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5 Real Innovation Opportunities in 2012

by Chris Curran on February 7, 2012 [email] [twitter]

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Co-authored with Devin Henkel

For years we’ve heard the challenge “innovate or die.” Companies are taking that idea to the extreme in 2012 – we are currently working with several companies that are re-thinking their approaches to innovation. To survive, they are “innovating innovation.”

Some companies are letting outsiders in on their innovation processes. That old paradigm of company researchers toiling away in back rooms on secret innovations for months is going up in smoke as companies grow more comfortable tapping social networks to collaborate with their partners, customers and employees. Companies that shed their old innovation processes and embrace these all-inclusive innovation teams will be in a powerful position to explore and exploit the following technology trends.

Location Awareness: Widening Possibilities with Near Field Communication

Tracking anything that moves (employees, customers and products) will remain trendy in 2012, but forward-thinking companies will advance beyond the limitations of QR codes and RFID technology. RFID can’t keep tabs on liquids or store information, but “near-field” communication (NFC) can. That’s not all. For example, GPS-enabled apps can locate and lure customers into stores. Then, NFC can sense what products are around customers in the stores to help them make choices and payments. In fact, companies can zap coupons to customers at this critical point of purchase and steer them toward the register. As Google and Apple introduce phones with NFC tech embedded, understanding the opportunities presented will be important soon.

Mobility: You Want an App with That?

Companies will increasingly pair their products with apps to extend their functionality and broaden the customer experience. For example, can’t remember where you parked your car after a busy day of shopping? Chevy Volt offers an app for that. Want to sync your alarm clock with your personal playlist? You can wake up with the music you want. Need help sticking to your New Year’s Resolution to drop a few pounds? Purchase a digital scale and graph the ups and downs online. Consumers are favoring apps over browsers and cutting edge companies of all stripes and colors are taking advantage of this love affair.  One important question for your customers and employees is how will the increased use of apps impact, positively or negatively, their use of the hyperlinked Web and search engines and how their resulting problem-solving productivity is impacted.

Social Media: Social Networks Get Social with Each Other

Social networks aren’t the walled off gardens they used to be. Social networks are becoming social with each other and apps by embedding services into their own apps. Popular destinations like Foodspotting and Spotify let you notify your friends through Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare where you are, what you are eating and what you are listening to. According to the NY Times, Facebook counts you as an active user if you click the “Like” button on any page. Companies should follow in the footsteps of social networks and look for opportunities to collaborate in the development of embeddable services.

Natural User Interfaces: Talk and Touch

Consumers will increasingly control their devices with their voices.  Because software controlled by voice only responds to commands it “understands” these apps have a finite pool of things they know how to do, then often fall back on searching the web as a default. One can imagine the buzz and loyalty created if the user could say something like, “tell my DVR to record the Bulls game tonight” – which is not unrealistic but requires some thought, prioritization and partnerships. Consumers will also increasingly expect to touch their devices to manipulate data. How can your product utilize touch? The options are only as endless as the imagination. Here is an abbreviated list of what the future of user interfaces looks like courtesy of the MIT Media lab.

Laying the Groundwork with Cloud Computing

Cloud computing helps by decreasing the cycle time to demo or pilot a new idea for organizations whose IT shops don’t differentiate between a sandbox and production environment. Third-party cloud services can also speed things up. Last year in our innovation look-ahead we mentioned that not many companies were adopting the cloud, but that’s changing now. Among respondents that identify their firms as top performers in our most recent Digital IQ study, 30% are investing in public cloud applications and 87% expect that investment to increase this year.

The opportunities to innovate this year stretch beyond the horizon. Are you taking advantage of any of these trends this year? Are you reconfiguring your innovation process to do so? Tell us about it.

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