We surveyed 106 intermediaries investigating their open innovation services offered, project specifics, business model, productivity, and characteristics of their participant pool (61 provided us with a complete data set, for the remaining we used secondary data sources). In addition, we also interviewed OIA clients and solution providers, and integrated results from our award-winning Open Innovation Research Program at RWTH Aachen University, where we have been investigating open innovation and customer co-creation for over a decade. In total, this study is the largest inquiry of the global market of open innovation.
Overall, we find that OIAs provide value to their clients. Among the service offerings, idea and solution contests – based on delegated search (crowdsourcing) – remain the dominant service category offered by OIAs today. But increasingly, software support, consultancy, or executive education enhance the OIAs’ offerings.
Typical outcomes of an OIA project range from generating original ideas and customer insights to sophisticated technical solution concepts, and sometimes even new business models. The majority of projects (63 percent) seek for external knowledge to generate better technical concepts and ideation. 78 percent of all OIA projects terminate with a successful knowledge exchange at the end of the project.
Selecting the right OIA for a specific task depends very much on the expected outcome. Not all OIAs are suited for every open innovation challenge. OIAs further differ with regard to the breadth, scope, and structure of their pool of potential participants, and the options for clients to control access to this pool and the interaction within a given project. Our study provides innovation managers a clear decision scheme how to select the right OIA and matches it to the OIAs suggested for the task.
OIAs build on the involvement of a large group of potential external contributors. Their services differ significantly regarding their community composition. On average, we find that OIAs have an average of 16,500 members in their existing pool of participants (their “community”). OIAs specializing on ideation or technical contests often have communities of more than 100,000 members. OIAs have to actively shape collaborations through excellent communication and transparency. We find that only a deep understanding of the needs and preferences of all partners provides the base for a sustainable OIA business model.