Collaboration case study: Mota-Engil

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Global engineering and construction organisation Mota-Engil used a custom-built collaboration and project management platform based on online communities software from Telligent to help improve innovation across the company.

Case study key facts

Company Mota-Engil
Industry Engineering and construction
Current Collaboration goals Mota-Engil wanted to develop a more innovative culture across the organisation, encouraging employees of all levels to contribute ideas about new business opportunities and improving existing business processes, and enabling these to be taken from idea to reality in a managed, collaborative and visible way.
Current approach Mota-Engil commissioned the development of a single platform which incorporated ideas management, collaboration software and project management tools to enable ideas to be submitted, discussed and enhanced, approved centrally, and then delivered for the benefit of the business.
Outcome Six months after launch the Mota-Engil InnovCenter has enabled the number of innovative ideas which reach project stage to treble in number, with two of these already having delivered results. Employees are rewarded for their contributions in a tangible way, and the organisation is able to track the progress of innovative opportunities and identify valuable individuals across the company.
Collaboration tools and suppliers used Telligent Evolution Platform; weListen

Company background

Founded in 1946 in Portugal, today Mota-Engil is a multi-billion Euro business with operations in 17 countries across Europe, America and Africa. A conglomerate comprising a growing number of Mota-Engil Group or related companies, in addition to its flagship business in engineering and construction Mota-Engil also has significant businesses in delivering and managing environmental and other services, as well as transport infrastructure concessions. The company also has a number of operations relating to the industry and energy, sports and leisure, and hotels and restaurants sectors.

Mota-Engil employs over 20,000 staff, with more than 9,000 based in Portugal, where its headquarters remain today. The company is publicly listed on the Euronext Lisbon stock market.

Project background

As a large, distributed player in an increasingly competitive market, Mota-Engil needed to find a way to improve the collaborative culture of the organisation and stimulate innovation in order to drive business differentiation and improve efficiency. In early 2008, the company created an Innovation Committee which included several board members and senior executives, and which met each month to review new innovations and define a strategy to increase the number of ideas that were put forward.

The Committee had a number of concerns about the way the company handled innovative ideas. For example:

  • While there was a potential for innovation within the company, ideas rarely surfaced because there was no channel for publishing or publicising them
  • Where innovative ideas did surface, they were handled in an inconsistent and closed fashion, with little feedback for the originator of the idea and limited opportunities for rewarding contributions
  • Because of the hierarchical nature of the organisation, only a small number of employees had the chance to present their ideas, meaning that the pool of opportunity was much smaller
  • Because of the lack of a defined or managed process to handle innovative ideas that were identified as having potential, it was difficult to ensure that the realisation of the innovation was handled effectively and in a timely manner

In April 2008, the Committee decided to invest in improving the company’s knowledge management and innovation processes. The goal was to implement a single platform which would enable them to challenge the whole organisation to suggest new innovative ideas relating to how the business operates or new business opportunities. It would:

  • Provide an open environment for sharing and discussing ideas
  • Enable the best ideas to be progressed to the next stage
  • Provide employees with feedback through the entire cycle, enabling individuals to track the status of their ideas, and increase participation by making the process more visible and productive
  • Enable the Committee to be able to monitor the company’s progress in terms of converting ideas to real business differentiation

Implementation characteristics and status

In April 2010, Mota-Engil began rolling out InnovCenter, a custom-developed innovation, knowledge sharing and project management platform. Employees of all levels are able to submit ideas and suggestions to InnovCenter, and others can then provide comments and feedback, enabling the idea to be enhanced and strengthened. The most promising ideas are submitted to the Innovation Committee for approval and, if approved, a new project will be initiated to implement the idea.

A new community workspace is created for each new project to enable the project to be defined more fully, using tools such as discussion forums, wikis, blogs, and tasks. Alongside this, the project can be controlled and managed via the project management module which includes tools for budgeting and cost control, scheduling, change tracking, risk analysis, and project reporting. In addition to innovation projects InnovCenter also supports the management of research and development projects and integration and exploration projects within the company.

To date InnovCenter has been rolled out to 500 employees. Over the next 12 months, Mota-Engil plans to expand the rollout to the entire organisation, beginning with home office users, followed by the company’s Portugal-based staff, and then finally the rest of the organisation, including remote areas of Africa, Peru and Brazil.

The approach

Mota-Engil’s original intention was to purchase an off-the-shelf software tool, but the company’s head of innovation quickly recognised that there weren’t any solutions in the market which included all the elements they were looking for, and so the company decided to commission a custom solution. In July 2009, Mota-Engil invited proposals from a number of development agencies.

