Why We Need Idea Management Systems

George Fankhauser
4 min readMay 7, 2019


In my previous story I defined criteria around idea management systems that support collection and selection of ideas. You might wonder how real systems fare once the criteria are applied. To answer this question we need to go one step back before and ask what the purpose of such a system is. Unless we know what we are aiming at a comparison would be useless.

A discussion, however, which groups and purposes the different systems serve, can be quite revealing on your journey to a productive system. So in this article we give an overview of the target groups typical idea management systems fall into. Often, such target groups exist because idea management systems have been added to another system, e.g. for knowledge management, or they come from a up/downstream process or method that is applied, e.g. user feedback.

Idea management software from a simple brainstorming to complex end-to-end processes.

Main purpose

There are different target user groups with a diverse background and therefore quite different needs.

  1. Brainstorming and simple collaboration: The biggest group and most simple build of an idea management system supports idea entry and some form of sorting and selection view. If there is nothing else you need there is plenty of choice.
  2. Tools centered around methods: This group is by definition “exotic” as the choice is made by method. There are tools based on Design Thinking, some are focusing on visualization, others on methods for startups or lean management.
  3. Employee feedback, engagement and surveys: Here the focus is employee feedback and organization sentiment. Typically they also provide a channel back into the organization for announcements and dissemination of survey results.
  4. Customer feedback: These systems are optimized to gather quick customer feedback. A common feature is to present existing ideas in FAQ-style when a new entry is created. Still other tools, for example “The Experience Manager”, are used to observe and record the user experience.
  5. Idea collection in continuous improvements: systems that support daily work in factories, mobile-centric and able to consolidate global, multi-site ideation.
  6. Crowd sourcing tools: a special category with large user groups in mind, e.g. for FMCG or insurance and retail banking.
  7. Related to project and product management: as requirements and roadmapping processes draw from ideas those tool manufacturers decide whether to interface idea management or build it into their own. The chart above highlights a few with the internal approach. Vice-versa, such tools are not just installed for the idea part. Modules such as salesforce ideas even extend to marketing and sales and touch back with the category “customer feedback”.
  8. Co-existence with intellectual property (IP) and knowledge management: this groups incumbents typically focus on patents, only a few extend to scientific papers and other sources of knowledge.
  9. Related to strategic initiatives, selection and analytics: most organization lack the ability to assess and select the right ideas. Some of the tools focus on strategic guidance as input and informed decisions as output as a part of the organization (e.g. the sponsor’s innovation board).

Conclusion and systems

With the different target groups explained above you probably have guessed in which one(s) your organization falls. To summarize, here are a few hints what to look for:

Most organizations who need just a simple idea management system may pick any but are advised

  • the system is able to crunch the vast amount of entries
  • there is an API included in case you want to connect a legacy system or feed your own application. Beyond that, embedding web code (i-frames) is a easy way to get crowdsourcing capabilities with little effort
  • if you have simple needs the ideas will be recorded in any situation and any place: a system without a good mobile interface is a no-go!

People with a special purpose in mind need to look further, specifically whether they have

  • a need to manage external / “open innovation” knowledge along with their own ideas. It is worthwhile to extend a discussion in larger organizations involving HR/HCM and IP departments. In research organizations where a lot of scientific and current writing is processed, systems like mergeflow can make a difference.
  • a focus on manufacturing, construction and continuous improvement
  • the product, service or marketing roadmap at the core of the company (systems like Aha! or Confluence have nice idea feeds that integrate seemlessly into features and requirements)
  • the selection and analytics process defined as the bottleneck (systems like innolytics or ideation360 go beyond simple filtering and sorting and provide clustering, experimentation, tagging through AI and NLP)

Finally, if you think you need all of it you will ultimately look into one of the tools with an end-to-end approach offering a very large feature set (e.g. Hype, spigit Planview, Planbox, QMarkets ideas, Brightidea, innosabi etc.). But looking again at the criteria cited above, is it really worth investing in a large and complex system? In the end it is about creativity and speed!

© Copyright 2019, George Fankhauser, Sensaco GmbH



George Fankhauser

George is an innovation consultant for Sensaco GmbH, based in Zürich. Read more and contacts at http://innovationmanager.ch/en/blog .