July - 2008 - issue > Profiles in Innovation
Ash Tankha
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Successful organizations continually adapt and evolve to changing market conditions and technologies. The driving forces for innovation have been new technology, competitive pressures, and changing customer needs. When changes in the market place occur at a rapid pace, it becomes critical to accelerate the innovation process.

Rapid Innovation and Prototype Development
The period between the earliest point in the design cycle and the final release of the product is filled with experimentation, failure, and analysis. A rapid product development strategy involves iterative development and constructing prototypes at each stage. In a rapid innovation scenario, prototype development provides the opportunity to explore new ideas and resolve outstanding questions without having to make a significant financial commitment. The challenge here is to maintain the balance between problem definition or clarification and their transformation to useful forms or embodiment.

According to Pradeep Kohli, CEO of Mavenir Systems, headquartered in Richardson, Texas, “Problem definition is critical for any technology to succeed in the real world. It defines the business objective which drives the technology decision points for development and implementation of solution.” Kohli continues, “Our experience has demonstrated that adaptability of people, processes, and products is more important to address the rapidly changing marketplace with a fairly fast development cycle.”

Also problem definition would be holistic if it captures the customer perspectives. “Problem definition which includes understanding customer requirement and customer pain points is more important. Ideally more time should be spent on problem definition and high level and detailed design of the solution or product and lesser time on implementation.” says Shekar Nair, CEO of Elina, headquartered in Bangalore, India. Nair further adds, “The market place is continually changing and the growing dependence on newer technologies is causing market windows to shrink.”

The future customer can be involved in the early stages of problem definition. As Jogen Pathak, CEO of Varaha Systems, headquartered in Dallas, Texas puts it, “The important thing is defining the problem from the customer’s view point - which takes the most time. Understanding the market demand, and positioning can be challenging. The key to rapid development is having interested customers and their involvement and feedback”.

The key to innovation is identification of problems and defining unique solutions. The cornerstone of innovation and novelty lie in identification of the problem. If one were to review novelty of products in issued patents, the ‘aha’ effect arises more out of the identification of the problem than the uniqueness of the solution. Hence, in innovative firms, rapid development has its roots more in rapid and adaptive problem identification and definition than in rapid solution implementation.

Building Human Bridges in the Corporate World
The most successful and rapid innovations are those that have strong collaborative roots, connectivity amongst those with the right expertise in a given domain, and those with the right influence in the organization. Innovation is seen not as the generation of new ideas by individuals and small groups but also as the flow of knowledge and capabilities into and across an organization to identify problems and foresee new opportunities.

The pattern of collaboration that supports rapid innovation can be defined by mapping information flow, problem solving, and decision-making interactions in organizations or groups charged with innovation. The networks distributed throughout an organization, though seemingly visible and intractable, provide a substantial lever to improve both success and efficiency of innovation efforts.

During the course of rapid product development, a number of product ideas are generated in a short span of time. These new concepts and products may be protected by a provisional patent application. Within a year of filing a provisional patent, the final patent application must be filed. The one-year period allows the inventor the time to detail the product, fix bugs and introduce new embodiments of the product. Most companies protect or patent their idea when it is just at the conception stage.

Market Outcome from Rapid Innovation
Innovation can be costly, not due to the money but the time involved in product development. Given the rapidly changing marketplace, the time spent in successfully developing new products needs to be reduced dramatically. Organizations use widespread design, manufacturing, and distribution networks to reproduce similar offerings almost overnight and in the process spend a significant amount of their revenue on innovating. The result is that innovation provides a great advantage for those who are able to minimize the time and costs of developing new products and services.

In the modern world, the grounds of market understanding have shifted from the primitive mode of using an intuitive approach to making use of more sophisticated theoretic tools and mathematical modeling.

It appears that finding the right balance between quality and rapid product development is the solution to the current innovation crisis. Rapid product development has its own problems. Once the product specifications are set, and the manufacturing process is set up, product or design changes can be expensive. The winner gets it right at the first time, and most importantly on time. It is important to note that rapid introduction of a new product into the market will not always result in the expected response unless the product is suitable for that market and meets the market’s requirements. Sometimes the inventor may be too early for the market. Therefore, the product must be designed and implemented in such a way as to anticipate the exact needs, and the timing of the needs, of the customer.

Today, a large number of tools and models are available to cut down product development time. For physical models, low cost rapid prototyping equipments are readily available. For software products, many new ‘rapid design processes’ allow quick software prototyping. Advanced simulation models and electronic design tools allow rapid prototyping in the electronics industry. Quick and inexpensive product development requires a robust design, which takes into consideration a clearly defined product requirement, a motivated team, effective communication, and good development tools.

The purpose of rapid innovation is not only to solve the original problem quickly but also to acquire the momentum to move past the limits of our experience and to gain new insights. According to Anand Shenoy, CEO, IAITO, headquartered in Kanpur, India the simple mantra for successful innovation is, “First be a technology obsessed driver which will enable you to accelerate and drive the market in a pre-eminent way.”

The author is US Patent Attorney, Gosakan A and Roopam Ghosh patent service providers. They can be contacted at ash@ipprocure.com or through www.ipprocure.com

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