Aiming at reaping the benefits of open innovation, a growing number of organizations utilizes innovation intermediaries as external facilitators. However, the effectiveness of such intermediaries, especially in outbound open innovation, such as leveraging existing technologies in new market opportunities, remains unclear. We aim to investigate if and how externally conducted technological competence leveraging (TCL) projects provide value to the focal organization. Based on interviews with key personnel and analysis of reports from such projects conducted in the course of several research consortia at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, we find that the projects were successful in identifying new application fields. Further, the externally conducted projects also contributed to the development of TCL-related project capabilities within the focal organization. This research also identifies a number of barriers to short- and long-term success such as lack of a company-internal perspective and project owners without management responsibilities.
Open innovation is a relatively new and nowadays widely recognized approach to innovation management. It denotes the idea to use “…purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets for external use of innovation, respectively” (West, Vanhaverbeke & Chesbrough, 2006). The potential merits of open innovation have been studied quite extensively: One the one hand, open innovation activities may contribute to generating new or increasing existing revenue streams. This can be achieved in different ways, e.g., by externally commercializing internal knowledge (Arora, Fosfuri & Gambardella, 2001; Deck, 2008) and/or sourcing external knowledge to utilize it in the development of products that are radically new (Franke, Von Hippel & Schreier, 2006; Lilien, Morrison, Searls, Sonnack & Von Hippel, 2002) or particularly well in line with the users’ preferences (Franke, Keinz & Steger, 2009). On the other hand, open innovation might help to cut down time and money spent during R&D processes, e.g., by leveraging the creative potential and workforce of external actors (Brabham, 2008; Newton et al., 2010) and/or reducing the number of trial-and-error loops with users necessary to test new product ideas (von Hippel, 2005; Von Hippel & Katz, 2002).
Limitations and further research
As any empirical research, this case study suffers from some specific, methodological limitations. Our research investigated a broad and important phenomenon, however, in the very narrow context of large-scale research organizations. Thus, some of the insights are very specific and might not be easily generalized. For example, Pattern 8 (project owners without management responsibility) might not occur quite frequently outside of the research domain. In many companies, TCL projects will be very likely staffed with business developers that usually do have managerial responsibilities. Further, the identification and acquisition of potential collaborators might be much more of a problem to large research organizations than companies. Future research might want to look into whether or not the patterns identified in this case study hold true for other contexts as well.