What is a Virtual Innovation Lab?

What is a Virtual Innovation Lab?
By: Rob Hoehn

The Virginia Department of Transportation created their own Virtual Innovation Lab, where they collaborate to solve problems related to remote work, engineering topics, safety, and more with the help of their entire distributed workforce. Learn more in this December 15th webinar!

When you think about the future of transportation, it’s daunting to think of all the different trends and technologies that are influencing change in that space: driverless vehicles, decarbonization, the gig economy… even 3D printing. Tony Seba, author of Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation said “We are on the cusp of one of the fastest, deepest, most consequential disruptions of transportation in history.” So if you’re working in the field transportation – you have to be looking to the future.

It is this kind of thinking that inspired the Virginia Department of Transportation to launch their own Virtual Innovation Lab where they are collaboratively solving problems related to remote work, engineering topics, safety, and more with the help of their entire distributed workforce.

But what is a virtual innovation lab? It’s essentially an online space that can boost transformation initiatives by engaging an entire workforce (no matter how remote or distributed) in the idea process from ideation to implementation. Many organizations are beginning to launch these systems in order to foster growth and promote new ideas – especially now in the era of remote work when this kind of work cannot always take place in person.

If you’re thinking about launching your own virtual innovation lab though – there are a few key things that you must have in order to make a system like this work at your own company. So, what must a virtual innovation lab have?

Innovation Management Software. Innovation management software is a software as a service offering that is essentially a database and process management system where anyone can add ideas, build on ideas, rate and select ideas and report on the progress of ideas. If you’re going to re-create the innovation lab in an online setting, then this software is absolutely imperative.

Engaged Leaders. Innovation programs with leadership buy-in perform better than those that don’t. These leaders play two important roles: they set the challenges and problems to be solved. Their attention on these important issues will generate engagement and faith. The second thing that leaders must do is the heavy lifting that removes obstacles and allows good ideas to come to light: eliminating unnecessary workloads, assigning teams and budget and increasing the visibility of successes as well as lessons learned.

An Engaged Workforce. Creating a vibrant virtual innovation lab means engaging people beyond a limited innovation team. This means culture and communications work. How will tell people about this new program? How will you empower them to influence their organization at every level? How will you train them on the qualities of a good idea? Great innovation managers need to be able to answer these questions, as well.

A system for delivering on important ideas. This is perhaps the most important thing to consider. If a great idea comes into your virtual innovation lab, how will you make sure that it gets implemented? The answer to this is most often “process.” That means a set of steps that ensure the idea is desirable, feasible, viable, and vettable. But if you don’t deliver on some of the ideas (some, not all), then people will lose faith in your program and your innovation lab will never really take off, so be sure that you’re planning for the back end of innovation, as well.

To hear from the Office of Strategic Innovation Project Manager from Virginia Department of Transportation and the launch of their innovation lab, join this December 15th webinar. Registrants receive a link to the video recording of the presentation, attendees can participate in a live Q&A.

About the Author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.

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