smE-MPOWER is an effective business innovation coaching system. Initiated in 2005 as a European project with specific focus on research intensive SMEs (see box beside), it targets the business innovation system of SMEs including traditional companies as well as fast growing high tech enterprises from emerging sectors.
The coaching system
The Coaching System includes two critical job profiles and two pools of knowledge.
Methodological building blocks
For a collaborative network of actors to become a system requires shared language and a common understanding of the main terms. smE-MPOWER has developed three building blocks related to business innovation dynamics in SMEs:
- The life cycle model
- The business innovation system
- The subject-object interaction
The Key Account Manager
KAM has a generalist role and is responsible for the effective integration of various elements of the system. KAM?s role requires a geographical proximity to SMEs. The key tasks are:
- to help the SME identify coaching priorities
- to help the SME identify and source coaches that are right for the company
- to link the SME to additional support services available regionally or nationally
- to navigate the SME successfully through the business innovation
Business innovation Coach
The main mission for business innovation coaching is to empower SMEs to deal with the challenges involved in the implementation of business innovation. smE-MPOWER provides four reference coaching profiles addressing recurrent need areas of SMEs:
- Business development (main orientation: market);
- Organisational and resource development (main orientation:performance);
- Cooperation (main orientation: partnerships);
- Finance (main orientation: investment).
The Knowledge library
A need and demand driven coaching service requires a strong alignment with the SME’s situation. A comprehensive library of methods, practical tools and real-life examples has been developed to enable coaches to respond even to the complex requests from SMEs. The tools are specifically designed to be SME-friendly since:
- they are highly interactive;
- they provide visual representations and interfaces;
- they are focusing on the essential namely the 20% of tools and methods that are relevant to the 80% of targeted SMEs (the Pareto law).
Figure 1: smE-MPOWER coaching system
A demand-led coaching system requires a complex network organisation incorporating different stakeholders and specific management processes to enable their horizontal and vertical co-ordination. The challenge becomes even bigger if you take into account the critical mass of actors (e.g. innovation coaches) required for achieving a high responsiveness to the diversity of SME needs.
The organisation and management of such a complex structure became a major concern of the smE-MPOWER team, when, in 2014, the European Commission (EC) decided to adopt and scale-up he smE-MPOWER system in order to be able to offer a coaching scheme for the SME Instrument programme. The development of a professional Web-based system became a top priority with substantial development and validation taking place since then. The web-based system designed and developed by the smE-MPOWER community offers three modular platforms to support all stakeholders (e.g. programme managers, KAM, coaches) involved in the delivery of coaching. The three modular platforms are the CaseTracker, the CoachMatch and the Knowledge Portal.
This platform is the information backbone of the coaching system and it enables high level reporting to the political stakeholders. Its functionalities support the following three processes:
- Operational process, which includes in particular the daily tasks of the programme management, the Key Account Managers (KAMs) and the coaches. The CaseTracker is a single platform used by all these actors to process the SME’s business innovation ?case?and manage and capture all KAM and coaching activities around this case.
- Strategic process, which includes tasks such as business innovation intelligence, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and instant on-line reporting.
- Resource management platform, which includes the interface with the coach database (CoachMatch) and to the knowledge library (KnowledgePortal), described below.
The CaseTracker contains the vital information on customer SMEs, such as their innovation needs, the selected coaching service as well as a number of indicators on impact (from the SME point of view). It is recommended to host the CaseTracker on a dedicated server under the responsibility of the relevant programme.
A prerequisite for effective coaching is the match between an SME’s needs portfolio and the Coach?s competence profile. The CoachMatch Web-based platform aims to support exactly this fit. It offers the following functionalities:
- Coaches can login and define their competence profile and apply for becoming part of a coaching programme. The classification system is identical to that of the needs analysis in the CaseTracker, to assure complete alignment between the two.
- The programme manager or resource manager gets an alert on new coach applications and decides on their accreditation.
- KAMs, who are searching coaches for specific SME’s needs, can match the identified innovation needs with specific coach profiles and establish a shortlist of proposed coaches for the SME concerned. The SME can then make the final decision and select the most appropriate coach.
There is one central CoachMatch server, currently with over 1000 coach profiles. For each new coaching programme a specific host account will be created to allow synergy between the pools of coaches identified by different support programmes. The current solution also allows low access cost (SaaS, Software as a Service).
SMEs are managed by people who prefer making their own decisions but based on rational arguments and a clear logic. A distinctive characteristic of the coaching philosophy is its strategy to empower SMEs: SMEs will have to acquire the skills and the knowhow for solving their own challenges! In other words, the professional experience of a coach should be “translated” into knowledge (in form of methods, tools, implementation tips, good/bad practices etc.) that is –relatively easily– transferrable to the SME senior managers.
This is exactly the purpose of the rich and dynamic content developed within the KnowledgePortal which offers the following functions:
- The newest versions of the smE-MPOWER tools are uploaded on the KnowledgePortal
- Platform registered users can submit knowledge material for evaluation and for pilot use
- A team of smE-MPOWER experts evaluate the submitted knowledge material, interacts with the author(s) in order to improve the material and finally to relate the new material in the knowledge classification system and label it to enable an easy future usage.
- Users can search for knowledge material through four search modes: a) by search criteria; b) by Business Innovation areas; c) by life cycle stages (of the SME), and d) by coaching services.
The KnowledgePortal is provided through a central server and is accessible as a SaaS (Software as a Service).
Figure 2: smE-MPOWER WEB platforms