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Where is the Value of Open Innovation for GeoSpatial*?

2013 May 20

whereisthevalueLast week the GeoSpatial World Forum took place in Rotterdam and I attended the session on GeoSpatial Innovation. I also gave a short presentation on Innovation, Open Innovation, Value and Where (in that order).



Not new in itself (e.g. the ancient Romans were into innovation) and there are many definitions out there. I use the “an invention brought into common usage” (Conway, Steward, 2009). If you accept this definition, it is remarkable to bring out a new product as being innovate: you have no clue whether it will last or for how long and whether there will be common usage.

I think I said that what is called innovative mostly is not (doesn’t even matter that much which definition you choose; discussions about “true innovation” can be endless and am I am not a fan of those). Innovation does come from the most unexpected aspects of the products and services offered, sometimes others benefit more from your innovation then you do yourself, and sometimes users lead, and some more than others (a good read: Eric von Hippel).


Open Innovation

In plain words: “Let others help you with your innovation. In return, help others as well”. Inventing everything yourself and bringing that to market (the older way of innovating) may not be the most optimal from your organisations’ perspective. Hence open innovation can be viewed as an innovation of innovation itself.

I did discuss the “not invented here syndrome” as a challenge to overcome and move towards “proudly found elsewhere”. Some of the OI initiatives I mentioned were Proctor and Gamble, Unilever, DSM, Philips.



A difficult topic, as value is often very tacit. Value is also very much context related and not to be confused with price or the €/$ amount you will find on your bill (I think I mentioned that what you really pay for is mostly not on that bill).

Value moves along a value chain and the value you perceive from a product or services is added up along that chain. Aligned value chains greatly enhance the value for all in this system. When organisations have similar value chains, they compete in the market. It can still be interesting to meet, but a business connection is less likely. Value chains that complement each other are opportunities to do business. Over time, value chains have morphed into network and ecosystems of value.



So there is value of open innovation to be found in ecosystems, also in the GeoSpatial world. The strength of these ecosystems is determined by factors like continuity, diversity, strength, depth. Openness to external actors like suppliers and users (the most important ones), communities, networks, alliances etc. are important. I did present Innocentive as a example of an intermediary. The way Esri connects to the user community via is a good example of ideation.

I may have said that Google I/O’s “innovation in the open” actually means “you’re welcome to innovate in our ecosystem” – not that of alternative ecosystems. It was not quite appropriate to mention Geovation here (thank you for the feedback). Geovation is about more data, not just OS, but it does leave out a few resources as well. It is a ‘increasing the size of pie’-tactic: if they pie size increases (more people want to work with maps), there will be more pie for us as well (more people will want those great OS maps!)


Final thoughts

Discussions on open innovation tend to focus on value: how can one help one another to create more value. You need to be connected as an organisation to other organisations and be able to reach out to other, complimentary organisations. There is no such thing as 100% open innovation (nor 100% closed). Organisations always need to appropriate some of the joint value in order to continue to exist. But 100% appropriation is not the goal of organisations working with the open innovation framework.


How to get started with Open innovation? Chain up with the organisations around you (start with your suppliers and customers), co-create with partners. Start the discussion about what you do not want to share (e.g. our training material) and what you do want to get out of the joint initiatives (e.g. more training business). When you run into resistance to change, try to see that as a good sign.


Where is the value of open innovation from Jan Willem van Eck

Maybe this was not the average presentation you expect to find at a “Geo conference”, but nonetheless I had a few interesting questions and conversations afterwards (e.g. how do you prevent your competitors from appropriating, how do you deal with IP, etc). There is a lot of value in meeting up with real people and discussing aspects of open innovation, value creation and value capture!


BTW: I missed out on the OSGeo session which took place at the same time as the GeoSpatial Innovation session (when I have to choose between innovation and OSGeo…:) ), I will make it up next time.



*I am still not a fan of the pleonasm and oxymoron “GeoSpatial”. I am more into Geography of the earth….


2 Responses leave one →
  1. May 27, 2013

    Really interesting JW, thanks ​!

    Given your interest, I think you’ll be very much interested in list of emerging OI research:

  2. Jw permalink*
    June 12, 2013

    thanks! much appreciated. I am trying to stay up to date on current OI research.


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