Spark is the aptly named collaborative open innovation program created by Liberty Global, the world's largest international cable company, with brand names such as Virgin Media, VodafoneZiggo, UPC, and Telenet. In just five years, Spark realized an ROI of €18 million. Here, we explain how.
Liberty Global is one of the world’s leading video, broadband, and communication companies, with headquarters in London, Amsterdam, and Denver and operations in six European countries under the consumer brands Virgin Media, Telenet, and UPC. The company serves over 45 million mobile subscribers and offers Wi-Fi service through 85 million access points. Its substantial scale and commitment to innovation enable it to develop market-leading products delivered through next-generation networks.
Liberty Global launched its first Spark innovation platform in 2011, open to VodafoneZiggo’s 1,500 employees in the Netherlands. By 2012, it had expanded to four countries, although the platforms were still running in isolation in the different operations.
From the outset, there was a high level of interest and engagement in the platform, with strong participation rates and a constant flow of ideas. However, the lack of alignment and cooperation between business units hindered the effectiveness and relevance of those ideas.
The ideas submitted on the platform didn‘t respond to specific challenges or fall within a set timeframe, so they were often not aligned with the company strategy or business needs. Nor did they have clear owners. To further complicate matters, the (quite basic) platforms used didn’t allow for interoperability and standard processes to manage ideas across operations, which prevented international cooperation and scaling of ideas.
These challenges highlighted the need for a single point of reference and a more enterprise-wide approach to the Spark program.
It was clear that Liberty Global needed to scale the platform to support innovation activities in all areas of the company and connect all employees globally. That’s why Liberty Global started working with HYPE Innovation to relaunch its innovation platform, Spark 2.0, with the goals of:
HYPE Innovation allowed Liberty Global to easily achieve those goals through implementing and running “idea campaigns.”
Campaigns are the most structured form of idea collection provided by the Spark platform. They are a call for ideas to solve a specific challenge faced by a business unit or department. Within Spark, idea campaigns have a sponsor who not only has a business need but also the budget and resources to follow up on idea implementation.
Every campaign starts with an initial phase of idea submission, followed by a community discussion, and expert reviews. Selected ideas are moved into the concept phase so that they can be further developed and reviewed by the sponsor’s team for final approval. If the team responds positively to them, they hand the ideas over to the business for implementation. The local innovation manager has the role of facilitating the campaign, working in alignment with the central Spark team.
“A great example of cross-collaboration happened during a global campaign. An idea submitted by our Swiss colleagues was picked up by corporate offices, realizing it could easily be scaled. Once implemented globally, it has a promise of a 30 million euro ROI per year! Spark is the only system in the company that offers this collaborative opportunity of taking ideas from anyone, anywhere, and sharing them across the different operations.”
- Sarah Kelly, Innovation Program Manager
This close cooperation ensures that best practice guidance is always available for the sponsor and that new lessons can be fed back to the Spark team. Spark enables idea campaign sponsors to reach out to different segments of the business for new ideas. Sponsors have the option of opening the campaign to Liberty Global’s entire employee base to tap the collective resources of the company, to one or a few departments, or to specific employees.
Liberty Global selected HYPE Innovation to run the Spark platform because it meets the company’s key innovation platform criteria: