Today even the process of innovation itself is being shaped by the powerful winds of change. What’s fuelling these changes? In large part, online open innovation communities. These boundaryless, virtual think tanks are breaking down barriers. They’re enabling forward-looking manufacturers to accelerate innovation by engaging end-users worldwide in designing new products, services and technologies.
In 2009, Bombardier Transportation joined the ranks of open innovation first movers like BMW, Swarovski and Procter & Gamble. It launched YouRail, a web-based innovation contest that invited people to share their ideas for the future of train interiors.
“As the rail industry’s first mover in open innovation, Bombardier stands out by engaging in a creative dialogue with an international community to solve pressing mobility issues faced by its customers and societies worldwide,” remarks Johannes Gebauer, Team Leader of Innovation Contests at HYVE AG, an innovation agency based in Munich, Germany.
“The success of YouRail took us by surprise,” affirms Martin Ertl, Bombardier Transportation’s Chief Innovation Officer. “It not only generated 4,300 entries and 2,500 community members, it also provided serious food for thought in terms of designing next-generation rail vehicle interiors.”
Martin adds: “After YouRail, the question became how do we sustain our momentum and edge over competitors, and take open innovation to the next level?”
YouCity: open innovation 2.0
Bombardier Transportation turned to the bright, young minds in its Global Graduate Program, a fasttrack training program for recent graduates, to design a 2.0 approach to open innovation. These talented employees developed a number of proposals, two of which were merged into a one-of-a-kind open innovation contest called YouCity.
“Swelling urban populations are compounding the mobility challenges faced by cities around the world,” explains Martin. “Finding innovative, sustainable solutions to these challenges is imperative. That’s why we decided to focus our next open innovation initiative on exploring ways to make public transport even more passenger-, operator- and eco-friendly.”
Rethinking travel in and between cities
Launched in March 2012, YouCity invited participants to submit concepts for shaping the future of how we travel in and between cities. Almost 900 engineering, urban planning and business administration students and professionals from 74 countries teamed up to submit 215 entries.
“Given the complexity and sophistication of tasks required by YouCity, the number of entries far surpassed our expectations,” says Martin. “The degree of professionalism, ingenuity and interaction among community members was phenomenal. We witnessed complete strangers on opposite sides of the world joining forces and building on each other’s ideas.”
Martin continues: “The breadth of solutions proposed also impressed us. Some candidates focused on current mobility issues while others were more visionary. Even the science-fiction-like proposals incorporated sound thinking that may play a role in designing better urban traffic solutions down the road.”
Building engagement and reputation
YouCity participants spent hours connecting on the web contest platform and via Facebook, building a strong sense of community. Bombardier experts also actively engaged in the online discussions. Today the positive buzz surrounding Bombardier on social media speaks volumes about the benefits of open innovation communities.
Johannes explains: “With open innovation, companies learn about co-creation with end-users while building an extremely valuable international network. The public perceives their brand as being more open and customer oriented, which translates into a tangible competitive advantage.”
From competition to collaboration; virtual teams to a live innovation camp
YouCity culminated in a unique innovation camp organized by Bombardier at InnoTrans 2012, the world’s largest railway technology trade show. This makes Bombardier the only company in the world to have combined an online open innovation community with live, offline workshops.
YouCity winners and select participants from Indonesia, Pakistan, Canada, Argentina, Mexico and Germany joined Bombardier experts and HYVE industrial designers at the camp in Berlin. Together they fine-tuned and tailored the winning proposals to a specific business case: the urban transportation challenges facing Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
Why do end-users engage in open innovation?
Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators prompt people to participate in innovation communities. The social connection and the fun factor are definite drawing cards, as is the pleasure derived from exploring creative and valuable ideas.
“Community members feel a sense of self-determination and pride because global brand leaders are soliciting their opinion,” states Johannes. “They feel acknowledged and taken seriously. In the case of YouCity, if they win, they get to go to Berlin and rub shoulders with topnotch rail transportation and innovation experts.”
Johannes adds: “A couple of years ago, people would have been excited just to have been invited to join an innovation community. Today they’re more sophisticated and they actually read the terms and conditions to ensure they’re going to be treated in a fair and transparent way, especially in terms of intellecutal property matters.”
Thinking over the edge, around the corner
The interactive YouCity contest signals a shift at Bombardier. Martin explains: “We’re moving away from simply responding to customer inquiries and tenders. We’re going beyond classical rail thinking and projects to think over the edge and around the corner to write a new chapter in public transportation.”
He continues: “Like YouCity, our approach is more holistic as we integrate the environmental, engineering, business and urban planning aspects of interconnected mobility. Solutions such as our wireless power transfer technology enable mobility in a number of sectors, not just rail. By employing out-of-the-box thinking, we also transformed a former fun park application—the monorail—into a serious means of mass transit that meets the needs of current and future megacities. Our high capacity INNOVIA Monorail 300 is the driving force behind a new segment of urban transportation.”
And what about YouCity? Will the contest proposals translate into concrete innovations in urban mobiity?
Martin responds: “We’re currently assessing several concepts for their incubator potential. In the meantime, we’ll use the results of the online contest and the innovation camp informally to initiate discussions around mobility with cities in traditional, emerging and BRIC countries. By exploring the same issues with them that YouCity participants examined, our objective is to help cities gain fresh insight and perspectives as we continue to spur the Evolution of Mobility in urban centres worldwide.”
Benefits of open innovation communities for businesses
By integrating end-users into its design process, a company gains
better insight into consumer needs and desires
access to a vast external source of creativity
an improved ability to identify trends
a new channel for recruiting employees
a deeper end-user connection to its products, services and technologies
the reputation of being a more open and customer-focused organization
YouCity contest details
YouCity entries addressed the challenges faced by one of three cities, each representing a different market for urban mobility:
London, U.K. (mature market)
Belo Horizonte, Brazil (BRIC market – Brazil, Russia, India, China
Vientiane, Laos (emerging market)
Entries also focused principally on one of three workstreams:
Members of YouCity’s online community voted on the concepts and a jury of Bombardier experts selected the winning team in each workstream.
YouCity Innovation Camp yields three new urban mobility proposals
At the end of Bombardier`s YouCity Innovation Camp, three novel urban mobility proposals were unveiled at the InnoTrans trade show on September 20, 2012. They included an idea for revolutionizing passenger flow on trains, a shuttle concept for transporting cars along motorways, and a software solution to enable real-time bus and train journey planner displays.