Friday, February 16, 2007

Managing Risks for Rewards: The Case of Outsourcing Innovation - New Proposal Submited

Organizations face a daunting challenge in managing the risks associated with the outsourcing of innovation. Most organizations have realized that they cannot reach business goals by conducting all activities internally. Cooperating with business partners and leveraging the know-how found in an organization's midst is a salient determinant of competitive successes. Many organizations struggle to increase the intensity and success of partnerships.

When organizations outsourced only manufacturing, business partners simply assembled raw materials. Business partnerships then moved to simple knowledge work, as was the case when the outsourcing of software development and IS maintenance efforts became popular in the mid-1980s. Today, leading organizations rely on their business partners for innovation and process goals. The outsourcing of innovation involves engaging with business partners in ways that are significantly binding and have strategic implications.

In all the above cases, we notice several interesting things – (1) in innovation-based outsourcing programs both parties are engaged in developing novel products and services, (2) the chances of the two parties successfully meeting their objectives is very low as the project space is undefined and new, with a greater chance of failure, (3) these alliances are premised on the fact that both parties will gain, and if they gain will share the rents and royalties, and (4) the knowledge sharing and intellectual property issues within (and around) these alliances is emerging and sometimes indeterminate.

This research project aims to examine the issues surrounding the management of innovation outsourcing programs. In particular, we seek answers to the following questions:

1. How do organizations make decisions to engage in the outsourcing of innovation? To this end, we will seek to evaluate the various methods that are used by organizations to identify critical areas, capabilities, and spaces for outsourcing. Research into the goals and objectives of outsourcing for innovation can inform executives about potentials for alignment of goals and objectives with outsourcing partners.

2. How do organizations choose business partners for the outsourcing of innovation? This type of partnership is different from finding a business partner for traditional outsourcing efforts, e.g. the sourcing of manufacturing or well-defined knowledge work. Outsourcing of innovation requires finding business partners who have specialized knowledge in a given arena, and business partners who can work in concert with an organization to come up with new products and services.
Being able to manage risks becomes critical here. A traditional, established organization might seem to be less risky, but the value of such an engagement may not be high. Larger firms may be predisposed towards economies of scale, and may not be interested in tailoring efforts to meet the specifics of the organization. On the other hand, an upcoming firm might be riskier, but the rewards might be higher.

3. How do organizations manage issues surrounding the governance of innovation? Issues here include the development of robust knowledge sharing programs that capture all of the information needed to implement and refine innovations that emerge from outside the organization. Furthermore, what are the procedures in place to secure intellectual property during these outsourcing transactions? Finally, what are the models used to share rewards, costs and incentives with business partners?

4. How do organizations manage their portfolio of relationships? Most organizations have multiple relationships and the management of these can be quite tricky. How do organizations develop models to manage these relationships? Some organizations have created an Office of Alliance Management (e.g. Eli Lilly), while others decentralize the management of relationships to functional groups.

5. How do organizations manage the risks associated with outsourcing of innovation? While the outsourcing of innovation has many benefits, it has an equal amount of risks. For instance, what happens if an organization realizes that the business partner has not lived up to expectations? How are issues surrounding new product development managed? What about the case where a business partner acts with guile and compromises the organization’s intellectual assets?

6. What are the critical success factors and drivers behind successful management of outsourcing programs? Are any of the five issues discussed above crucial to all outsourcing for innovation programs? What differences exist in successful outsourcing for innovation, and can we explain those differences based on the data? The ability to scale innovation projects and to sustain long-term business advantages through this kind of innovation requires an understanding of management processes for outsourcing for innovation.


Mohan said...

Yes Prof,
This was the topic of my recent Cutter IT Journal paper where I also illustrate a case study on ‘IT Innovation’ by establishing a Globalized Center of Excellence (CoE).

Kevin C. Desouza said...

Excellent. I look forward to reading your paper.