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Innovationsplattform Case Ericsson lång version

Introduction to IdeaBoxes

Ericsson started to implement a system for collaborative idea management called IdeaBoxes in 2008. It was decided to develop a solution internally, integrated with the ongoing collaboration initiative using the same IT platform.

The system is open to all employees within Ericsson globally and participation has grown gradually “bottom up”, through viral marketing. It is up to each innovation manager to decide if they want to use the tool to help them gather and manage ideas relevant for their innovation efforts.

Since the launch of IdeaBoxes, there has been a broad adoption throughout the organization across all business units, market regions and group functions, and in all areas including R&D, sales and marketing, internal processes etc.

The use of the tool has been promoted by several focused idea generation campaigns, hosted by different internal units but open for all employees. In mid-2011, IdeaBoxes had grown to be the de facto idea management tool across Ericsson, replacing several local tools.

The system had about 15000 ideas, 30000 comments and about 300 “idea boxes”, each reflecting a specific innovation need.

Context and innovation strategy

Ericsson has a long history of technology and business innovation in communications, leading the industry in areas such as digital switching, mobile systems and managed services. Going forward, innovation must be accelerated to meet increased competition and broadened to put a greater emphasis on areas such as services and business model innovation.

In the overall strategy, market and insight driven innovation - typically in close cooperation with users, customers and partners - is complementing the traditionally strong internal research and technology led innovation.

The strategic emphasis on innovation is supported by the overall Ericsson mission statement: Innovating to Empower People, Business and Society, the long term business strategy and clear internal messages from the senior team that all employees are expected to contribute to the innovation efforts.

The innovation strategy includes widening the front-end to source ideas broadly internally and externally, establishing a network of connected innovation funnels at different levels across the organization, including a corporate incubator addressing business opportunities beyond “business as usual” at Group level, as well as defined strategic growth areas, relevant performance indicators and an extended innovation toolbox.

Considerations and challenges

Given this context, there were several reasons why collaborative idea management was considered at an early stage. First, many of the traditional suggestion box initiatives had failed because of overload and lack of ownership and personal motivation.

Second, several local idea management systems where emerging creating a situation potentially preventing collaboration, synergies and transparency.

Finally, the ambition to involve the entire organization in the innovation effort required a more unified approach to idea management.

In short, Ericsson was facing the challenges of handling ideas from all, potentially nearly 90000, employees, handling many different innovation needs e.g. securing that ideas are evaluated and implemented at the right level and unit in the organization, driving a culture of collaboration and innovation across the company, motivating and recognizing employees to participate and contribute as well as ensuring cross-pollination and using the ”wisdom of the crowd” to maximize the value of ideas.

Designing a pull based system

In the requirement phase of the implementation of IdeaBoxes, it was decided that the tool should build upon and leverage the ongoing internal collaboration effort. Key design principles were openness, collaboration, sharing, learning and key features to be implemented were ratings, comments, feedback, recognition and reputation building.

The core design issue however was how to create a self-organizing and user friendly system addressing the inherent complexity of an Ericsson-wide idea management system.

With many users and a large number of ideas, complexity is increasing. Also, in large organizations such as Ericsson, there are many and diverse innovation needs distributed across the organization as mentioned above. This means that it is necessary to design a structured approach to channeling ideas from multiple sources to multiple destinations in the organization.

It was realized that it would not be feasible to administrate and guide all ideas through one central point in the system and it would be equally difficult to build a pre-defined structure of where specific innovation needs are located within the hierarchy.

Since the idea management tool should be implemented in an organization with a number of innovation initiatives already up and running, using different approaches and practices, it was also concluded that a system could not be implemented top-down as a mandatory tool.

Implementation had to depend on the proposition that the system would add value to the practice of each local innovation manager. Thus, one design requirement to reduce the barrier to start using the system was that it should add value to a local unit and behave like a local system from day one.

A compelling solution was to build a scalable and self-organizing system where innovation needs can be activated as they are identified and that ideas are automatically matched towards the existing innovation needs at any given time.

In this way, collaborative idea management is implemented like a pull based internal idea marketplace – an open network for the exchange of ideas built around a host of defined innovation needs – without any central control or steering.

For this to work, the role of innovation manager was introduced in the system. An innovation manager typically is responsible for, and “owns”, one or more (1) innovation needs (scope) in the organization and have a (2) process and dedicated (3) resources to take ideas to reality within the defined scope. Any person in the organization that fulfills these requirements can become an innovation manager from the perspective of the system.

Each innovation need is described in a dedicated “suggestion box” in the system and each box can have one or more innovation managers responsible for evaluating and selecting the best ideas for action.

In this way, the demand-side of the idea market will emerge from the aggregation of numerous idea boxes reflecting real innovation needs across the organization.

On the supply-side of the market, employees in their role as users in the system, get a clear overview of current innovation needs and can post ideas in one or more boxes, manually or automatically using keyword matching.

Boxes are added and removed continuously by the innovation managers as innovation needs evolve. An idea that does not match any particular box is kept in the system and is picked up as soon as a box targeting the relevant innovation need is opened.

Another feature is that an idea creator can see immediately if a similar idea is already in the system, what comments have been provided by other people and if someone is working on the idea at the moment etc.

With this pull based and self-organizing mechanism in place, the system can easily scale from one to several hundred boxes. The system is governed by the collective of currently active innovation managers, each responsible and accountable for their respective boxes and for handling the ideas matching their defined innovation needs. Active innovation managers and boxes can easily be identified by all users and may attract more attention and ideas.

In short, the innovation efforts of employees in the organization gets directed toward real innovation needs that are backed by active innovation managers and as a result increase the likelihood of the ideas being evaluated and acted upon.


IdeaBoxes have had unbroken growth since it was implemented 3 years ago. It is assumed that a key success factor is that it has been voluntary adopted by managers when they have perceived the tool to be useful for their innovation practice.

It is also appealing for employees to showcase their ideas and possibly have them implemented and to be recognized by peers and managers.

Finally, the pull based approach seems to perform much better than the traditional idea push approaches. The openness and transparency of the system creates a direct feedback link between idea submitters, comments by peers and box managers.


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