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New trends and solutions are emerging every day. How to identify what trends to follow and to incorporate into products and how? Can new trends be picked up and transferred into the domain of enterprise software as they are? Or is there a more subtle way to bring innovation and trends that are emerging into the professional world?

One problem is, that by transferring trends that have been established in the outside world, they have been often used a different context than enterprise software. Specific metaphors have to be tweaked and adjusted to provide lacking functionality.

To identifyable at all such trends have provide be a certain mass or impact of innovation. This will not work for the main part of smaller improvements that only in sum lead to substantial improvement for the user.

Being implemented en-bloc and stand-alone, solutions following such trends set up another hurdle to adoption when it comes to integrating them into existing applications. This kind of innovation is not becoming available for the bulk of existing applications and transactions. A series of such point-innovations finally can lead to inconsistency and isolated solutions.

Focusing on existing and established trends also prevents from original and individual innovation that can emerge from targeted recombination and enhancement of modules and functions that are common to existing areas of innovations such as social media, collaboration, or gamification. Original innovation can only be driven out of original requirements and use cases in our product domains.

However, it is a valid scenario to pick up trends and transfer them into another domain if the goal is to learn more about its use and acceptance. Taking ready-made and established concepts also can help to speed up implementation and to establish innovation topics to create demand. Such an approach can be used to create an innovation spearhead into a company but at the same time holds the danger to establish standards in an early stage and narrow thoughts and visions for original innovations.

How to free ourselves from sticking to existing solutions? How to widen our view? How to discover those white spaces that will help us to bring innovation areas into our products? How can we make use of new trends to evolve and innovate our products in an original and informed way?

First of all we need to identify those areas of innovation that are of relevance to us. Trending topics certainly are the wide field of social media, game design, collaboration, mobile interaction and so on.

Secondly it is necessary to identify the basic mechanics that define these areas of innovation. Often enough, these areas overlap and influence each other so that it becomes even more important to understand what functions are being used in a specific area of innovation. If we consider the lively and constantly growing area of social media application we see new applications emerge by recombining known functions (feeds, sharing, networking) and enhancing these with very targeted innovations like location-detection, algorithms to find like-minded users around, etc.

Let’s assume that this model could also work at a larger scale.

Especially this recombination can be a very powerful strategy for a suite of enterprise software, where only incremental enhancements are wanted and possible. Only this strategy can provide the reach of innovation.

Third, it is necessary to identify the purpose and benefits of these functions. What do they actually provide and what are the requirements they fulfill? This already helps to get one step away from the concrete solution as implemented in the context of existing solutions. This finally helps to think about alternative realization of a specific function in another context.

Finally, if these requirements are identified it is possible to match these requirements to requirements in existing application domains and think about potential implementations of these functions in the given domain. Matching these requirements can be difficult and time consuming.

A more lightweight approach is the brainstorming methods applied in our practice where the functions are listed and described in an general way and the domain experts, customers or users can match identify those function that might be useful to solve their problems. This method describes the question that someone has to ask himself to identify useful functions. These questions point to the requirements that are actually fulfilled by a function but are much less abstract and easier to consume.

This catalogue of questions is open and flexible and it can serve as basis for discussion with internal as well as with external stakeholders, customer and users, and it helps to identify functions that can be useful for a certain domain. 

Being independent of the implementation of a function, as the questions are formulated on a functional level only, this approach also helps to brainstorm ideas how these functions could be combined and how a concrete implementation could look like.

Sustainable innovation and improvement requires both, lighthouse scenarios that illustrate the direction and vision as well as small and modular innovations and uptake of more fine-granular functions that form part of a trend.

Exploring the atoms of innovation can contribute original insights and help discovering new solutions together with partners and users.

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