Dell Takes Ideation and Product Innovation by “Storm” with Online Community

jvaishnav    October 19, 2015

Organization name: Dell Inc.

Industry: Computer hardware

Name of contact: Michael Dell, Founder, Chairman & CEO

Web references:

WikipediaAbout IdeaStormMerriam-Webster Dictionary – crowdsourcing,  eWeek article – EMC Will Be Latest and Greatest of Dell’s Many Acquisitions, Business Computing World article – How to Make the Most Out of CrowdsourcingFIR IndeaStorm Interview with Project Manager Cy Jervis, Video: Crowdsourcing and Crowdfunding Explained

About Dell

Dell is one of the largest technology companies in the world. Best known for its built-to-order PCs and laptops, Dell also sells servers, data storage devices, network switches, software, computer peripherals, HDTVs, cameras, printers, MP3 players and other electronics and services.  Most recently Dell has made headlines for its $67 billion acquisition of storage giant EMC, which some critics believe will be Dell’s greatest acquisition to date.

With so many different products, one must ask – where does Dell find its ideas for new products and services?

Dell pioneers a social approach to product innovation

Dell prides itself on “always moving forward and innovating” and in February 2007 it sought to bring its customers into the innovation process. With the launch of, Dell gave its customers a voice. The company wanted to hear directly from customers about what new products and services they would like to see.

The initial version of the online community allowed for users to post their ideas. Then, in 2009, Dell added “Storm Sessions”.  As you can see from the example below, a Storm Session allows for users to submit their ideas about a specific topic that Dell posts, within a specified amount of time.

Storm Session


















In 2012, Dell added idea “Extensions”. According to Dell, these Extensions allow a contributor to “promote a comment made on their idea to be considered a part of it.”  The purpose of Extensions is to enable collaboration and help ideas to evolve over time.

At Dell World 2012, FIR co-host Shel Holtz caught up with IdeaStorm moderator and project manager Cy Jervis. In this interview podcast, Cy reveals that before he was a Dell employee, he was an IdeaStorm contributor himself – in fact, the top contributor. Not only did he contribute product ideas, he also contributed thoughts on how to improve the IdeaStorm site, and he was brought on to put those thoughts into action.

With the IdeaStorm initiative, Dell became an early pioneer in social product innovation, using crowdsourcing for ideation.


According to Meriam-Webster, crowdsourcing is:

The practice of obtaining needed services, ideas or content by soliciting a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.

In the 2011 article, “How to Make the Most of Crowdsourcing” by Bill Johnston, Director of Global Community for Dell, he defined crowdsourcing as:

“the process that enables customers to play a role in creating a new product or service and, in some cases, solve a business challenge.”

According to Chris McNamara, COO of DesignCrowd, 9 of the world’s top 10 brands are crowdsourcing.

In the following video by, the site’s founder Carl Esposti explains four different ways that crowdsourcing works:

The crowdsourcing approach by Dell’s IdeaStorm works in two ways – by asking users a question, seeking ideas in the form of answers, and – by providing an open platform for users to submit their own ideas or extensions to other users’ ideas.

Benefits of crowdsourcing beyond ideas

As of October 18, 2015, Dell reports the following results from the IdeaStorm community:

  • Over 23,963 ideas submitted,
  • 748,010+ votes,
  • 101,851+ comments, and
  • 549+ ideas implemented.

While the number of ideas submitted and implemented is impressive, note the level of engagement overall.  Gaining new ideas from customers was the main priority for Dell’s crowdsourcing initiative but the company is enjoying other significant benefits.  According to Dell’s Bill Johnston, “The actual content created is certainly a valuable asset, but it is only part of the picture. The crowd can also be an extremely valuable asset… Dell found that IdeaStorm members spend more money, purchase more frequently and have a higher value over their lifetime. So, in addition to all the great ideas, the IdeaStorm community is driving customer engagement and revenue.”

Chris McNamara echoes the sentiment that there is value beyond ideas, as she talks about lessons learned from the world’s top brands:

“These brands use crowdsourcing to refine their existing offers, drive innovation and bring products to market in new and exciting ways. In doing so, they not only galvanize existing customer relationships into powerful customer advocacy, but leverage the skills, talent and creativity of that network to help build the brand.”

Lessons for others

In today’s highly competitive, fast-paced business environment, organizations need to get creative with how they source ideas for new products and services, and product enhancements. Dell’s launch of IdeaStorm in 2009 was forward-thinking and has proven that it can bring the company closer to its users, while also fostering customer advocacy and customer loyalty.  And why wouldn’t it? What customer does not value a vendor’s commitment to listen to their ideas – and the ability to see what happens to those comments and ideas?

This may be one of the most valuable lessons to take from Dell’s initiative. Crowdsourcing can deliver value well beyond the ideas generated. The key to realizing this additional value is for the company to be fully transparent with its customers. On the IdeaStorm site, Dell goes to great effort to tell users that, “Each idea will go through a life cycle that will be assigned statuses at each milestone.” Detail on each status, and what the status means is included. This means that at any time, a user can see the status of his request, and understand what that status means – and he is assured that Dell is moving his idea through a lifecycle.

Organizations considering new ways to drive product innovation, should consider social product innovation and decide early:

  1. What type of crowdsourcing to use.
  2. The appropriate platform to support the type of crowdsourcing selected.
  3. A strategy for establishing transparency with users, so they feel assured that their ideas are being heard and given serious consideration.

Submitted by: Julie Vaishnav

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