More Than a Product: Innovation for a New Era

Evolving Products to Platforms in a Changing World

Supporting and Sustaining Innovation in Product Development

All innovation starts with an idea, and that idea must be truly novel. But a novel idea isn’t enough. One also needs to build an organization that can bring that idea to life. There are three things that separate consistently innovative companies from everyone else: the right mindset, the right culture, and the right systems (tools, technology, enablers).

Customer Experience

“When we talk about the customer experience, it isn’t whether or not they’re able to download a Netflix movie for the evening.

It’s about whether or not they’re able to save lives, save their own lives, and keep the ecosystem alive. So what we do is important.

How we do it is important and our DNA is such that we can never put pencils down in terms of thinking about how to make our product better”

– Sam Christensen, Chief of Staff, Kymeta

Kymeta manufactures flat-panel satellite antennas (like dishes, but not rounded) guided by software to sync with satellites. Based on their advanced design, these antennas can be easily deployed, installed on moving vehicles (including ships), and provide broadband connectivity from anywhere. While these antennas have multiple applications (they may eventually be used on autonomous vehicles, for example), today they are used primarily by the military and first responders.

Rapid InnovationKymeta’s technology is used by people in harm’s way. The performance of Kymeta’s satellite terminals can mean the difference between life and death. This reality drives Kymeta’s mindset, a mindset focused on continuous improvement and innovation and a never-ending quest for a better product. Behind all this stands the core belief that “What we do is important,” as Kymeta’s Sam Christensen put it.

Above all, though, leaders and their employees need to have a mutual sense of purpose and commitment to innovation. The idea that “what we do is important” fuels this commitment. And it expresses itself in an emphasis on serving the customer through product and service improvement.

By itself, a mindset focused on continuous improvement is not enough. A product can’t have an impact if no one buys it or uses it. For this reason, the innovation mindset also has to be pragmatic. As Sam said when we interviewed him, “Yes, our technology by itself is profound, but it’s only going to be relevant if we’re able to produce it at a cost point that is available more broadly than just one or two verticals.”

What makes innovation particularly challenging is this need to be creative, and even visionary, within constraints. This also serves as a reminder that companies don’t innovate for innovation’s sake. Instead, innovation realizes its value and importance when it solves real problems for real people. Doing that calls for the perfect mix of purposefulness, perseverance, and practicality

The Right Culture

An organization’s mindset is expressed in its culture—the explicit and implicit norms, attitudes, and behaviors that govern how people interact and how work gets done. Rather than being imposed from the top down, an organization’s culture is created from the ground up by the people who work there.

This means that hiring the right people is key to creating and maintaining a culture of innovation.

While traditional views surrounding innovation often dwell on a few visionary leaders, the burden of innovation needs to be distributed. That means hiring people who are empowered and motivated to innovate or solve problems in new ways. It also means creating and maintaining a work environment that fosters open dialogue, fails fast, and embraces the introduction of new ideas and perspectives. Putting together a team of innovators does not mean hiring people all cut from the same cloth. Instead, it calls for hiring with an eye to diversity: of background, culture, age, and skill sets. Arena provides product lifecycle management (PLM) software to many companies pushing the envelope of innovation. As Arena’s Principal Customer Success Manager Kraig Clark put it,

“Innovation thrives with the right mix of employees. You need both mature, seasoned leaders and youthful, creative employees that are not bound by traditional business constraints. And you need a flat organization that disrupts hierarchy and fosters collaboration”.

With this type of culture—openness, collaboration, and diversity—employees will think outside the box to solve problems and create new solutions or unique approaches that spur creativity and innovation.

The right systems (technologies, platforms, solutions, enablers)

To produce complex products that increasingly resemble or rely on connected networks and platforms, an organization needs systems that harness complexity. Global product companies require a system of design partners, suppliers, and manufacturers to help realize their vision. They also need a single platform to allow both formal and informal processes to facilitate real-time, transparent collaboration between internal teams and extended supply chain partners. Finally, innovative product companies need to bring together complementary technologies and multidisciplinary solutions into a single platform or single source of truth for everyone involved.

Technologies, platforms, solutions, enablers

As mentioned earlier, Lumicell’s handheld imaging system allows surgeons to literally see in real time if they have left any cancerous cells behind when removing a tumor. The system relies both on a sophisticated, AI-powered viewer and an injectable contrast dye that fluoresces when it reacts with the tumor cell microenvironment.

Producing this complex medical device requires a complex team effort.

Suppliers Providing Business - Quality OutputAs Lumicell’s Senior Vice President of Quality Ben Locwin explained, “In many ways, we are a virtual company since we do some assembly on site and lots of testing, but we don’t manufacture our devices or drug products (e.g., the contrast dye). We rely on suppliers for fabrication of the device and for the starting materials to use in the drug product. And so it becomes incumbent upon us to stringently monitor our supply chain.”

Ben described Lumicell’s relationship with its suppliers as symbiotic. To support this symbiosis, product companies need a unifying, connected system of record, one that provides visibility into the entire process. “We have several dozen vendors providing different pieces of work for us,” Ben said. “Keeping that straight is difficult.”

The single source of truth provided by product lifecycle management (PLM) and quality management system (QMS) platforms connects the organization’s product and quality processes to internal teams and the broader, symbiotic network of suppliers. These platforms serve as technical enablers to support the organization’s development and quality assurance processes. They also facilitate communication and visibility across the supply chain, providing the consistency and stability that allows innovation to flourish.

“Having a quality management system (QMS) in place—so that we don’t lose sight of actual, objective reality and replace it with things that we hope to be true – is critical.”

– Ben Locwin, Senior Vice President of Quality, Lumicell