year. The Technology Partnerships Group generates backgrounders by digging deeper on alerts of interest to provide a more comprehensive picture of the idea. If the idea is still appealing, the Technology Partnerships Group can generate a more detailed report – analyses. Twenty to twenty-five analyses are created each year, and these are used to facilitate structured discussion around ideas and decision making.

All these structures to encourage thoughtfulness and innovation also require opportunities for discussion, debate and cross-fertilization of ideas. Pushpinder Puri discussed the various mechanisms by which ideas get shared at Air Products. For example, a mentoring system helps incoming employees get acquainted with the innovation process. The various technical groups hold weekly symposiums and discussions where ideas are shared. In addition, there are several internal, organization-wide, conferences where ideas are put through a peer review process and chosen for discussion and presentation.

Air Products has a slogan: "Tell me more – the heart of a meaningful conversation." The organization shows this slogan demonstrates day-to-day activities.

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