The company already had some experience of using Telligent’s online communities software for internal collaboration having trialled it during the process of understanding the company’s requirements for the solution, and was keen to incorporate this as the basis for its innovation platform (although potential suppliers were given the freedom to choose their own base technology, provided they had at least considered this as an option). Mota-Engil selected an existing Telligent partner, WeListen, because they already had experience of implementing innovation and knowledge management solutions.

Development began in September 2009. In March 2010 the project team began uploading content relating to existing innovative projects, to provide some context to the new platform and to enable employees to access information about all Mota-Engil’s innovative projects in one place. In April 2010 the team began a pilot phase, rolling out the platform on a department-by-department basis to an initial group of 500 people from across the organisation, supported by training and familiarisation processes. By mid-September 2010, all 500 pilot users were in place, and the InnovCenter platform was launched officially to the broader organisation at the end of September.

Strategy

Driven by board-level executives as a way to improve innovation and in turn drive business differentiation and efficiency within Mota-Engil, the InnovCenter initiative has always been viewed as very much an enterprise-wide strategy, with the intention of involving employees of all grades in improving the business. On completion the platform will be accessible by everyone within the company.

While technology was an important part of the initiative, the strategy for implementing it has been as much about ensuring people understand the innovation process as it is about ensuring they are acquainted with the platform. This is why the project team decided to take a staggered approach to rolling out the solution, enrolling one division or department at a time. This approach also ensured that they could maintain a personalised relationship with each department and gather valuable feedback about both process and technology.

Organisation and people

Adoption

One of the issues that the Innovation Committee had identified which was limiting their ability to take innovations from idea to reality was that there weren’t enough people within the organisation who were confident in their ability to lead an innovation or knowledge management project.

To overcome this, prior to the launch of the InnovCenter platform, the project team held a series of workshops during which they trained 60 individuals from across the organisation in techniques relating to, for example, project management, developing business plans, and creating intellectual property. To identify these individuals, the project team asked the company’s directors to choose two people from each department who were open to exploring innovation issues within the company and who would be able to share the lessons they learned from the workshops with their department colleagues.

The rollout process adopted by Mota-Engil has taken a similarly hands-on, personal approach, starting with an initial meeting with the director and key people within each department, one department at a time. This initial meeting is designed to teach collaborative and innovative techniques that they can share with the rest of their department, as well as encouraging them to identify one or two challenges that they could use to stimulate input from their teams. Following this initial meeting, the department is given access to the InnovCenter platform. On-going support is provided to employees via a self-service approach – for example through a Guidelines Wiki and an FAQ section hosted within the platform – as well as email-based support delivered by the project team.

An important requirement for the platform was that individuals could not only see the status of their ideas in the process and therefore see the impact of their contributions, but that there was a way to actively reward them for their participation. To achieve this, the InnovCenter platform includes a recognition element which enables individuals to earn points based on the number of ideas they submit, as well as based on how far their idea progresses through the process. Each 50 points corresponds to 1 Euro, with rewards converted into vouchers that employees can spend in specific retail stores. Points can be earned for:

  • Submitting ideas and proposing challenges via the InnovCenter platform
  • Commenting or voting on ideas, and having their comments approved as significant contributions to the development of the idea
  • Having their ideas evaluated as “continuous improvement” or as “innovative” suggestions
  • Being made part of a project team tasked with implementing an innovation opportunity, with extra points for being made project manager
  • Evaluating ideas contributed to the platform
  • Having their ideas used in innovation projects.

Roles and resources

While it existed before the new initiative began, the role of the Innovation Committee within Mota-Engil has changed significantly since the implementation of InnovCenter. Although it continues to have responsibility for identifying which ideas are carried forward to project stage, its decision is now much more informed due to the input of the wider employee community; ideas are qualified and potential issues often resolved before they reach the Committee approval stage. This significantly decreases the time needed to assess a particular idea and means that more ideas can be processed (which is just as well since more are now reaching the Innovation Committee as a result of the new platform).

Two other key roles have been created as part of the innovation process:

  • Responsible for the study – Once an idea is identified as suitable for evaluation, an individual is given the task of collecting more information about the innovative idea to help the Innovation Committee to decide whether the organisation should start the project.
  • Project Manager – When an idea has been approved by the Innovation Committee, a project is initiated to implement the idea in practice, headed by a designated Project Manager.

Across the organisation, the opening up and formalising of the innovation process has also meant that many more employees are involved in projects to develop innovative or continuous improvement ideas.

