#UKGC13 – Notes on Session re Big and Small Companies Innovating Together

At UK Gov Camp 13 I pitched the idea of a session about “How Big and Small Companies could Innovate Effectively together”; about 20 people  came along and whilst I think it’s fair to say that we did little other than scratch the surface of the subject I undertook to record key points that did come up.  That is the purpose of this blog.  I’ve tried to put a structure on it which mirrors but doesn’t necessarily follow precisely the chronological flow of the discussion. If any errors in the below are brought to my attention I will happily make changes.

Good examples

There was discussion of the “Partner Ecosystem” and “Partner World” at IBM and Microsoft.  For Microsoft the challenge is which of the 37,000 partners to use for a particular problem .  For IBM a key innovative role of small companies is using and innovating on their platforms to develop new products for a wider range of client segments than IBM can itself specialise in.

FutureGov are working with Google on Interactivism projects (see eg http://wearefuturegov.com/tag/google/).

What’s In it for the Small Organisations?

Access to frameworks that the Big Company is on but which the small company isn’t, access to resources more generally.  Access to the bigger brand.

For very small organisations (eg sole traders) a small organisation can be a useful bridge to work with a big organisation.

Practical Considerations

For a small organisation finding the right people to talk to about heir innovation can be very difficult.  Even where there is someone who is nominated (or willing) to act as an entry point there can still be many (costly) meetings after this.  The concept of “Meet the SME events” was suggested.

It also seemed clear that there is value in finding some relatively small items where the big and small organisation could work together to establish trust.  Although there is also a concern about whether the small organisations gets used for relatively simple things in that context: do they really get the opportunity to showcase their leading-edge skills.

Working Styles

An interesting contribution stated that there was an analogy with “anywhere working” ie when managing people who are working remotely it’s important to manage them based on outputs rather than detailed specification of precisely how and when they work – it’s similarly important to do this as a big organisation when working with a small organisation in order that the creative style of the small organisation is unimpeded.

Clarity came through many times as important, clarity of expectations, and clarity about which party is taking and managing which risks.

Innovation Together?

In the context of the session we mostly spoke about Big and Small Companies working together, and accessing each others innovation.  We didn’t actually get any discussion on the desired topic of “co-innovation”, but I think that reflects that this is a higher state which we’re not really close to yet?

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Fraser says:

    Hello, John.

    Enjoyed your session @ ukgc13. I think we also need to expand on the definition. There are some very small local authorities (e.g. districts) and some very large ones (Birmingham!). Likewise, local authorities are shrinking and there are some very small SMEs (micro industries).

    Even so, compared to global corporations such as IBM, local authorities are small fry. So, it’s all relative. My point being that it’s the net difference in size as a factor of innovation capacity which is hard to handle.


    1. jonathanflowers says:

      I think there’s a really interesting generic discussion about how big and small entities innovate together and an even more generic discussion about how they work together at all. Anecdotal evidence from the world of local authority shared servcies suggests that councils who are similar size are happier working together than ones of different sizes.

      Right now I am trying to think much more specifically about how companies that are large and small can innovate together. There are some pretty clear models about how large organisations can access and deploy small companies’ innovation, and some examples of small companies using large companies innovation to innovate further on top of this. I’m looking for examples where large and small can “co-innovate” because I think that’ll be really exciting.

      Mostly though I recognise that really good innovation is often developed in contexts that don’t support scaling and replication, and I think that’s a terrible waste!


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