The 3 factors that make a digital product truly innovative

April 30, 2021, 3:30 PM UTC
“Companies that are able to succeed in today’s digital economy know that there are three key principles to product success,“ writes David Sawatzky. “Minimizing time to value, solving for customer needs, and excelling at change.”
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In the new era of digital product development, engineers, product heads, and designers are collaborating more closely than ever before to meet customer expectations. They’re using this unified company vision and purpose to build innovative digital products that are transforming every sector of the economy.

The products themselves may be different, but the ones that are shaking up the market all start from the same three principles:

An innovative product begins with customer need

The more “cool technology” is invented, the more excited developers and companies are to build technology for its own sake, without really understanding the product’s user-focused purpose or value. A product shouldn’t be built because “no one has done something like this before.” It should be built because “people really need this.” When you start with the technology and then try to fit the need into the idea, it rarely works.

The good news is that there is more data available than ever before to help develop digital products. Companies that start by extracting actionable insight from user data and feedback have a better chance of success.

For example, one leading insurer we worked with seized the opportunity to create an app that scanned rooms in a customer’s house to identify personal items that could be added to their home-insurance policy. The app was also developed to perform virtual car inspections for collisions and claims processing. To further appeal to customers, the app also leveraged augmented reality (AR) for gamification—including a virtual scavenger hunt to celebrate the company’s anniversary.

Customer demand drives product innovation. Companies that build products with the end user in mind take the time to understand the customer’s challenge and are able to craft solutions that solve their problems now, and in the future. Understanding where customer needs and business outcomes intersect makes for a successful digital product.

An innovative product minimizes time to market

The sooner you can get your product into the hands of a real user, the sooner you can start building and examining your user data and applying it to the product.

As privacy regulations tighten, especially in Europe, collecting this data will look different. For example, instead of providing a brand with an email address, customers will be looking for platforms that enable them to connect using a messenger app.

Michael Chasen, CEO of Class Technologies (formerly ClassEDU), recognized this urgency. When the COVID-19 pandemic sped up the adoption of online learning by approximately five to 10 years, it pushed almost every K–12 and higher-ed institution to immediately use and rely on synchronous online learning. Chasen came up with the idea to create Class for Zoom, a classroom-like experience that would allow teachers to take attendance, hand out assignments, give a quiz, grade work, or talk one-on-one with a student—all on Zoom. 

Chasen smartly recognized the need for an outside partner to advance his product quickly. “We had a great idea,” he said, “but we needed a partner to get us off the ground.” With 3Pillar, Class Technologies went from idea to beta launch in seven weeks and GA (general public) launch in four months. That nimbleness got the product into the hands of educators who needed it to inspire and teach their students in a virtual environment.

An innovative product is always changing

A changing market isn’t something to fear, but something to embrace, because it represents an opportunity for new revenue. Last year, so many companies panicked when COVID-19 hit, because the pandemic turned nearly every industry upside down. But the strongest companies were excited for the chance to pivot.

Fortunately, digital products are infinitely scalable, and new iterations can be resold to the same customers—as long as they remain valuable. This could apply to a subscription model fitness app, for example, or a cybersecurity product whose features are continuously being updated based on the latest types of breaches.

The digitization of products is also one important step toward a more sustainable environment. Local governments, for example, are using document management programs to digitize record storage. Transportation apps are being used for smart urban planning. And digital technology like electronic tagging is enabling companies to harvest data about the demand, usage, and the life cycle of products for greater reusability and sustainability.

As 2021 continues our world’s rapid move toward a digital economy, the digital marketplace will become more crowded. Companies that are able to succeed in today’s digital economy know that there are three key principles to product success: minimizing time to value, solving for customer needs, and excelling at change. This is the 3Pillar product mindset, and the driving force behind the way we think about the ever-evolving nature of the digital landscape.

David Sawatzky is chief delivery officer for 3Pillar Global.

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