Open Innovation: The New Army Recruit

Published Jan-16-11

'Apps for the Army' is an open innovation mashup competition to help the army speed up its development of mobile software apps.

United States Army, United States

The Story:

Open Innovation:  The New Army Recruit The concept of open innovation is as beautiful as it is elegant; present a problem that needs to be solved, and someone somewhere in the world will be able to come up with the solution. Of increasing importance to companies large and small the OI approach has also been adopted by the US Army.

One particular thorny issue that it suffers from is that it is not able to develop and deliver software applications as quickly as industry; the process is time-consuming and difficult.

Open Innovation Contest

So in March 2010 it launched the ‘Apps for the Army’ challenge, an open innovation contest for all military and civilian members to deliver software applications to army forces in much shorter time frames than ever before as well generate exciting new apps.

Participants were asked to develop software applications for mobile phones in a variety of categories, including morale, welfare and recreation; training and education; war fighting, mission specific and personnel and career management.

The competition was open for 75 days and during that time 140 individuals and teams signed up, and 53 web and mobile applications were developed and submitted by the May 15 deadline.

They were judged by a panel from across the army and fifteen winners and ten honorable mentions shared $30,000 in prize money; each of the five categories had first ($3000), second ($1500) and third place ($1000) winners, and there were smaller cash awards for the honorable mentions.

Amongst the prize winners were;

Physical Training Program - helps soldiers develop their own PT program. The app provides training plans and videos of exercises and is based on the Army’s new Physical Readiness Training program. The development team believes this could be a template for training manuals of the future, ones that aren’t based on hundreds of pages of written information.

Disaster Relief - assists army personnel working in humanitarian relief and civilian affairs operations. It is a web-based data survey and analysis tool for searching, editing and creating maps that can be viewed on Google Earth and Google Maps.

New Recruit – essential information for potential recruits. Features include army news feeds and an army physical fitness test calculator.

Progress Marches On

In addition to sourcing new mobile software apps the competition concept has provided the army with a new and quicker way of getting applications to its personnel. By moving away from traditional development practices and encouraging open innovation the army has cut through slow bureaucratic processes.

“I think this contest ... portends a way for how we can more rapidly develop applications in the future, using the collaborative forums to help define the requirements, using this contest methodology to go out and have companies participate, and then build it in a manner that we can more rapidly bring it in.” Lt. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sorenson, the Army chief information officer told one interviewer.

Collective Brainpower

Open innovation and crowdsourcing initiatives are not just for commercial companies, but any entity that has a problem to solve can benefit from recruiting a broad collection of brainpower.

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