BP Mismanages Data Flood


by Tony Kontzer Another gusher is giving BP headaches.

For nearly two months, the nation has watched in horror as BP has flailed from one ineffective attempt to another in an effort to plug the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and stop the tens of thousands of barrels of oil a day that's pouring through the current line of defenses and into the Gulf of Mexico.

Meanwhile, thousands of potentially effective ideas are languishing in what surely is one of the world's largest suggestion boxes.BP has devoted more than 100 people to handle the task of answering phone calls and reviewing the more than 40,000 ideas the company has received.

The phone call operation is downright silly. I called in, not with an idea, but to find out what happens when an eager person with an idea tries to chip in and help. I will say this--my call was answered immediately, no hold time. Impressive, I thought. And the agent who answered my call was chipper and cordial, even after I told her I was a journalist and had no ideas, only questions. But then came the punch in the gut: after offering up my name and email address, I was simply sent an email with nothing more than a link to an online form--one I'd already found on the site BP set up to disperse the latest information about the calamity, process claims related to damage, take reports on affected wildlife, and link interested folks with volunteer opportunities.

I especially like the last line of the email: "Once you fill in this form, you do not need to contact us again." Of course they don't want to be contacted--they're overwhelmed. As anyone can surely deduce, the process of collecting and analyzing more than 20,000 ideas is a mammoth task, one that's too big to leave to clunky humans on such an important matter. But what's really sad in the case of the BP spill is that it doesn't have to be that way. There are scores of products that would make BP's idea-collection operation more efficient and effective.

Take Accept Software, which offers a cloud-based idea-management service that was designed to help companies do a better job of developing products their customers will actually buy. CEO Bryan Plug says the software very easily could be used by BP not only to filter through the onslaught of suggestions, but also make it a more community-based approach in which those submitting their ideas could dialog with others, resulting in potentially improved ideas, eliminating duplicate ideas, and taking the task of categorizing and ranking them out of the hands of people.

Plug, like the many vendors besieging BP with offers, says he'd provide the service free for this purpose, but he points out there are numerous other companies with similar products that BP could tap. At this point, he just wants to see them do something to make better use of what is undoubtedly a large backlog of brilliant ideas.

"There's got to be a better way of managing these ideas to solve the problem," says Plug. "It's kind of like going out looking for oil and using the Jed Clampett method of just shooting your rifle."

Many of those ideas have come from scientists and inventors, some of whom apparently feel they've been ignored . Meanwhile, BP has pursued ideas from celebrities like Kevin Costner and James Cameron.

To be fair, Costner's company, Ocean Therapy Solutions, designs technology for cleaning up oil spills. And Cameron, famed director of Titanic, has abundant experience with underwater exploration, enough that he's one of the few people in the world who has his own fleet of remote submarines. But if Costner and Cameron's names were Smith and Jones instead, their suggestions would be just like the rest, needles hidden in an ever-growing haystack.

The bitter reality is that the way BP is collecting and analyzing ideas, it's only availing itself to a tiny portion of the brainpower it could be tapping. Which leads to an apt analogy, courtesy of Plug, the Accept CEO: "When the house is on fire, at some point you have to put down the garden hose and call the fire department."

Time to pick up the phone, BP. A lot of brilliant "firefighters" are waiting to hear from you.


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