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It’s time to embrace tech’s abundant, less sexy playground: Practical innovation

April 20, 2022, 6:37 PM UTC
The world needs solutions that will make a difference on the ground, not just headline-grabbing announcements.
Edwin Remsburg—VW Pics/Getty Images

The tech world is running out of buzzwords to describe the various disruptions happening in fields from finance and healthcare to rocket science. Existing innovations, such as cryptocurrency and virtual reality, are getting shiny new names, like “Web3” and “metaverse.” 

While these areas of advancement tend to overflow with flash, I’d argue that the most significant and useful innovation today happens at a very practical level. 

There’s an opportunity to set practicality as a fundamental principle of progress in our COVID-riddled society. Innovation that moves people forward and improves conditions on an individual level—whether in a work or life context—is where the real magic will happen in the coming years. 

Pivot toward longevity 

If you run a startup, there’s enduring value in making strategic business moves that take the form of practical, even seemingly boring choices. For instance, consider keeping the corporate team lean for as long as possible while applying available funds to staffing up the engineering and business development functions. 

While taking a cost-effective approach to improving the development and buy-in of a product, app, or platform may not vault your company into the headlines, it will almost certainly produce useful feedback that can be applied directly to research and development or pre-shipment innovation.

Innovators should spend time searching for gaps in functionality and availability or, simply, the usefulness of existing technology. From there, they should consider building or creating the best app, tool, platform, or site to close each gap–with long-term plans to keep quality and funding high to remain the best option among competitors. 

Regardless of how things play out, make sure to keep expectations and production timelines reasonable with an eye toward the long-term.

Streamlining can be as sexy as disruption

Frankly, companies shouldn’t have to use four different SaaS platforms to send massive files, store data, or grant access to working documents. There’s also no need for tech providers to spend venture and human capital on building the fifth option. True innovation would be creating a single app or platform that allows users to access countless files and data sources without having to open tabs, files, or anything else. 

For example, today’s water authorities use several different software platforms, spreadsheets, file folders, and file cabinets at once to run complex operations. There is a clear opportunity to rid them of their reliance on multiple providers to conduct work tied to the health and sustainability of water supplies (and the communities they serve).

In many cases, spreadsheets become databases and multiple platforms or applications house duplicate data sets, complicating important functions like reporting and water quality management. We’ve heard from customers that bringing this data together not only eliminates the potential for embarrassing reporting mistakes, it means that operators in the field are now able to sniff out and resolve issues like unwanted odor or color within the water faster. 

While the process of streamlining SaaS offerings can take multiple forms spanning multiple industries over various lengths of time, every practical innovation bound for centralizing an aspect of the real world should be developed with a dual goal of improving people’s lives and the bottom lines of businesses.

A spoonful of practicality helps innovation

Humanity is really going through it in 2022 with a relentless pandemic, intensifying climate change, constant political turmoil, and perpetual inequality across the board. 

Thoughtful technological advancements that make life better, easier, or more efficient will win over folks who don’t necessarily have an appetite for massive innovation or change right now.

These advancements will also support the progress of global markets, industries, and everyday life around the world. In order to achieve this, the innovation community needs to collectively pull back from the precipice of headlines at any cost and begin to drive progress with pragmatic, incremental, and useful innovations. 

We don’t need to sacrifice quality to do it. In fact, practical innovation is similar to its flashier cousin, complete industry disruption, in that it requires persistence, thoughtfulness, and, more than ever, humanity to succeed. 

Founders who start small to create something sustainable and work to close innovation gaps in existing markets will hold their own over the next decade of innovation and beyond. 

Elaine Kelly is the co-founder and COO of Klir, headquartered in Reno, Nevada. She is a water management expert with hands-on, global experience architecting IT systems for water utilities in Europe. US, Canada, and Australia.

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