Visualization Tools Raise Your Innovation Awareness - InformationWeek

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Visualization Tools Raise Your Innovation Awareness

Does your company struggle to brainstorm new products and services? Visualization tools such as road-mapping software and patent-citation systems offer insight into the pipeline of promising ideas. Here's how to pick technologies that fit your innovation approach.

Situational awareness is "the perception of elements in the environment ... the comprehension of their meaning and the projection of their status in the near future," according to Dr. Mica Endsley, an expert on systems supporting human decision making.

One business equivalent of situational awareness is "innovation insight," an emerging area that is helping leading companies stay ahead of ever-faster demand cycles. Innovation insight is about analyzing and understanding your efforts to innovate, including the people involved, the processes used and the outcomes achieved. To gain insight into projects, market positioning and corporate performance, you can view Gantt charts, two-by-two matrices and balanced scorecards, respectively. Like these other forms of business insight, innovation insight depends on visualization to make it easy for managers to see the state of your initiatives and to tweak and tune those efforts.

Innovation is big business. According to a 2005 survey by Booz Allen Hamilton, the world's top 20 innovators alone invested more than $110 billion on research and development. In this, the first article in a series on innovation, we'll explore some of the software applications you can use to gain insight into innovation efforts and manage them more effectively. Next month we'll examine the three approaches to innovation and how they can be turned into predictable business processes.

Road Mapping For Strategy-driven Innovation

It's important to recognize that there are degrees of innovation. Some companies practice incremental innovation, improving existing offerings and working with established partners and processes or technologies to sustain current market positioning. Innovation insight is even more important for businesses engaged in "radical innovation" in which they're working with new partners, processes and technologies to deliver new products, services or business models that create new markets or disrupt existing markets.

There are also different approaches to innovation, whether strategy-driven, product-driven or idea-driven (see "Approaches to Innovation"). Strategy-driven innovation typically benefits most from innovation insight because it usually implies:

• A long duration (at least three to five years)

• Collaboration among many internal departments

• The creation of a new network of external partners

• Highly uncertain outcome

• Great risk

Insight into innovation efforts helps keep initiatives on track and aligned with strategic intentions that may evolve over time. The technique and tools of "road mapping" are one way of adapting to change because the road map (see the road map diagram, below) lets you visualize the many dimensions involved in strategy-driven innovation, including:

• The time line

• The collaborating domains and their dependencies

• The "big picture" programs used to execute the strategy

• The resources needed to support the strategy

• The changing patterns of relationships

A simplified way of understanding the content of this kind of visualization is that it presents the "know-why," "know-what" and "know-who" knowledge that is embedded in and may over time be created or enhanced by the innovation effort. The road map becomes a living document that provides ongoing situational awareness of the innovation effort. It also acts as a repository for lots of other content relating to the innovation effort so you can drill down from the big-picture road map to more detailed project plans, market opportunity documents or financial projection spreadsheets.

Of course, the road map must be kept up to date and shared with partners outside the organization, and it may interconnect with many individual road maps. Managing these tasks will present yet another operational challenge, but road maps are one of the only effective ways to get your arms around what may be a very complex scope of strategy-driven innovation efforts.

Road-mapping functionality can be found within product lifecycle management (PLM) and new product development (NPD) applications such as Accept 360°, from Accept Software, or as a standalone product such as Vision Strategist, from Alignent Software.

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