Having a good instinct for new trends can be worth a fortune for companies. Who wouldn’t have wanted to be the originator of the idea for Facebook or for programming the first online garage sale? Innovation does not only involve expenses, it also pays. It is, therefore, all the more surprising that even major corporations frequently tend to rather follow their gut instincts instead of proceeding systematically and on a sound database when it comes to trend scouting. ITONICS identified this gap already back in 2009 and became the digitizer in innovation management. The Nuremberg-based start-up has meanwhile evolved to a team of more than 70 members with offices in locations such as Berlin, Kathmandu, and New York. In the following interview, Dr. Carolin Durst, Scientific Director and Ideator from the very start, will answer questions and explain the uniqueness of ITONICS’ digital innovation management in the world.
Caro, what makes your innovation management different from the competition?
Durst: We continue to be the sole provider covering innovation management with an integrated, end-to-end approach: from environmental scanning in trend and technology management all the way to innovation portfolios and roadmaps. This was quickly noticed also by very large corporations who have been relying on our expertise for many years already.
Coming back to new trends: How do you go about this? Do you have an army of trend scouts around the world?
Durst: (Laughing) Yes and no. First and foremost, we are a software provider. This means that we support companies with tools to purposefully collect and process data on new trends or technologies. If a company does not have a dedicated trend or technology scouting team, it can rely on ITONICS Crowd to involve trend scouts from around the world to collect trend data or customer insights. With our network, they can reach hundreds of people in more than 20 countries and from the respective target group. The integration of all data collected will give a fairly accurate prediction of whether a detected change is a hype that will quickly disappear or a real trend that will maybe stay with us for many years.
Could you explain this by giving an example?
Let’s take the megatrends urbanization and individualization: around the world, a growing number of people are moving to urban areas. Here in Europe, this frequently involves a young and educated class that sets great store by sustainability but appreciates flexibility. What this group is looking for is to take as little from the planet as necessary. The macro trend sharing economy, for example, was born from this attitude towards life. Business models of the sharing economy allow for the shared use of wholly or partly unused resources. Examples for practical applications, so-called micro trends, are Car2Go or DriveNow in the field of car sharing or AirBnB as a community marketplace for hospitality services. When you link this information, you will quickly see that the macro trend sharing economy will a) not disappear so quickly because it is based on powerful megatrends, among others, and that b) people always like to share when this enables them to lead a flexible and sustainable lifestyle. Companies can purposefully use this insight for new business ideas.
Once again: Why does this give your customers an advantage over the competition?
Durst: Apart from the technical aspects, there is also the methodology that differentiates us from the others. We quickly noticed that, although major corporations urgently want to know all relevant trends, they lack a truly systematic approach, especially when it comes to the decisive steps. That way, it is basically a matter of luck whether you are on the right track or not. We analyzed this situation, compiled the existing processes and then enhanced them together with our customers. This ensured that innovation management can rely on a sound database and to avoid a situation where, ultimately, the decision is based on a manager’s gut feeling.
What is the outcome?
Durst: In the field of trend and technology management, the outcome is a collaborative platform based on ITONICS Radar. On this platform, all above-mentioned information is linked: every trend and/or every technology is described in detail and linked to other trends or technologies. In addition, trends or technologies can be enriched by inspirations (such as application examples from other companies or start-ups). This information can be shared and assessed on the platform both within the company and also with external experts. At the end of the day, you have an interactive and collaborative platform where trends or technologies can be documented, discussed, evaluated, analyzed, prioritized, and monitored.
In general, we offer different solutions depending on the customer’s focus on innovation management. In the field of environmental scanning, we have ITONICS Radar and ITONICS Scout, two tools that can be used to identify, evaluate, and analyze trends, technologies, patents or start-ups. Based on these insights, selective innovation campaigns can be conducted with the help of ITONICS Ideation. New services, products or business models can then be planned and controlled using ITONICS Roadmap. We also developed several tools for assessing the potential of a new development in the market or of new concepts. All ITONICS products can be used individually and of course also in combination with each other. The premium solution involves the end-to2-end integration of all processes in innovation management.
Could you please give us an example?
Durst: CISCO was looking for an individually optimized technology and trend management, and we were in a position to bring it to life. With the help of ITONICS Radar, we were able to create a collaborative platform within just a few weeks’ time based on the existing methodology that was completely tailored to CISCO’s workflows and needs. Today, this platform not only allows for a radical scalability for a global community but also improves utilization by way of a dynamic visualization and high usability. The software was also extended to be able to look at the trend and technology market from the most diverse perspectives.
Besides the Technology Radar, CISCO and ITONICS, in addition, integrated a Trend Radar, a market-based Strategy Radar and a Company Radar for screening startups and relevant companies operating in specific technology fields. Also, the involvement of the most varied stakeholders was enabled with the optimized Technology Radar. Trend and technology scouts around the world are now in a position to share their bundled insights with the community and thereby drive the innovation process. Gamification elements such as an Activity Score not only strengthen the community aspect but also create an incentive system to intensify the scouting activities of the users.
What’s your advice for people who want to keep up with the latest developments?
Durst: You need to stay curious and try out new things. That way, you learn something new every day and can also form your own opinion about the novelties. If you talk to a chatbot, you will soon find out what they are actually capable of. In the same way, you can test translation or speech-to-text software. Instead of taking a taxi, you can simply check out Uber or Car2Go. On the weekend, you can give it a try and order cooking boxes or a food delivery service and see what they are particularly good at or what is not working so well. Or communicate with colleagues via Slack. And you can of course always have a drink in the good old world of analog pleasures.
About the interviewee: Dr. Carolin Durst (born 1979) is an associate professor at the Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Scientific Director at ITONICS GmbH and also a mother of a four-year-old son. At ITONICS, she oversees the methodology and product development activities from a scientific angle and also looks after business development. Her motto: It never gets boring!