A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate to hear Boston Scientific speak about how it sought to build a culture of invention and discovery that leads its various businesses to successful new products. Randy Schiestl, VP R&D, and Jude Currier, cardiovascular knowledge management and innovation practices lead, spoke at Invention Machine’s user group meeting about how they are changing both employee and corporate thinking to foster innovation.
Mr. Schiestly neatly summed up Boston Scientific’s goals when he said that every day the 25,000 employees at his company create knowledge but that “we have a hard time communicating between the first floor and the second floor– let alone trying to communicate from the East Coast to the Midwest to the West Coast on new product development. We find ourselves developing the same technology at multiple sites at the same time, spending three times as much as we should be. We find ourselves repeating tests done years earlier, because we didn’t have access to knowledge; starting projects that another division might have cancelled. So how do we collaborate across the company, innovate better, get products to market faster, increase productivity, grow with worldwide markets? Tools and technologies are the keys.”
Boston Scientific is working to move to a more systematized approach for new product development, focusing on a business case that includes ROI metrics and models the voices of the consumer and regulators as well as the technologists and scientists. In the past, the process was more ad hoc and and drove business strategy into planning without considering technology, customer and market realities until late in the game, when business plans and commitments had been made. This transformation necessitates business and cultural changes at Boston Scientific — as well as the technologies to collect and manage these various inputs.
One of the technologies chosen to capture knowledge, manage requirements and assist in planning is Invention Machine’s Goldfire. According to Mr. Currier, Goldfire helps Boston Scientific create automated workflows to analyze markets and search through the company’s intellectual property for ideas for new products, test results, market research and other information. Goldfire combines proprietary company materials with information from public sources such as patent databases to help build connections between previously unrelated data sets, helping researchers and engineers be more creative in their thinking while able to weed out ideas already proven infeasible.
The benefits of such “collaboration” could be huge: Before its current innovation expansion project, Boston Scientific’s R&D teams often had little or no access to work being done by colleagues in different parts of the company. Information was on people’s desktop computers, in filing cabinets or offsite storage — or was considered so confidential that access was closely restricted. Part of this project is to work out methodologies for providing access as appropriate and then restricting that access as a project gets closer to patent application.
How is it going? The team has seen typical corporate resistance to change, with the biggest barriers being resource constraints and inconsistencies in how various teams are implementing Goldfire and the new innovation processes. No concrete measures of success were available, but Mr. Currier was able to say that patent applications are up for groups using Goldfire.
“We have a lot of IP,” says Mr. Currier, “now it’s about how to leverage that IP for the future.”
Update: Boston Scientific reports that engineers increased productivity by 30 percent and significantly accelerated speed-to-market using Goldfire and that, within a year, 10% to 15% of patents filed by the cardiovascular division were generated with the help of Goldfire.
Note: Invention Machine made it possible for me to attend its user conference but provided no other funding or compensation for this piece.