When I finished my proof-of-concept presentation to the CIO of a prospective client at a recent meeting, he was more than surprised – he was upset. He almost yelled at me: “How did you do it?”
For my demo, my client had to complete a paper application form used by his company’s sales force. He needed to do this by hand, as would any customer, but using a digital pen equipped not only with an ordinary ink cartridge, but also with a micro-camera that captured each trace of the pen on the paper. When he had finished the application, he checked one box at the end of it that read “Transmit.” While explaining the features of the digital pen, I opened my laptop and remotely connected to our demo server. From there, just a few seconds after he had completed the application, I could show to him not only a high-quality scan of the completed application, but also all the data already translated into usable fields: numbers, dates, addresses, ready for ERP integration. He stood up in astonishment and asked: “How did you do it? How??”
This appears to be a nice example of a presentation that went so well that I took my audience completely by surprise with an emerging, unexpectedly beautiful technology. But the truth is, less than two years after launching our work with digital writing, we had to completely write off two years of work and investment put in an offering that appeared to be “The Next Big Thing.”
Talking about our digital transformation successes is always nice, but I would like to share these five innovation facts that, from my experience, should be understood to avoid failing in this era where all of us are at the brink of launching The Next Big Thing, whether on top of blockchain or IoT or AI or machine learning technologies.
1. “Innovation Chasm” does exist. I am sure that many of you have seen the Technology Adoption Lifecycle graph that describes the Innovators, Early Adopters, etc. Well, in that graph, there is a chasm between being loved by technology fans and getting a growing majority of users that will make your product the next iPhone. In the case I described, we could not convince owners of the intellectual property in a timely fashion to simplify the pricing model to accelerate the creation of a minimum user base. Check your business model for scenarios where the chasm is bigger than anticipated.
2. Platforms and ecosystems matter. The possibilities of emerging technologies are immense but decisions need to be made in relation to the platform or ecosystem you want to belong to or create for others. No one cares for a solution that cannot integrate and evolve for future needs. Our digital writing offering did use industry standards like XML or GMS but relied heavily on proprietary technology within the core product.
3. The “Innovator’s Dilemma” is real. Professor Clayton Christensen has said that companies are designed for the status quo and innovation efforts are killed by design. This is, although companies may not say it, they do not really want to disrupt themselves. So, your presentation to whoever approves your innovation effort needs to avoid a collision trajectory and rather explain the complementary nature of business and customer bases that you are bringing to the table.
4. Being a maverick is cool, but … In the end, a successful launch of an emerging technology needs to be on good terms with the leading powers that will put your product in front of users. It needs to integrate seamlessly with dominant social platforms as well as with online and app stores, and be designed to quickly open its features to the newcomers that will play a dominant role in your marketplace. That is why you see such collaboration among companies that otherwise would be rivals to create the future ecosystems for blockchain, machine learning, etc.
5. ITBMS! I have a blog post called It’s the Business Model, Stupid. We have seen for several years that, in the end, all successful technology companies have managed to build a credible business model that will turn around years of losses (sorry, capital investments) by creating value for an ever-growing number of users. So, be bold in pursuing your dreams for a better world, but keep close your friends that can make sense of it in terms of a sustainable, long-term business model.
Author’s note: Jose Angel Arias has started and led several technology and business consulting companies over his 30-year career. In addition to having been an angel investor himself, as head of Grupo Consult, he participated in TechBA’s business acceleration programs in Austin and Madrid. He transitioned his career to lead the Global Innovation Group in Softtek for four years. He is currently technology audit director with a global financial services company. He has been a member of ISACA and a Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) since 2003.