Open Innovation Via Crowdsourcing At Bombardier Transportation

Who says that social media is just made for marketing initiatives for big business?  The use of crowdsourcing plays a large role in other corporate functions which have traditionally remained the same for  years.  A prime example: research and development, specifically, product innovation.

In September 2010, Bombardier Transportation awarded its top prize for the YouRail Design Contest – Visions of Modern Transportation.  The contest was opened to professionals, designers, students and anyone who has an interest in design to submit ideas on the creation of new and innovative interior designs for trains.

Last week, I had the opportunity to pose some questions to Martin Ertl, Chief Innovation Officer at Bombardier Transportation. The questions and replies posted below provides some profound insights into the crowdsourcing initiative.

The YouDesign Crowdsourcing Platform

IS: What were the objectives behind the Bombardier crowd sourcing project?

ME: First of all, we wanted to get an unbiased view on possible new functions and innovations that creative people like designers would propose. We deliberately addressed the design community as they have the skills to not only describe their ideas but also to visualize what’s on their mind. Design was more the enabler to start a broader discussion.

Secondly, design will play a focus role in our future activities as we need to differentiate from competition as well as deliver a highly attractive option in future mobility choices for a modern and sustainable society.

Finally, we saw it as a first experiment to deal with social media and crowdsourcing. Our industry may not be the most progressive to jump onto the latest communication styles, so it is no wonder that we have been by far the first rolling stock manufacturer to go along that road. We will continue this activity in one way or another so stay tuned to be surprised.

IS: What were the key success factors for the Web-based “open innovation” at Bombardier Transportation?

ME: Factor 1: Detailed preparation and selection of the internal partners. We have a balanced set of internal experts that did the evaluation as well as a high calibre jury lead by our CEO.
Factor 2: The right partner. We have teamed up with Hyve AG in Munich. Hyve has executed several competitions in the same style and a successful record of crowdsourcing projects. They also supplied the mature IT platform the contest ran on.
Factor 3: Attractive environment. We gave away roughly 10.00€ as prizes and had extremely transparent and fair T&Cs as e.g. all contest designs remained intellectual property of the designers (which in most similar contests is not the case).
Factor 4: Network, constant proactive contact with the community, constant stimulation and a little bit of viral effects.

IS: Could you briefly describe some the challenges that Bombardier had to overcome during this initiative?

ME: As it has been a completely new approach of course, there have been some arrears where people showed skepticism. In general, the concept of open platforms and transparency usually led to the reflex of “but then our competition has full access”. However, there has never been a real obstacle on either level and either phase of the project.

Maybe the aftermath now is the most difficult job as the whole company is really happy with the stunning results but due to a high backlog and customer project execution needs resources to implement all the good ideas are of course scarce. At least, we are already in the process of researching on the feasibility of two of the ideas.

IS: What if Bombardier had to modify one aspect of the initiative, what would it be?

ME: Depending on the topic involving our sister company aerospace to get an even better impact for Bombardier and get committed budgets from senior sponsors upfront for quicker  implementation/execution of ideas.

If you will be in the Montreal area on February 15th, Jean-François Deschênes, Chief Web Officer at Bombardier Transportation will be apart of a panel discussion at the Les Affaires conference on social media where he will be talking about the crowdsourcing project.