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August - 2008 - issue > Profiles in Innovation
Co-creation-Innovation-Through-Customer-Cognition
Ash Tankha
Thursday, August 7, 2008
In a world with exponentially increasing sources of information, awareness campaigns, and widespread Internet access where the trigger for information is just a click away, today’s consumers are cognizant and well informed of the latest products and trends. Products are but an artifact around which compelling individual experiences are created. The customer’s freedom of experimentation with different products, product comparison, and discussion forums entitles him to be the best judge between good and great. Shortcomings and needs are best understood by the users, making them potential innovators. This capability of the customer as a potential innovator unveils an interminable repository of ideas, thus generating a new order of value addition for a company.

SoftJin has adopted a hybrid business model, whereby we have developed significant EDA IPs, which we license as customizable components along with our services. This allows us to work closely with customers addressing their unique problems that are not addressed by anyone else and do so in a relatively short time. -Nachiket Urdhwareshe, CEO, SoftJin Technologies

An effective innovation management system actuates this process of feedback and responses from customers. A wide-vista perspective through a diverse customer base, and implementation of these ideas towards innovation is the foundation of co-creation.

One can afford to ignore the feedback from customers only at one’s own peril, and this fact is not particular to our industry only! One should definitely be factoring in the feedback from customers in drawing technology and business roadmaps for the company. -Nachiket Urdhwareshe, CEO, SoftJin Technologies

3jam is constantly testing ideas with users and listening to feedback. We do live usability testing of all new product features. We bring in people that match our target demographic and behavioral user profile and then observe them using the products. It’s amazing how valuable this experience can be in improving the product. We also do online surveys and some live intercept interviews. For example, teenagers are the heaviest users of text messaging in the U.S., so we have often gone to the shopping mall to talk to teenagers about new features of 3jam and get their feedback. Finally, we solicit feedback from our users through online forms and email to help us drive and prioritize improvements to the product. -Thad White, VP, Products, 3jam

An important aspect of co-.creation is to interact with customers and maintain a knowledge base of each customer. Developing capabilities to implement customer insight may be included as a significant part in Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Progressive companies are pursuing radical and alternative strategies and methods for sourcing valuable customer knowledge that can make a vital contribution to successful products, services, and even business method innovation. To access, understand, and implement customer knowledge, a process called Customer Knowledge Management is set up with most firms to have maximum benefit out of such interaction.

One of my responsibilities at Enzen is to develop ‘Knowledge Practitioners’ with deep industry and domain knowledge, which will enable us to deliver innovative solutions to business challenges faced by our customers. “Daring new ideas are like chessmen moved forward: they may be beaten, but they start a winning game.”-Vinod Nair, CEO, Enzen Technologies

Optimizing Knowledge Sharing

Customers who are generally more knowledgeable than businesses normally assume, some cognitive firms are aiming to seek and mobilize knowledge use a variety of collaborative, community, and interactive approaches in order to co-create valuable personalized experiences, products, and services.

Over the years, we have realized that one of the best ways to tap into new ideas is through brainstorming. This could involve colleagues, customers, family, friends, and partner organizations. As per our processes, the key with any brainstorming session is to disallow any negative comments and to only analyze or develop ideas once the session is over.-Vinod Nair, CEO Enzen Technologies

It is an innovative and important strategic process by which progressive companies are now able to emancipate their customers from being passive recipients of products and services to becoming empowered knowledge partners in the organizational value-creation and sharing the process itself.

We take a user-focused approach to innovation and product development. This includes constantly looking at data to see how our users are using the product, as well as talking to our users directly.

Challenges

Many businesses view such potentially knowledge-rich customer interaction as a trivial cost cutting issue rather than as an investment in learning through dialogue and knowledge sharing. Until organizations make serious efforts to understand their customers better, measures to take cost out of the customer interface will amount to expensive mistakes.

The first hurdle is meant to evaluate if the idea is viable for addressing a known customer need. The next is to evaluate its viability for Stoke in terms of time top market, available ecosystems partners, the window of opportunity, etc. and a third is customer validation of the concept.-Vikash Varma, CEO, Stoke Inc.

Co-creation involves a whole new change in the mindset of the management to view customers as prospects for value addition. Another challenge is to develop methods and skills to strategically acquire knowledge through interactions. Identifying the right customers who can contribute to knowledge creation is of paramount importance. It may be difficult for companies to access knowledgeable customers at the decision making stage of innovation, as it could lead to a stage where there would be doubts regarding the investment in dialogue with the customer. Moreover, willingness among customers in presenting their ideas and skills required for competent market innovation are yet another dimension of the problem in this issue.

Possible Benefits and Outcomes from Co-creation

A close and continuous contact with customers gives firms a greater ability to sense emerging market opportunities before the competition. Firms derive a higher innovation potential through the sheer number of idea generators, creating more innovative new products palatable to a wider consumer base. The learning curve is made steeper through faster customer access to knowledge and resolution of customer service problems.

To give a recent example, the Stoke Session Exchange was designed and implemented from the beginning as an IP session management device. Mobile network operators are on a course to deploy ‘All IP’ network infrastructures, but completion of these efforts is still years away for many operators. Recognizing the long-term value of the Stoke product and the reality of this timeline, an operator asked for support of certain legacy interfaces in the Stoke product to help him bridge the transition. Recognizing that this is a condition common to many operators around the world, we have included the requested features and have incorporated it in our standard product offering. -Vikash Varma, CEO, Stoke Inc.

Protecting Innovation

It is necessary to realize the possible opportunities and advantages that a new idea provides, only then will the urge for protecting knowledge arise. The extensive measures taken by successful companies interviewed here like Enzen, SoftJin, Stoke, and 3jam to generate new ideas and concepts are indicators for the need of stronger technology and knowledge base to bring about innovation. This knowledge base forms the strongest asset of an organization and plays a big role in unlocking the true value of the organization. Thus, it is imperative that it be protected from plagiarism or unauthorized use.

How an idea is implemented is my technological advantage and must be rigorously defended through patent filings and available legal procedures.-Vikash Varma, CEO, Stoke Inc.

Time and resources spent on innovation may be lost without rewards if it is not adequately protected. Intellectual Property is protected by IP instruments like patents and trademarks. Patents are a foolproof and relatively inexpensive way of protecting intellectual property, which has the potential to generate exponential profits.

We have been filing patents to protect some of our key innovations. Apart from that we have standard operational and legal measures in place to secure our innovations and intellectual property. -Nachiket Urdhwareshe, CEO, SoftJin Technologies.


Ash Tankha US Patent Attorney, Gosakan and Santosh Ravindranath provide patent services. They can be contacted at ash@ipprocurement.com or www.ipprocurement.com

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