Why technology vendors co-create

The act of collaborative and cooperative ‘co-creation’ is the latest darling of the technology zone.
19 September 2018

Many co-creation initiatives are happening across the technology industry. Source: Shutterstock

Not quite the same as partnership (a practice that is generally agreed to be run at a more operationally tactical level), co-creation is the coming together of different firms to build something new and to innovate inside a space that no single party could construct on its own.

The tech zone sees a large amount of co-creation in relation to the Internet of Things (IoT). A subset of technology that came to be without proper provisioning for some key factors including security and integration, the IoT has needed a lot of on-the-job fixes — hence the need for many hands.

But the IoT is not the only place where technology co-creation flourishes; every aspect of cloud, mobile, data analytics and machine learning driven AI can potentially benefit from this new approach to collaborative innovation.

Many co-creation initiatives across the technology industry have been directed to exist in so-called ‘foundry’ workspaces.

Hipster-styled workspaces

New age foundries are usually quite hipster-styled workspaces with shared hot desks, organic teabags and meticulous recycling systems. Enterprise tech vendors like to fund these offices and often invite smaller (and sometimes larger) firms in to work with them.

This is part of the point of co-creation as opposed to partnership. Co-creation allows incongruent companies of different sizes with different market specialisms to come together in one place.

SAP has built at least five of these workspaces to help promote its SAP.iO Foundry network. Current SAP.iO Foundries are in major startup hubs, including Paris, Berlin, Tel Aviv, New York City and San Francisco.

General Electric (GE) has a similar program and has established its Digital Industrial Foundry locations in San Francisco, Paris and Shanghai.

What customers want

As a formalized element of business, co-creation can help to replace clunky market research surveys that fail to find out what customers might want next.

In practice, the process itself can be designed to put employees directly into the position of the customer to help uncover product or service innovations more candidly.

Prototyping and Proof of Concept (PoC) experiments are central to the work carried out here. The aim is often to find out what does not work as much as uncover what does.

The mantra is: if everything works, then you’re not finding the problems.

According to KL Communications, “In a way, co-creation is like a fun version of jury duty. During a group’s deliberations, everyone gets to share suggestions, study drawings and computer-rendered models, test prototypes and make constructive criticisms.”

Types of co-creation

Some co-creation work will be focused on ground-zero generation of new ideas. Other projects will be focused on refinement, enhancement or tinkering with functionalities to find out what tweaks a firm needs to make to its product roadmap.

Understanding customer interests is one aspect of co-creation. Source: Shutterstock

“Companies engage in co-creation projects because they want to them to foster the discovery of customer interest and value, which they can turn into innovation and competitive advantage,” writes Gaurav Bhalla, in his position as CEO of Knowledge Kinetics, a customer value innovation company.

Bhalla suggests that the process of co-creation starts with setting objectives and proceeds through four additional steps: selection of arenas, engagement with collaborators, choice of project tools and processes and defining contracts with stakeholders.

Identifying real co-creation

Like any business practice, co-creation is open to misuse or even abuse. Thankfully it is rare for any vendor engaging in co-creation to engage in an initiative with the intention of stealing a competitor’s Intellectual Property (IP).

Most initiatives have up-front written agreements to lay down the law and ensure that fair play exists throughout the engagement process on the road to (what is hoped to be) positive innovation.

Co-creation is a natural extension to partnership and collaboration with a little competition thrown in for good measure. In the age of web-based connectivity and connected clouds, it makes a lot of logical sense to think about business in this way.

When we drop the hyphen from co-creation and start calling it cocreation (as a new word in the English language), then you’ll know it’s really ‘a thing’ and that your firm should be doing it.