The LAB: Innovating Software Applications with S.I.T. (August 2011)

Innovation Suite 2011 in Berlin
August 22, 2011
Innovation: Make It Someone Else’s Problem
September 5, 2011

The LAB: Innovating Software Applications with S.I.T. (August 2011)

Software runs much of our lives. It runs everyday items like computers, automobiles, banking, telephones, and even kitchen appliances. Software will affect more of our daily routines in the future. According to market researcher DataMonitor, the global software market will grow to $457 billion, an increase of 50.5% since 2008. The problem with software is you cannot see it. The term was coined originally as a prank to contrast the term, "hardware." Unlike hardware, software is intangible - it cannot be touched. So how do you innovate software especially with a corporate innovation method like S.I.T.? This method uses the components of the product or service as the starting point. Companies sometimes struggle creating new applications because software seems too abstract. The secret to using S.I.T. on software is this. Don't innovate the software code; rather, use the innovation method on what the software does. Apply the method to the products and processes that the software affects. This will create new-to-the-world innovations. Then, write the software code that implements these new applications. Here is an example with the software program, Quicken. We start with a component list of a routine process within the software - creating an invoice.

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Software runs much of our lives.  It runs everyday items like computers, automobiles, banking, telephones, and even kitchen appliances.  Software will affect more of our daily routines in the future. According to market researcher DataMonitor, the global software market will grow to $457 billion, an increase of 50.5% since 2008.

The problem with software is you cannot see it.  The term was coined originally as a prank to contrast the term, “hardware.” Unlike hardware, software is intangible – it cannot be touched.  So how do you innovate software especially with a corporate innovation method like S.I.T.?  This method uses the components of the product or service as the starting point.  Companies sometimes struggle creating new applications because software seems too abstract.

The secret to using S.I.T. on software is this.  Don’t innovate the software code; rather, use the innovation method on what the software does.  Apply the method to the products and processes that the software affects.  This will create new-to-the-world innovations.  Then, write the software code that implements these new applications.

Here is an example with the software program, Quicken.  We start with a component list of a routine process within the software – creating an invoice.

  1. Select the customer
  2. Select the project name
  3. Enter Bill To address
  4. Enter Ship To address
  5. Enter date
  6. Enter invoice number
  7. Enter due date
  8. Enter P.O. number
  9. Enter item/service to be billed
  10. Enter charges
  11. Enter taxes
  12. Enter accounts
  13. Save invoice
  14. Send invoice

Here are examples using each of the five innovation templates of the S.I.T. method.  We apply each template one at a time to the invoice process to create an abstract configuration called a “virtual product.”  Then we work backwards to envision benefits and target markets.

1.  SUBTRACTIONRemove an essential component of the product or service.  Let’s remove the charges. The subtraction template is great because it helps us break “fixedness” about our product or service.  An invoice without charges seems very odd.  Why would it be beneficial?  Perhaps this becomes an invoice template for future use.  Perhaps the customer gets to enter in the charges based on you meeting certain contract requirements.  Perhaps the charges are hidden from view from certain audiences to maintain confidentiality.

2.  DIVISIONDivide out a component and place it back somewhere else in the system.  Let’s divide out the Purchase Order and place it first in the process.  I would love this idea of entering in the customer’s P.O. first so that Quicken pulls all the relevant data into the invoice without me having to.  This would save time and reduce errors between the invoice and the P.O., a problem that can take weeks to fix.

3.  TASK UNIFICATION: Assign an additional task to an existing componentLet’s assign the job of “sending the invoice” to the customer who is getting the invoice.  This is a typical of how S.I.T. creates  “abstract configurations” that don’t seem to make any sense at first.  The key to succeeding with this method is getting comfortable with these abstractions.  In this example, we ask “how would it work” and “what would be the benefit.”  Perhaps Quicken signals (via RSS) the customer when the invoice is ready to be sent.  The customer’s accounts payable department sends a signal to Quicken letting it know when and where in their system it should be sent to make the transaction most efficient for all.  Everyone saves time and reduces transactional errors.  Quicken takes more ownership, through its software code, of the communication between client and vendors.

4.  MULTIPLICATION: Make a copy of a component but change it in some qualitative way.  Let’s do the Send Invoice twice – first is to the client and second is to someone else.  Who?  Perhaps it is sent back to you as a verification that it was received.  Perhaps it goes to your accountant or other advisors.  Perhaps it is sent to Quicken for some additional error checking or categorizing for you. 

5.  ATTRIBUTE DEPENDENCY: Create or break a dependency between attributes of the service and its environment.  This template is tricky because we do not use components as with the other templates.  We use characteristics of the product or service instead – things that vary about it.  Let’s imagine a dependency between size of the charges and the due date.  As the charges increase, the due date decreases, for example.  How would this be beneficial?  Perhaps Quicken stores payment terms and discount offers for that client from information in the P.O.. Many companies are offering quicker payment in exchange for a discount off the price.  Perhaps Quicken takes the charge information entered into the invoice and displays how much you would have to discount to get paid faster for this particular client.  Software could easily do that.