Tuesday, May 4, 2010

FEI2010 Keynote – Technology Led Innovation, Tapping What’s Next

C. Engdahl reporting from FEI2010

Technology Led Innovation, Tapping What’s Next
Presented by Dr. Sophie Vandebroek, CTO Xerox & President Xerox Innovation Group

In contrast to the largely observational, storytelling nature of other FEI2010 keynote speakers James Suroweicki and Steven B. Johnson, Dr. Sophie Vandebroek in a presentation titled “Turning Inspiration Into Critical Customer Assets” provided a rich, in-depth practitioner's view of how to effectively incorporate customers in the innovation process.

From Xerox’s perspective Innovation = Creating Customer Value. It makes sense then that Xerox’s structure and approach to innovation is customer-centric, and infused with multiple and dynamic customer touchpoints. It’s worth noting that Customers are but one of the key ingredients to create successful investment portfolios – the others being Strategy, Trends, and Balance Scorecards. But Customers and their needs are the primary elements in what Xerox calls its Innovation Domains – which are Knowledge Work, Sustainability, and Personalization, in all of which Xerox is doing some incredible work.

Traditional technology led innovation typically relegates customers to the bookends of the process. As Dr. Vandebroek suggests, “it’s like the children’s game ‘telephone’.” Customer information is gathered up front in the process, but then gets garbled and distorted and ultimately presented back to the customer in a completely unrecognizable form. What emerges is not an accurate reflection of customer needs.

Xerox in contrast takes a different approach to customer innovation based on various Research Horizons and Roles. These roles include Explorer, Incubator, and Partner. Each Role requires different types of customer contact (or sessions) with different levels of collaboration. The four principal types of Customer Sessions include:

1. Customer Dreaming Sessions - a sort of “pie in the sky” discussion concerning the future and their needs
2. Work Practice Studies – where company employees essentially “live” with customers in the field
3. Technology Focus Groups – whereby potential technologies/scenarios are shown or described to customer groups and they’re asked to comment
4. Customer Innovation Council – a collection of existing customers that are used as a sounding board and originator of innovative ideas.

Xerox commitment to innovation is obvious. Given the robust nature of their customer-centric approach to innovation, it’s no wonder their product portfolio is solid.

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