Like many other strategic initiatives, Supplier-Enabled Innovation (SEI) demands several processes and inputs to be implemented, and for them to work together towards a common goal. Given the speed being demanded and complexity of information being used, IT systems are an essential part of the SEI formula. Information needs to be collected, managed, processed and shared in ways that enable the flow of ideas and solutions between stakeholders.
The use of IT is a key enabler, but can differ widely from company to company and is very much dependent on the infrastructure already in place, the legacy of that infrastructure and the appetite of procurement to drive change in a potentially complex area. While some organisations will look to align their SEI information systems approach with the wider business, others prefer to use ad-hoc solutions in the interests of expedience and/or flexibility.
The Information Systems module of the methodology is designed to help companies develop a technology strategy for their SEI approach. There are a number of different approaches, and they will depend on many factors, including, but not restricted to, investment appetite, current infrastructure and relationships with IT. At one end of the scale, some organisations are choosing to build and rollout bespoke, cloud-software solutions that have been developed in house (or, at least, for the specific purpose).
At the other, many organisations are using spreadsheets and Sharepoint. In between, are those companies taking a more pragmatic approach, with some using Saleforce.com or other such CRM solutions to help track and log collaborations.
There are also some boutique third-party software providers that are beginning to tap into this market, bringing collaboration and tracking tools specifically to help companies manage the work being done with suppliers.
Level 1: Functional Competence / Opportunistic Innovation
Information System solutions have been developed using standard programmes, such as Excel, Word and Outlook to enable the transfer of ideas between stakeholders.
Level 2: Business Cooperation / Systemic Innovation
SEI is delivered across the organisation using standard business platforms that may have been modified or adapted to accommodate the unique characteristics of the work.
Level 3: Partner Collaboration / Interactive Innovation
Standardised platforms have been developed, with access granted to specific partner suppliers so that information can be securely shared between organisations and platforms.
Level 4: Network Coherence / Embedded Innovation
Information systems are used to both facilitate and be a source of input for SEI. Structures exist to scan for and identify sources of innovation that can be leveraged by organisations within the supply network.
IT systems are an important enabler of SEI, but organisations should not feel compelled to make significant investments from an early stage. A huge amount of value can be gained from using current systems in new ways, or using standard packages to connect disparate, collaborating stakeholders.
However, for those organisations looking to mature quickly and to embed SEI for the long term, IT is a crucial component. Systems that manage the inflow of ideas, successfully link relevant individuals and departments, and provide visibility of projects and their status can play a significant role in the systemisation of SEI.