By John Somers, AEM Director of Product Management, Construction, Mining & Utility
Think about a product you use every day. Chances are it makes your life a little bit easier and allows you to perform an important task with greater efficiency and effectiveness.
Now think about what the first iteration of the product was like when it was initially invented. Was it created to fill a need, and because no product existed to address it? Was another offering simply not getting the job done?
Innovation occurs for many reasons. And when a product is developed to solve a problem or fulfill a need, the innovation doesn’t end there. Incremental updates are made and integrated over time as technology emerges, evolves and becomes less expensive.
Ever since hydraulics replaced winches and wire ropes in the 1960s, countless technological advancements have been made in the construction industry. Equipment is stronger and more efficient, operator safety and comfortability is significantly better, machine tracking and telematics data provide valuable operational insights, and engineering resources have led to both improved engine emissions and the introduction of hybrid machines. And to think, the industry is just now starting to scratch the surface in terms of how unmanned and autonomous equipment can provide value.
Your customers – especially those who cannot remember a time before the Internet existed – expect the products they use to incorporate cutting-edge technology, and the vast majority of offerings do. But how should technology be integrated into new and innovative products in order to meet the ever-changing needs of end users? Companies would be wise to try to answer this question.
Consider features found in cars manufactured in the past five to 10 years. Infotainment screens are larger, and safety features like assisted braking and adaptive cruise control are commonly included in vehicles. Other than that, though? Not much else is really new or innovative. Perhaps automakers are just trying to keep their products fresh until they completely remove the steering wheel and pedals.
There are plenty of examples in other industries, too. Companies have a tendency to just merge technology without really thinking about the value it provides to end users. Samsung put a touchscreen in a refrigerator. Bluetooth is being integrated into a number of everyday products, including toasters.
What is the purpose of these features? Do you really want to stand in front of your fridge and look at the weather? Is an app really necessary to help you remember how crispy you like your Pop-Tarts, even though a physical dial on the actual toaster can do it just as effectively?
The above examples should serve as a helpful reminder for your company to identify its sources of innovation. Because unlike say, a smartphone, these offerings are highly unlikely to evolve from offbeat luxuries and become useful necessities. But someone or something convinced Samsung refrigerators needed touchscreens, though. And the end result of all of the company’s “innovation” wasn’t a product the market demanded or required.
What are your sources of innovation? Are they customers, or just new technology? Does innovation come from your internal engineering teams looking for ways to differentiate your product from the competition’s offerings? Or are you relying on end users to relay the unique challenges they encounter while using a specific piece of equipment for a certain job? These are important questions, and they require clear and definitive answers.
Now think about a product your company current has in development. Does it fill a need? Can it serve as a useful tool for completing a task? Will using it make someone’s life a little bit easier? Whatever the case, it had better be more than a combination of technology. Because innovation is just a word to describe your product development efforts until the moment your offering provides real and measurable value to your customers.
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