We live in a fast-paced digital world and it can be challenging for companies to keep up with the speed of today’s ever changing digital era. However, new information technologies have also empowered more technologically savvy businesses by giving them new means to operate, promote their products and services, and engage with customers. One company that is constantly taking advantage of these new tools is General Electric (GE), an enterprise who has succeeded in part because of its willingness to take risks and embrace innovative technologies. The most recent example of this mindset is Fuse, their new open innovation platform that launched in late 2016. It is basically an open crowdsourcing platform, which allows users from all around the world to collaborate with each other and work with GE engineers to solve meaningful technical challenges.
How does Fuse work?
The first step is for the Fuse team to translate GE customers’ needs and “pain points” into projects on the Fuse platform. Whereas most projects are straightforward and thus directly released in the form of challenges, some appear to be less clear and hence are uploaded on the “Brainstorming Section” of the Fuse platform as “potential challenges”. These potential challenges include a (rather extensive) description of the problem to be tackled as well as precise requirements for the solution, and contributors are asked (1) whether they would be interested in such a challenge, and (2) what additional questions the Fuse team should answer before launching the challenge. Based on the feedback received, the Fuse team might decide on further actions. When released, each individual challenge comes with a description of the problem, clear requirements for solution submissions, judging criteria, a timeline, a description of the prizes for the winners, and the official rules of the competition (including property right issues).
Example of a Fuse challenge
In a second step, contributors from all around the world are invited to submit innovative contributions. Note that even though anyone can sign up and take part in challenges, the very technical nature of the challenges serves as a skills-based filtering mechanism as only people with a certain degree of knowledge in engineering would be able to understand the challenges. Once on the Fuse platform, anyone can have access to all the relevant information related to the challenges, however only registered users are allowed to submit entries. During the whole duration of the challenge, contributors can use the discussion board to brainstorm together or ask the competition holders questions. Not only does the Fuse team rapidly answer these questions and provide regular feedback/input, but they also organize “live Q&A sessions”, during which the participants can submit questions that are answered live in a video feed.
The final step is for the Fuse team to evaluate the submissions, select the winners (generally the three best entries) and allocate the money prizes. The interesting entries are also forwarded to GE’s technical team, where they are further developed into implementable solutions.
In less than two years, GE succeeded in creating an innovative community and successful products from their contributions (Picklett, 2017). This was made possible for the following reasons: combination of extrinsic and intrinsic incentives, good management, and well-structured governance including the mechanisms recommended by Blohm et al. (2018).
From a contributor’s perspective, the Fuse platform and its challenges are interesting not only because of the cash prizes, but also because it is designed towards building long-term relationships with its contributors. For instance, competition winners actually have an opportunity to further work with GE engineers on implementing their designs (Kloberdanz, 2017). In addition, there is also an attractive physical part to Fuse projects, which consists in a micro-factory in Chicago designed for rapid prototyping, small-batch manufacturing, and modular experimentation (Davis, 2017). This faculty will be open to contributors and can constitute an incentive for them to become part of the Fuse community as it is a good opportunity to bring their ideas to life, work with GE professionals, and meet like-minded innovators. Finally, the Fuse challenges are also a good opportunity for contributors to collaborate with other brilliant mind, expand their business network, build their professional reputation, and gain recognition from their peers.
From GE’s perspective, the Fuse platform is a new source of innovative and ideas, which can speed up content creation, cut R&D costs for the company, and provide GE with an opportunity to spot talents who might be valuable additions to their team. But how is GE able to overcome the challenges inherent to crowdsourcing (e.g. huge quantity, low quality, free-riding behaviour, risks of sharing information)? First, due to the technical nature of the Fuse challenges, the clearly defined guidelines provided to the participants, and the rapid feedback/additional inputs provided during the competition, GE ensures that only a manageable number entries of a certain quality are submitted, thus facilitating the evaluation process. The platform is also clear about the transfer of PI rights, which avoids troubles along the way. Second, for most challenges, challenge, entries are private and only viewable by the creator, admins, and judging panel. As a result, GE is able to avoid free-riding behaviours. However, contributors are still able to communicate with (and help) each-other via the discussion board, and the Fuse team makes sure to encourage the discussion with feedback and additional information, hence allowing contributors to still learn from each other. Finally, even though opening up GE’s internal workings/information of some products in order to run these challenges can be risky, the company acknowledges that “there are certain risks you just have to roll with if you want to make progress and that willingness to take those risks is what makes this exciting.” (Davis, 2017). This quotes shows that GE understands the need to willingly take risks in order to continuously transform the company and, so far, Fuse seems to be worth it as GE reunited more than 8000 contributor successfully implemented several ideas generated by the platform in less than a year (Davis, 2017).
In summary, the joint profitability criterion is met as the Fuse platform creates value for both GE and its contributors. Furthermore, the costs linked to this innovative business model are relatively low as the Fuse team only consists of 4 employees based in Chicago (Pickett, 2017). However, as the platform matures, hosts more challenges, and attracts more contributors one can assume that the number of employees will have to increase. Still, the costs-benefits ratio should remain interesting compared to doing everything in-house. Finally, the legal concerns are taken care of thanks to inclusion of PI agreements in the official rules of the Fuse challenges, and the social norm dimension is met as GE is a well-known, reputable brand, hence building trust with contributors.
Blohm, I., Zogaj, S., Bretschneider, U., & Leimeister, J. M. (2018). How to Manage Crowdsourcing Platforms Effectively?. California Management Review, 60(2), 122-149.
Davis, B. (2017). How GE is using co-creation as part of its digital transformation. Retrieved from https://econsultancy.com/blog/68902-how-ge-is-using-co-creation-as-part-of-its-digital-transformation
Fuse. (2018). Fuse Platform. Retrieved from https://www.fuse.ge.com
Kloberdanz, K. (2017). Working The Crowd: This Fuse Will Set The Collective Brain On Fire. Retrieved from: https://www.ge.com/reports/working-crowd-fuse-will-set-collective-brain-fire/
Pickett, L. (2017). GE Fuse’s open innovation platform invites NDT professionals to co-create solutions. Retrieved from https://www.qualitymag.com/articles/94304-ge-fuses-open-innovation-platform-invites-ndt-professionals-to-co-create-solutions