Ford uses new innovation tools

24 February 2011

DEARBORN, Michigan: Ford is developing its approach to innovation, adopting models similar to cloud computing.

The automaker has partnered with Inkling, a Chicago-based firm providing systems allowing pre-selected groups of people to discuss and vote on ideas, in a manner broadly equivalent to the stock market.

"It's their software and their servers, they host everything, but we brand the interface," Tom Montgomery, a technical expert at Ford's research and advanced engineering group, told Internet News.

"The important thing for us is that the information we collect is proprietary and they offered the security and guarantees we wanted."

Each of the carmaker's 1,300 staff in the US and Europe may now access a bespoke platform enabling them to rate and critique its latest R&D proposals.

"We're trying to take advantage of all the knowledge all these Ford employees have."

Having established an internal service premised on parallel principles, Ford tapped Inkling two years ago, as it sought to augment existing consumer insights.

"Traditional market research and customer clinics are expensive and you run them when you can run them," Montgomery continued.

"The nice thing about this is that it's internet-based, and you can get opinions anytime you need to and leverage the wisdom of the crowd."

Another benefit such a process yields is creating an engaging experience for respondents, Montgomery suggested.

"It's definitely more compelling than an email survey or other research techniques," he argued. "And because it's fun, we don't have to spend as much time recruiting enough people to get the demographic results we want.

"When you see all the comments and people arguing back and forth ... that's a rich source of information."

Among the subjects that have been debated via this channel are commodity prices, the potential of electric cars and several possible design features.

Two initiatives abandoned after contributors gave a muted reaction to them included an integrated vacuum cleaner for Ford vehicles, and branded equipment for carrying bicycles.

In response, Ford was able to redirect budgets and manpower to projects boasting larger promise, rather than pursuing these schemes further.

After conducting a poll of employees who had utilised Inkling's platform, the automaker found 93% believed the "lessons learned" proved valuable.

"One of the great things about our current leadership is that they're very data driven," said Montgomery.

CNN, Procter & Gamble, Cisco, Microsoft and Chevron are some of the other organisations which have also previously worked with Inkling.

Data sourced from Internet News; additional content by Warc staff