We’re not just a web development shop.
What’s a Software Innovation Lab?
When we’re out at parties, community gatherings or networking events and tell people our name is Digital Scientists, the question we get is, “What does your company do?”
“We’re a Software Innovation Lab,” is our reply. What follows is either a wisecrack involving some combination of lab coats, petri dishes and Bunsen burners, or a blank, perplexed stare.
It’s tempting to just call ourselves a web development shop, but that doesn’t begin to describe our capabilities. Our clients often look to us for product development, or even business development, like they would a skunk works or an innovation center. We help our clients create solutions to specific market needs.
We realize Software Innovation Lab is not a commonly used term, but the way we operate is like a true lab in both spirit and function. It’s really the most apt description of what we do: apply the scientific method to create innovative digital products that provide superior user experiences. Those digital products solve clients’ problems, leverage new market opportunities, and even build new businesses.
There wasn’t really a good term to describe what we do, and more importantly how we do it, so we started using Software Innovation Lab. To best understand our approach, it helps to break the term into its three parts.
In 2011, Marc Andreessen famously wrote that “software is eating the world.” What it means is that every company is essentially a software company.
Or at least they should be.
People are experiencing the world through digital platforms, web sites and applications. Computers, and more importantly mobile devices are giving people access to media, information and experiences at unprecedented levels and in exciting new ways.
It’s not just limited to computers, tablets and phones. The Internet of Things (IoT) trend has opened a new world of digitally driven experiences.
Window blinds automatically open and close based on the position of the sun. Thermostats adjust the temperature according to who’s home. Refrigerators, ovens, and other products once considered low-tech (internet-connected crock pots are a thing now) offer seamless, digitally connected experiences.
Of course, software has also had a dramatic effect on how people buy products and services. Almost without exception, the customer journey involves several digital touchpoints. Often, the customer journey takes place entirely within the digital realm. Sometimes, the digital experience is the product.
So to put it mildly, software is really important to how customers view, experience, and perceive products, brands and companies. And that’s not just true of young industries born in the digital age. Even century-old industries are being driven by the demand for digital experiences.
Prior to 2010, getting a taxi was a profoundly analog (not to mention frustrating and inefficient) process. Now it’s sublimely and irreversibly digital.
So the need for software has never been greater, and every year, the bar keeps getting raised. Users expect more than just online versions of catalogs and brochures. They want experiences that not only meet their needs, but actually anticipate them, and in ways that are engaging, simple, and even fun.
To put it plainly, a company’s digital platforms need to be, well, innovative.
Many companies’ touch points aren’t much more than conventional, analog channels like brochures and catalogs, and largely static web sites that do little more than display information for users (or customers) to consume. They miss the opportunities digital platforms provide to transform the user experience and make it better than they ever thought possible.
The ‘Innovation’ part of our approach means creating applications — not just static sites — that offer unique customer experiences that add value to the buyer journey, transform the way people interact with the company, allow them to do something they simply couldn’t before.
Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Steve Cannon has been quoted as saying, “Customer Experience is the new marketing.” Customers, he clarified, have the unfettered ability to share their experiences — positive or negative — with the world. Offering a particularly delightful experience that is organically shared by customers is one of the most effective marketing strategies a company can hope for.
With digital products, the user experience is doubly important. In his 2016 talk, “Customer Experience is the Product,” product design executive Peter Merholz discussed why the experience is so important. At every stage of its development, a digital product needs to be designed to meet a customer need or solve a problem, lest it be ignored or even publicly excoriated by customers.
Is customer experience marketing, or is it the product? We believe both to be true, because we’ve seen companies gain a competitive advantage through a superior customer experience. In fact, we’ve made it happen.
Learn More: Customer Experience Strategy
Huddle, a digital ticketing startup, overtook a competitor with a two-year head start because of a better user experience. Multi-family real estate company Gables Residential saved over $1 million in advertising costs by streamlining customers’ digital journeys and integrating it with their interactions with leasing agents.
Creating superior customer experiences requires innovation, and that starts with understanding. We take care to understand not just what our clients want to accomplish, but why. What is the long-term vision? What is the problem the application will be designed to solve? Just as important is understanding the customer, or user, and all the possible ways they will interact with the application.
By taking this disciplined approach, we can then think differently and take the full customer journey into account. We can then think through new, unexpected ways the customer can use the application, or how an old process can be improved, or how a digital product can be fully optimized to meet and exceed user expectations.
In other words, create something that just works. Seamlessly. Intuitively. Simply.
But new apps and better digital products and experiences are just the beginning. Whole new opportunities, new business models, and even new industries are being created. Companies are creating and delivering customer value, giving them new ways to work, communicate, share, learn, be entertained and, yes, shop, that simply weren’t possible just a few years ago.
What we do is more than build digital experiences and products. We help companies launch new businesses. That kind of innovation doesn’t just happen. We don’t randomly throw ideas around while playing foosball and drinking highly caffeinated coffee. There is a process involved.
The name Digital Scientists is more than just a catchy moniker. We chose it because our approach is grounded in the scientific method.
When biologists, chemists, geologists and other “real” scientists work, they observe, measure and experiment. They formulate hypotheses, test, and modify them until they have a working theory.
We approach the challenges our clients present to us in the exactly the same way. Starting with a deep understanding of the client’s plans, the landscape, and the user (as discussed above), we hypothesize, experiment and analyze to define, launch and enhance software products.
Sometimes that means using existing solutions that we already know will work and modifying them to meet a specific need. Other times, it involves developing a completely new approach that’s never been done before.
Either way, the results are never plug-and-play, one-size-fits-all solutions. We approach every project as an opportunity to solve a problem in a new way. The only way that can happen is through a scientific process.
A lab is not a place. It’s not a spotless room with white tile floors, beakers and microscopes. A lab is a team of people.
In the traditional sense, it might be chemists and biologists. In our case, the lab is made up of designers and developers, collaborating with our clients to use software in innovative ways to create digital products that solve real problems.
Innovating the Customer Experience
The digital world is in a state of constant change. It’s evolving, growing, mutating.
At the center of it all is the customer experience, and the need for companies to continually find new and better ways to engage with their audiences. To improve and simplify the customer journey. Or to invent a completely new experience for customers.
The only way to survive in a world of constant movement is to experiment, learn and innovate to find new solutions to new problems.
So when you see any of us out at parties or events, and we start to explain that we’re a Software Innovation Lab, you know we don’t use that term because it sounds cool and edgy (although admittedly it does), but because it reflects our approach to serving our clients.
You can still crack wise about lab coats and Bunsen burners; we have a good sense of humor.
Just don’t call us a marketing agency or a “web development shop.”
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