From an implementation, management, and on-going support and maintenance perspective, the InnovCenter project team comprises three full-time people within Mota-Engil. Administration, management and monitoring of the new platform and process costs the organisation approximately 100,000 Euros per year.

Governance

A set of guidelines has been created which advises employees about how they should use the system, including rules relating to what is and is not appropriate. The InnovCenter project team is responsible for governing usage; while there have been no issues to date in this respect, the InnovCenter manager is entitled to remove inappropriate content, dock points from individuals, and block individuals’ access to InnovCenter if they persistently abuse the system.

Technology and infrastructure

As discussed earlier, Mota-Engil’s familiarity with Telligent’s collaboration software was a major contributing factor in its supplier decision, not only for the capabilities it provided, but also due to the access available to enable building on top of the online community features.

Another requirement was that the platform was able to integrate with Mota-Engil’s single sign-on capability, as well as with the company’s Microsoft Exchange implementation.

The results

Seven months after launch, the InnovCenter is already demonstrating its potential in terms of the volume of innovative ideas which are reaching project stage. Prior to InnovCenter, Mota-Engil had 10-15 innovation projects active at any time, although there was little visibility of how these were progressing outside the project teams themselves. Now the company has 21 on-going projects (note that this figure also includes projects which were in place prior to InnovCenter) for which information is updated through the InnovCenter platform on a monthly basis, providing visibility not just to the Innovation Committee but also to the broader organisation. Each project is allocated a defined budget and has a defined set of target results, with management able to track and monitor their progress against those targets.

In the last six months 97 ideas have been submitted by employees, relating to either the way the organisation operates or to new business opportunities. Of these, 45 have been collaboratively studied using the community components of InnovCenter to the point where they could be presented to the Innovation Committee.

From a corporate knowledge and talent management perspective, the ideas management aspect of the InnovCenter is enabling experts and creative thinkers to gain a much higher profile within the company. Mota-Engil is now beginning to see a more innovative culture developing in each department, driven by those people they have trained, and is pleased with the faster and more efficient process that has been put in place. Following the success of the development and implementation, WeListen has now commercialised the solution they built in partnership with Mota-Engil, which they have branded as InnovationCast.

Recommendations for adopters

In our conversations with Mota-Engil for this case study, the team offered a number of recommendations for organisations embarking on a similar initiative.

  • Transparency is a key factor when addressing innovation. Mota-Engil found that it was very important to develop and maintain a shared awareness about the role of innovation in their company. They recognised that everyone needed to understand the determination, investment and strategy that the company had regarding innovation if they were to encourage people to participate in the process. They made the innovation process completely public to all employees, from the creation and discussion of ideas, to the progress and challenges associated with on-going innovative projects, enabling employees to feel a sense of involvement and ownership in the development of the company.
  • Take an integrated approach to enable a faster route to innovation.Having previously used multiple, un-integrated platforms and applications within their innovation process, Mota-Engil realised that by implementing an integrated platform they could avoid the problems of duplicated work and more effectively enable collaboration and visibility right across the process, and across different departments within the organisation.
  • Recognise people’s engagement in the innovation process using rewards. Because Mota-Engil didn’t have people who were 100% dedicated to research and development, they needed to inspire and encourage people across the organisation to contribute to the innovation process. However, they recognised that no one will do this if they don’t see how it benefits them personally. By rewarding participation using a points-based system, as well as publicly distinguishing and rewarding their most innovative employees, Mota-Engil is ensuring people understand how important their contribution is to the company.

Best practice insights

Mota-Engil’s experience demonstrates some important best practices when it comes to implementing collaboration software solutions, in terms of ensuring that you have identified not just the organisation’s requirements for its technology solution, but also its own people- and process-centric development needs. As well as formalising strategic goals around how it would benefit from a more structured approach to improving innovation, the company identified the key issues in its existing approach, and created targeted training and education programs which it implemented on a department-by-department basis to maximise their effectiveness and to ensure that there was buy-in from across the organisation. Mota-Engil’s approach to rewarding employees’ contributions in a tangible way using a points system is also significant, although it is still too early to tell how effective this approach will be in encouraging participation in the long term.

Another interesting point to share from a best practice perspective is that Mota-Engil has found that its new employees are an excellent source of innovative ideas, with their limited knowledge of the company’s processes and practices meaning that they are able to think in a more creative way than more established employees. This is an important finding that other organisations can benefit from, by actively focusing on this employee demographic when implementing collaboration solutions in general, since they are not only not restricted by knowledge of how things have been done in the past, but they are also typically the most information-hungry people in the organisation as they try to get up to speed with company processes and activities, and tend to be among the first to see the benefit of new collaborative tools and practices.

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