Open Innovation at Swarovski

Interview with Hannes Erler & Graham Hench, Swarovski Open Innovation Networks

 Development never stands still. Innovations in one field inevitably lead to innovations in others. One must remain alert at all times, always ready to make the very best use of what emerges

This quotation shows the foresight of our founder, recognizing the undeniably powerful role of cross-industry innovation very early on, long before the term Open Innovation was coined by Henry Chesbrough in 2003. Our Open Innovation principles guide us to not only rely upon internal know-how, but also further nurture Swarovski’s historical success in integrating technologies from other industries into our product and application developments, exploiting the incredible technical advances which occur outside our R&D labs and collaborating with innovative partners in order to realize such transformations. Today Open Innovation is not only an important driver for the acceleration of innovation processes at Swarovski, but also an open channel for inspiration from other industries and for collaboration with external technical partners. After growing and professionalizing our science and technology networks since 2013, the Swarovski Open Innovation Networks experts, Hannes Erler & Graham Hench, reveal more about Open Innovation strategy and success.

What is the Open Innovation Network strategy?

Our strategy consists of a network-driven approach focused upon identifying and engaging with the right technical outside-in innovation partners, followed by the collaborative development of new technology-based opportunities, and optimally resulting in the transformation of such opportunities to related development activities across our organizations. The team actively networks with their counterparts from technically competent organizations in order to engage and collaborate with those partners who can complement and advance Swarovski’s technology base. The interesting part is that most of the time the outcome is unpredictable; and it happens that new trends and technologies may come into being by accident. Hannes Erler likes to call this “serendipity.” The history of innovation shows many such cases where accidental discovery has led to revolutionary products; some famous examples include penicillin or the microwave oven. After two years of formalized operations, key engaged partners include industry leaders bringing new perspectives and technologies for coating solutions, coloring methods, elastomer integrations, and multilayer films, to name a few. We see this as only the beginning. The formalized Open Innovation Network of screened and vetted technology partners now provides a rich foundation for customer centric innovation, whereby we invite everyone to co-develop together with our partner networks.

What are a couple key success factors for Open Innovation?

We think it’s important to create an environment where ideas are welcome and can be shared easily across the organization. On the other hand, companies need to develop fast and to exploit good ideas – regardless of their origin - within the framework of rigidly organized and well-designed processes. It is both an art and a science to combine these two aspects, the explorative part and the exploitative part. Strong innovation leadership and the integration of values are also key since values are the most important drivers for motivation and the free flow of creativity, particularly in the inventive and front-end phases. Rigid processes are often seen as a barrier. Leadership needs to set the proper framework in order to allow the network to operate dynamically.  

How should innovative companies join the network?

As mentioned we invite our customers to co-innovate in the early stages of technology maturity, in order to create unique and tailor-made innovations which allow them to differentiate beyond their current existing limitations.  We are constantly looking for outside contributions to our innovation search fields, especially in the areas of materials and processes, surface refinement, as well as manufacturing applications and integration techniques, particularly for the jewelry industry. Customers are welcome to reach out to us so that we may arrange an initial discussion about how we may leverage our Open Innovation Network to meet specific needs.