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Executive Summary

Eskom contributes enormously to the South African economy by supplying electricity to millions of customers, spanning many industries and residential homes. Being open to new concepts which can add value to Eskom’s innovation cycle, Eskom embarked on an Open Innovation (OI) pilot project with the aim of strategically bringing innovations from external stakeholders into its innovation cycle. Open innovation is a concept coined by Henry Chesbrough in 2003, when introducing the OI concept where organisations bring innovations and knowledge from outside the organizational boundaries into their innovation cycle to augment their innovation process.

Eskom continuously has to balance serious external demands with internal capacity to innovate, while constantly being challenged by external stakeholders poised to help solve some of these cases.

Two approaches to OI were available to Eskom, namely (i) develop and leverage a local OI eco-system; and (ii) tap into the global NineSigma OI network. The decision was to go with both approaches depending on the challenge. Eskom followed an OI project methodology with the following phases: (i) DEFINE; (ii) CONNECT; (iii) EVALUATE; and (iv) ACQUIRE; and aligned temporary committees to this OI methodology. Three technical problems (or challenges) were distributed through the networks which included energy (local only), safety (local and global) and water (local and global).

The overall responses indicated that the maturity level of innovations was mostly non-commercialised solutions (60%). At least 74% of these non-commerc ialised solutions emanated from the local eco-system (local innovators from South Africa) and most of the solutions from the local environment were generated by SMMEs (at least 52% of the local solutions).

Each phase in the OI methodology presented its own challenges and successes, which are discussed in this case study. Some of the pressing challenges included the following: the definition of the problem (or challenge) to the external community could have had a more defined scope, containing narrower and more specific parameters and criteria; these challenges should have been defined and evaluated by the same stakeholders; the change management process could have been more in-depth in terms of involvement and communication (related to OI and the internal reach of the external media process); and the governance process constrained the speed of OI connections to the external stakeholders. Eskom succeeded in developing strong partnerships and media coverage that placed Eskom as a thought leader of OI in South Africa and helped to lay a solid foundation for stimulating future SMME growth in South Africa. Eskom reflected that OI was about connecting solutions and pockets of knowledge, often unrelated, to problems across industries, and not merely about finding a novel innovation somewhere in the world. OI is also about providing opportunities to external stakeholders to become part of the innovation fold of Eskom in a quest to stimulate economic growth at an SMME level in South Africa.

At the time of publishing, the pilot was still on-going, hence the successful proposals have not been finalised and reported in the case study. This case study explains the process followed and highlights the lessons learnt during the process, which Eskom wants to share with other organisations.

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