Wednesday, June 01, 2005

User-centered innovation

Understanding users (different from "customers") is a critical part of the innovation process that most technology companies in India either miss or are ignorant about. Today, this is one of the key reasons why Indian software services companies like Wipro and Satyam cannot produce innovative software.

Organizations believe that customers are users, however, in reality most customers are NOT users. As service companies, we focus on our customers but we completely ignore the users who will use the application or the product.

Typically, customers have no understanding of their users. This leads to:

  • Open ended functional specifications that change during the development lifecycle
  • Most functions get similar priority. Or, arbitrary allocation of priority so that functions that require least time to develop are developed first rather than those critical to the users.
  • Non-use of many functions by users
  • Non-completion or partial implementation of critical (read day-to-day) functions performed by users - leads to user dissatisfaction and huge number of support issues.

What do innovating companies do to understand users?

  • They ensure proximity and access to users
  • They make Ethnographic studies, contextual observations, and inquiry techniques a key part of software development process

Customers who are geographically near their users and have understanding about users' day-to-day functioning, motivation, goals, and environment are the only ones who provide innovating ideas - understanding users always trigger innovating ideas. Innovative technology companies understand the users directly or by employing user research consulting companies.

How will understanding users lead to innovation?

Any innovation can be traced back to change in the style of work or leisure. This leads to positive changes in the users' life. The process of innovation begins with deep understanding of what the users actually do, their characteristics, their needs, their motivations, their experiences with the world, and what they care about. Successful collection, analysis, and synthesis of user data triggers innovative thinking. The insights that businesses get about their users help them make innovative applications and products that users enjoy and recommend.

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