Technology isn’t a product – a product innovation approach

13th July 2021

The Earth Intelligence niche has a problem with product.

As a judge for Tech Nation’s Rising Stars competition, I’ve seen my fair share of young companies looking to innovate. Supporting these organisations is a big aim of mine – I’m excited to see change in the tech and geospatial industries, even more so when I’m seeing new businesses disrupting the market.

Even so, product is rarely seen in the geospatial sector. Or should I say, true products are rarely seen. The issue is, many organisations in the geospatial sector take a backwards approach to innovation, and therefore productisation.

People are too excited by what they can do – they don’t stop and think, “should I?”

The backwards approach to product

What I see all the time is very tech-minded people with bright ideas but no market focus. Their vision is impressive, but they haven’t stopped to think about the demand, the needs, and the means of the market they’re hoping to target – if they’ve even thought about the audience at all.

So they jump in with both feet, backed by technical prowess, but without a market platform for repeatable revenue to support the venture.

This is technology-led innovation which is seen in the geospatial sector every day. One driven by capabilities and what’s possible, not what people want. In comparison, products that withstand the test of time are backed by market research. They’re designed based on audience personas, competitive matrices, concept development, market testing and much more.

What makes a geospatial product?

Earth Intelligence is all based around data. Gathering and using it for a business use case.

But on its own, data is simply that – data. So the first step in productisation; it needs to be applied. When information can help improve a service or offering, then it comes a product. And, more importantly, it becomes a product somebody needs.

Therefore, a product is defined by its use case, so the first thing you need to do is find it.

Unsurprisingly, this is easier said than done. It may seem simple to “just apply it”. But you can’t throw data at different applications until something sticks.

Understanding of your market built on research is the key to finding a successful use case. Innovators need to research customer bases, understand the data, and figure out how to bring the two together harmoniously.

Creating a product methodology will help guide this integration. It gives it a business model to support the creation of the product. This prevents your product from existing in isolation – it allows it to integrate into the company process and operations, as well as the external market environment.

What should my product methodology look like?

Innovation can be led by many things. It can be; project-led, technology-led or market-led.

Market-led is the only one that proactively solves business needs – and it is one of the most successful ways to lead product development. For example, while project-led innovation can generate some useful solutions, it doesn’t always create something agile, adaptable, and widely applicable. In addition, many projects can be driven by the client’s desire to utilise cutting-edge technology – without much purpose backing up this desire.

The big difference for a market-led, product approach to innovation is that the technology part unequivocally does not come first.

Market-led innovation is instead centred around a “use case first” model. It ensures that innovators start their process by identifying a market gap and building their product around this. It incorporates a full-cycle feedback loop, directed by demand and human insight.

This avoids the “build it because I want it, even if nobody else does” approach.

Once you’ve established your use case you can start thinking about your audience. Think about the following first and foremost:

  • What market sector needs this?
  • What are their pain points?
  • Do they really want a solution to these problems?
  • Can I provide a solution the market is willing to pay for?

Only then should you delve into the technology, the design, and the technical detail – because now you’ve confirmed it’s something worth making.

Why companies aren’t adopting a market-led product approach

There are many complicated reasons organisations in the geospatial sector aren’t productising data, and aren’t adopting a market-led approach to innovation.

One of the simplest being that it adds a phase and takes additional time.

Market-led products don’t get designed, developed and output in a year. More steps need taken before design can even begin – including market and customer research. Then after this, it needs to be built, launched and sold. Not to mention being continually promoted.

That’s why a market-led product approach needs 100% commitment. Without your all, it’s doomed to fail.

And it’s also why so many small companies give up so quickly. They don’t do the groundwork, they don’t invest in marketing and sales, and they launch it impatiently. They expect everyone to be passionate about what they’ve created just because they are – what they don’t realise is this isn’t enough. That they don’t have a market, or customers, or demand.

Then when the product doesn’t get traction after a year they are forced to re-evaluate. And by this time, it’s often too late to go back and invest the time and effort they initially neglected to.

A fear of failure is the downfall of innovation

Here’s a fact – you are likely to fail in innovative spaces.

They key is to fail fast. This is what the Agile Methodology allows you to do.

“The principles all revolve around rapid development, adaptability, and continuous improvement.” – Lean Practices

For example, in a technology-led approach you could spend months building a prototype only to find out it’s not market-worthy once you’re at the testing phase. In a market-led approach, the first question you answer is whether people like your idea. If the answer is no – you’ve not wasted any time. You can circle back to the beginning with ease and try again.

The whole idea of market-led innovation is to fail this way; over and over again until you don’t. So if you have an aversion to failure, if you’re uncomfortable with criticism, if you don’t have an appetite for risk, then you won’t make it.

It’s also a good idea to curate a supportive environment. Having people around you who are also comfortable with failure, both leaders and teammates, will enable you to take risks with money, time and resource. They’ll allow you to launch yourself into the unknown.

So allow yourself to have ambition – but make sure you have the gumption to make it happen and the expertise to back it up, because this is the only way you’ll see any reward.

See more about our product innovation approach, or get in touch if you have a project you want to collaborate on. 

Mariam Crichton

by Mariam Crichton

As Group Managing Director, Mariam provides organisational leadership as well as heading up the 4EI Product Innovation Hub.

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