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Idea & Innovation Management @ Allscripts

About the Company:
Allscripts is one of the top providers of healthcare software to capture Electronic Medical/Health Records. It is a product based company with clients in US, UK, Europe, Asia, Australia, Canada and the Middle East. Allscripts is connected to 180,000 physician users, 1,500 hospitals and 10,000 extended care organizations by virtue of several healthcare software solutions.

Innovation process:
The innovation process in Allscripts is hierarchically tied to the Research and Development Organization which is led by a Chief Innovations officer. The base level program to drive innovation is a patent program which incentivizes ideation and prototyping of new inventions. Apart from the innovation programs there are sporadic release events which are similar to a hackathon within the constraints of the existing products to resolve existing issues and release sought for features in a short span of time. These events are more customer need driven than innovation driven.
Other than the abovementioned programs the company encourages and facilitates the employees to participate in third party code competitions and events to get a broader perspective.

Patent Program Overview:
The Allscripts Patent Program attempts to engage all its existing employees to submit ideas and proof of concepts of solutions which are potential patentable ideas. The ideas are submitted using a detailed Innovation Disclosure Form (IDF) which covers all the details about the invention. These IDF’s are evaluated by a Patent Review Board and worthy ideas are filed for patents. All qualified completely filled IDF’s are incentivized even if they are not patentable.
The process is driven by annual events where they educate and encourage every employee to submit their ideas. The follow up is done by Innovation champions who are mentors in the incubation process of helping the employees to articulate, prototype and submit their ideas. The innovation portal is hosted as a SharePoint site which can be accessed by all employees in the organization and the ideas can be submitted all year round.
The Patent Review Board meets quarterly to validate the submissions and decide on the incentive payouts and the qualified patentable ideas and submits the patent form through the relevant legal channels.
The monetary incentives are divided into 3 stages as follows:
1. Employees receive a cash award of $500 for each qualified IDF.
2. If Allscripts files a patent application for the invention disclosed in the IDF, the Allscripts inventor for the patent application receives a cash award of $1,000.
3. If Allscripts is ultimately granted a patent for the invention, then the Allscripts inventor for the patent will receive an additional $1,000.
Whole of the second and the third payout amount are given to teams of up to 4 people to foster team work.
If Allscripts files a patent application for an invention, the employees are recognized in an announcement to all the Allscripts employees, and they are invited to the annual Inventor’s Recognition Dinner, hosted by Allscripts executives to honor the inventors.
If a patent was granted for an invention, the employee receives a patent plaque, and a copy of the patent is displayed on the Allscripts Inventor’s Wall of Fame located at select corporate locations. Prolific inventors can also receive additional awards and recognition.
Allscripts encourages idea submissions even if employees are in doubt with the periodic communications and the champions are available in every office to provide guidance as required.
Some Numbers:
Allscripts has a little more than 6000 employees 25% of which is R&D, and in the year 2013 there were approximately over 350 IDFs submitted and about 70 patents filed. This number could improve manifold if the innovation process is improved.
Analysis of the Patent Program:
Merits – The existing patent program tries to build the idea pipeline using the annual events where they encourage the employees to contribute. In the process they touch up the incentives for inventors and appeal to both the elephant and the rider to a certain extent. The appeal to the elephant is noticeably more through the rewards and the recognitions and the rider is appealed through the formal structure.
Area of Improvement – The rider is deprived of sufficient attention as there is a vast array of software products and the scope of the challenge is not clearly defined. There is not enough definition of structure to what happens with the actual idea once it is deemed to be a good idea. How is it implemented is a critical piece of missing information.
Comparison with competitors and great innovators:
Cerner is one of the competitors of Allscripts who is doing much better in the innovation area since the past few years. They rank #22 in Forbes list of world’s most innovative companies 2013.
In addition to having a conventional idea submission portal and rewards process. They have multiple annual open conferences with customers and partners, where they appeal to their employees to innovate. These are conferences where technology and functionality is discussed and third party partners present sessions on emerging technology advancements.
These conferences result in increased focus and traction of innovation in specific areas. These conferences also allow the employees to travel meet new people and get new perspectives.
A couple of other companies which are really famous for their efforts to build sustainable innovation pipeline are Google and Atlassian who deploy similar techniques of allowing their employees 15% – 20% of their day in working on a project which they feel are important. They do not have constraints over how one needs to work and have been able to successfully create a culture of innovation. The problem scope even though broad is defined and the people are always collaborating and sharing thoughts which has allowed these companies to achieve great heights in implementing new ideas.
Recommendations – Possible 8 Steps to Jugaad Innovation @ Allscripts:
With respect to the industry Allscripts serves and the context being fairly specific to healthcare, the few changes that would greatly improve the innovation process are as follows
1. The current innovation process mostly targets the Research and Development team and it does not address the other employees. This is an elephant problem for 70% of the organization which is slowing down the ideas.
2. A small amount of time of a regular day needs to be allocated for special projects, sporadically if not regularly to appeal to the elephant to work towards more new ideas.
3. Monthly or Quarterly cross functional collaboration event to get fresh perspectives would propel the idea generation process. This is an elephant problem as well.
4. Training on creative problem solving is negligible at present. More training and workshops would encourage more people to commit to innovate. This is a rider problem as the rider would often want to start with a framework or structure.
5. The innovation pipeline needs to be refined and structured to address the various challenges of the product portfolio. This would address a big rider problem where people who are inclined to innovate, does not really know what to do.
6. There should be dedicated champions who would make sure that qualified ideas can be implemented which would be a matter of pride for the elephant and a matter of knowing that the time spent was not wasted for the rider.
7. There should be a detailed map of how the innovation can be implemented as software or a feature and how that could impact ones career growth. This will highly influence the ambitious rider to step up and work for it.
8. Allscripts should host or send out employees to participate in open conferences, this would allow fresh perspectives and enhance social network and offer some time off the regular workplace which would appease the elephant.