Wipro’s First Global Innovation Tournament Offers Lessons in How Companies Can Innovate | Article

Wipro Voice: Wipro’s [email protected] Innovation Tournament

Karthik Nagendra, Manager, Wipro Council for Industry Research“Innovation at its best is pure magic.”

That’s what Karthik Nagendra, Manager, Wipro Council for Industry Research, told the anxious group of finalists at the Wharton School’s first annual global Innovation Tournament. But how do you do it? The Tournament itself offered a roadmap for corporations interested in implementing innovations.

The Wipro executive cited a BCG study which found 49 percent of respondents ranked innovation as their company’s top strategic priority. “Everyone is familiar with the saying, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention.’ But in today’s context, ‘Necessity is the mother of innovation.'”

The winners took home $20,000 in prizes, thanks to Wipro, which sponsored the contest. Finals of the tournament took place on March 23 on the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia.

The judges received 120 applications from teams all across the world, who were tasked with coming up with a creative tool to help businesses either increase revenue, decrease costs, or increase customer satisfaction. Mukul Pandya, Editor-in-chief of [email protected] and one of the judges, called the contest “brain sourcing.”

The Wipro executive said “companies need to innovate continuously to sustain a competitive advantage” in today’s changed business environment, which the industry has dubbed “the new normal.”

Nagendra explained why innovation is so crucial today. “Enterprises have to look at new ways of doing business since the rules of the game have completely changed,” he said. Globalization, for example, “continues to blur boundaries. We at Wipro have a culture of innovation and hence encouraged innovation to bloom through the innovation tournament,” he continues.

What is an innovation tournament?

The Innovation Tournament is the brainchild of two Penn business school professors, Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich. “Innovation is the match between a need and a solution,” Terwiesch said.

Last year the professors, who made up half the judging panel for the Wipro tournament, published a book entitled “Innovation Tournaments. Creating and Selecting Exceptional Opportunities.” The book’s premise is companies should view and structure the innovation process “as a collection of opportunities.”

Ulrich says companies obviously want to avoid investing in opportunities that don’t pan out. But how? “The overarching message in the book is success requires an overwhelming number of ideas. That’s the best way to avoid making a mistake,” he posits.

The goal of an innovation tournament is to pit competing opportunities against one another. The judges consistently filter out the weakest ones until only those with the highest profit potential remain.

While the professors had held innovation tournaments in their classes, this was the first global corporate tournament. Wipro and Wharton invited teams to participate. The first step was to complete an application. The judges (the final member was Sanjay Gupta, Senior Vice President, Productized Solutions at Wipro) then selected the top 25 applicants. Each semifinalist made a presentation to the judges via a Webinar.

The judges then selected the top eight ideas. The sponsors invited the teams to Philadelphia to present their ideas to the judges in person. The teams hailed from places as distant as Bangalore, New York City, and Quebec. Ideas ranged from business physics (applying the laws of acceleration to business change) to manufacture blogging (enabling machines to blog about potential problems to improve the manufacturing process.)

Pandya lightheartedly likened the competition to “World Soccer, March Madness, and American Idol.” The finalists, who presented in alphabetical order, had five minutes to make their case. Then each of the judges asked prescient and probing questions. Afterwards Terwiesch said the presentations were “great theater.”

Ulrich says the panel judged the innovations on four dimensions:

  • Novelty
  • Feasibility
  • Track record
  • Overall potential

The winning ideas

The winners were Rajesh Kumar, Sandeep Jain, and Chinmay Mesaria, who work for HP in Bangalore. They created a supply chain stock-out tool that identifies the root causes of stock-outs on the supplier side and includes predictive modeling for minimizing future stock-outs. (A stock-out is when a manufacturer runs out of a product and can’t meet consumer demand.) They shared a $10,000 check from Wipro.

Kumar says the team started by conducting an analysis of stock-outs. Then they came up with the idea of creating a tool to predict stock-outs. Ten months later they tested the tool on a sample set of products. “Once we stabilized the tool, we scaled up for all of HP’s printer products — more than 2,000,” he says.

For the Finals in Philadelphia, the HP team created a flash movie that “highlighted the tool’s ease of use and effectiveness,” continues Kumar.

Second place went to two professors in Mumbai, Dr. Ramya Narayanaswamy and Professor Kaustubh Dhargalkar. They created a tool that collected customer pain points in real time. Their students cited over 54,000 pain points in their every-day experiences from retail to education.

Third place went to a student at the MET Schools of Management, Darshana Dave of Mumbai. She created a pocket diary for managing efficiencies in the supply chain. Second and third place winners won $5,000 each.

Kumar says the team knew “we had a good innovation on our hands since we had implemented it successfully in HP’s business with substantial results.” However, winning the tournament “added further credibility to our innovation.”

But winning was not the only benefit of participating. Kumar says “we also got the opportunity to interact with some of the best brains in the innovation field, including the two Wharton professors who gave us their feedback on the tool.” He says this win “will act as a source of inspiration for our future endeavors.”

Nagendra says the service provider felt the Innovation Tournament was a good vehicle to further Wipro’s mission, since innovation is a bedrock of its offerings. “Based on the success of this program, we will encourage more such programs in the future,” reports Nagendra.

Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:

  • How do you innovate successfully? Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich at the Wharton School believe it is a numbers game: continuously down-selecting from a wealth of ideas increases the chance of success. The goal is to filter out the weakest ones until only those with the highest profit potential remain.
  • Suggested evaluation criteria for contestants in an innovation tournament include novelty, feasibility, trace record, and overall potential.
  • Participants in an innovation tournament also benefit by networking with their peers and receiving feedback from judges such as Wharton professors.

Wipro set up the Council for Industry Research, comprising of domain and technology experts from the organization, to address the needs of customers. It specifically looks at innovative strategies that will help them gain competitive advantage in the market. The Council in collaboration with leading academic institutions and industry bodies studies market trends to equip organizations with insights that facilitate their IT and business strategies. For more information on the Research Council visit www.wipro.com/industryresearch or email [email protected].

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