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User involvement creates innovation success - but few take advantage of this opportunity

When companies crowdsource their way through the innovation process, they minimize the risk of avoidable errors and gain access to a goldmine of invaluable knowledge. This knowledge can be transformed into new business opportunities. Nevertheless, NNIT's Expectation Barometer shows that almost 60% of respondents do not involve the customer in the innovation process. 

"Be sure you are building the right It before you build It right." These are the words of Alberto Savoia, former Engineering Director at Google and the man behind the Pretotyping theory. And when Savioa speaks, you need to listen. For a number of years, he looked into why 80 percent of all Google product launches had ended up in failure and had to be shut down. How could the same team that invented the Google Maps phenomenon completely fail with Google Waves? The answer is simple: Instead of developing products using database knowledge of the target group, employees developed new products based on their own gut feelings and needs.

Many miss out on target group insights

It might sound a little too easy and straightforward, but the numbers in the NNIT's Expectation Barometer speak for themselves. Nearly 60% of the more than 100 participating CIOs said that they do not involve customers in their innovation, and according to Brian Troelsen, Business Development Director at NNIT, this can lead to some big challenges:

– Businesses miss out on invaluable insights about their target group. This means that they have little or no knowledge of the real needs in the market or how to meet them. As you can see with the Google case, a lack of customer involvement greatly increases the risk of failure, he explains.

Not everyone is part of the innovation showdown

A lack of customer involvement in innovation often results from factors such as ingrained procedures, working culture and, not least the "we usually" mindset.

– Right now there is a showdown with an era and its very classic approach to innovation. But for established companies, involving customers in innovation can be a major upheaval and it is often tempting to ignore. This may mean that they are overtaken by (new) competitors who have cracked the code of digital innovation – and in the worst case, the established company will be the one that goes down, says Brian Troelsen.

Know your Innovation Theories

Design Thinking

  • Refers to the classic brainstorm process from the design world, where a giant bundle of ideas finally becomes a single idea for designers to focus on.

  • Design thinking is the same brainstorm, but with the difference that it involves both customers and stakeholders throughout the whole innovation process. As a result, it is not only the company's - but also the customer's input that decides which ideas "survive", and how they end up in practice.

  • It gives the company unique insights and the ability to customize products to their target group during the process instead of during the launch; when it may well be too late.


  • Defined as the basic understanding that "data beats opinion". The company must have computerized knowledge of the target group in order to develop a successful product.

  • Pretotyping lets go of the traditional "waterfall model", where product development is planned in all details from the beginning with silo-divided teams and processes - such as one phase of requirement specification, one phase of programming, one hardware phase development, one phase for testing and so on. The waterfall model often means very long development cycles with the risk that the final product is obsolete or out of tune with the needs of its target group.

  • With a pretotyping approach, you develop and test at the same time in so-called sprints. In order to gather data - the target group's actual needs – you send a minimum viable product (MVP) onto the street, and improve it based on user input. A product with this approach is often in beta for a long time.

  • The pretotype concept came about when the former engineering director at Google, Alberto Savori, concluded that 80% of all Google product launches failed because developers innovated on the basis of their own gut feelings rather than concrete database knowledge of their customers.

Failing fast
In a time where companies are eagerly trying to disrupt themselves and their markets before others do, there is also a need to rethink how they launch their products; they should dare to send unfinished products out onto the street. Instead of a single final launch, companies should continuously be launching improved versions of their products.

– We are talking about failing fast. It's about getting quickly onto the market and identifying and correcting mistakes before they become a costly affair, and before the product becomes outdated. With a database of knowledge of the target group and its needs, the risk is minimal and it can actually pay off to go live before the company considers its product completed. As a matter of fact, we should really accept that a product will never be completed, explains Brian Troelsen.

Winning wine

An example of success that involves customers in innovation and has gone to the market without being completed is the app Vivino. The creators launched the app with a very limited database of wines. They took the view that users would upload their own contributions to shape the essence of Vivino. Today, more than 250,000 new labels come into the app's inbox every day! Vivino's first versions were absolutely a minimum viable product. The evaluation and classification of wines was done manually until a real database was built.

– Vivino is in a constant state of disrupting itself. They use classical pretotyping, listen to users, and transform this input into new features in the app. They are a textbook example of a start-up that has taken specialist knowledge on board, in this case, wine connoisseurs, to develop their business, Brian Troelsen says and continues:

– To go from traditional innovation to customer involvement is not something businesses should do half-heartedly. There needs to be a change across the whole organization - from management to the engine room, and it can be a really good investment to use external experts or experienced professionals to guide the company safely towards new innovative heights.

Have you taken your company's innovation pulse?

The Expectation Barometer takes the pulse of digital innovation in Danish and international companies. What differences are there - and where? And what does it require, from a strategic, technological and organizational perspective, to drive digital innovation to even greater heights?

Try the Expectation Barometer and find out just where your business is in terms of digital innovation - and get your own personal Benchmark Map. You also get access to a series of articles about the journey of innovation pioneers towards digital transformation success.



Brian Troelsen+45 3079 5933btrl@nnit.comBusiness Development Director Troelsen



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