It has often been said that Eskimos have more than 50 words for snow. The reason for this proliferation of snow-related language is simple. It’s what happens when your environment is dominated by something. When snow is all around you, and every aspect of your daily life is affected by it, your vocabulary will adapt to match your context.

But for the rest of us, broadly speaking, those 50+ different variations are grouped together under one generalized word – snow.

I believe something very similar happens where innovation is concerned, especially in relation to how it is talked about within enterprise organizations. Particularly when we talk about open innovation. This approach seeks to get people from across all parts of a business collaborating and working together on new ways of solving problems, refining services, and developing products, as well as working closely with individuals and organizations from outside the business.

The word innovation can often be used as a catch-all term into which a range of activities potentially all fit. A consequence of that is that anyone charged with developing an open innovation strategy for their organization can find it to be an overwhelming task. One look at the range of activities that could theoretically be called innovation can leave you thinking where do I begin?

Innovation is the lifeblood of most businesses, yet many are struggling with under-performing innovation models that aren’t able to support the overall growth aspirations of the organization. At TCS we have built a very strong open innovation programme, which we call the TCS Co-Innovation Network (COIN). We have found there are four key factors that are essential to understanding how to build an open innovation architecture.

Users

Whether you think of them as users, consumers, or just simply customers, there is a huge and probably completely untapped source of knowledge, ideas and suggestions here that ought to be made use of.

A great example of how this is being done is the world-famous Danish company Lego. Far from being just a toy company, Lego has a global community of engaged, enthusiastic customers of all ages. These people have a tremendous affection for the brand and so Lego created an open innovation platform called Lego Ideas. Through that platform, anyone can submit ideas for new products.

Those ideas are voted on by the Lego user community. Any idea that gets more than 10,000 votes will be considered for production. From a ship in a bottle to Doctor Who’s Tardis, from NASA’s Apollo Saturn V rocket to the TV show Big Bang Theory, the roll call of user-generated Lego sets is nothing short of impressive. It’s also a great way to develop new ideas and test market interest at the same time.

Research & Development

The second key pillar when it comes to having a proper open innovation strategy in place is ensuring you tap into academic research and open the door to involving third parties, including independent inventors.

One company that has got this right is Proctor & Gamble. Through its Connect and Develop programme, P&G taps into 1.5 million inventors in academic institutes and research facilities across the globe. And by publishing a list of those areas it is interested in working in, P&G can invite people with relevant expertise to get involved. These areas of interest include packaging technology, digital solutions for business and retail, and personal health products, among others.

Connect and Develop has allowed P&G to increase the productivity of its own in-house research and development by 60% over the last 10 years by tapping into this large pool of inventors. There are several familiar product names in the P&G brand range that have been developed this way, including Tide Pods (capsules filled with laundry detergent) and the Olay Regenerist moisturizer product line.

Employee contributions

Most of us would agree that working in silos can be a bad thing and that great ideas could potentially come from anywhere. Yet a lot of organizations still hold on to internal structures that make it difficult for innovative or entrepreneurial members of staff to make contributions.

I think Facebook is a good example of one company that has made great use of the power of employees’ ideas. A lot of things that we see on the Facebook platform such as the ‘Like’ button came out of employee suggestions. Another was the Pride flag sticker, which was introduced to show support for the LGBT movement. These are all ideas which have come from Facebook employees through crowdsourcing mechanisms.

Start-ups

When you look outside your organization and think innovation, it’s likely your thoughts will turn to start-ups – businesses whose whole reason for being is bound up with the pursuit of new ideas. Banks have been particularly good at working with fintech start-ups, and there are ecosystems in place where the latest digital technology is coming together with long-established trusted finance brands to deliver new services.

Commerzbank has partnered with the start-up IDnow, for example, which provides validated identities. That’s meant Commerzbank can turn around know-your-customer checks 50% faster, which is a huge jump in customer onboarding.

What we’re seeing now is that just about every industry today, be it retail, insurance or manufacturing, has started putting in place clear strategies for working with start-up ecosystems.

TCS & Business 4.0

At TCS, our vision of the next wave of innovation and development in business – which will be  tightly integrated with tech developments – is something we call Business 4.0. One of its key elements is leveraging ecosystems to develop a clear strategy to tap into the abundance of talent that exists outside the organization.

And we have done exactly that ourselves with TCS COIN. It is an amalgamation of different types of entities – start-ups, academia, venture capital funds, employees, the TCS research labs, and most importantly our customers.

From an academic perspective, we have a well-defined four-tier structure, through which we have partnered with around 70 academic establishments worldwide. From a start-up perspective, we have a curated catalogue of about 4,000 start-ups which we source from about 10 locations globally.

From a customer perspective, we offer several ways in which our customers can become part of COIN. One of them is what we call the Innovation Champion Programme where we embed a resource in each of our customer accounts, and that resource brings the power of TCS COIN directly to the accounts’ doorstep.

Maybe there aren’t 50 different words to describe the process of developing new ideas in collaboration with the brightest and best contacts you can find. But there are certainly enough to make innovation one of the richest and most exciting parts of being in business today. And as the pressure to keep up with customer expectations continues to rise, developing a successful open innovation strategy is likely to prove increasingly necessary.