Innovation should start from the customer (case in point)

By Paolo Barbesino, PhD

Innovation should start from the customer (case in point)

We owe it to Marvin Bower (former longtime Managing Director of McKinsey & Co.).  Things seemed to change in management consulting (McKinsey in particular) after his leadership.  Strategic consultancies stopped hiring seasoned executives with long-lasting careers in different industries, and started sourcing talents among the best graduates from STEM universities and MBAs.

In the early Nineties, these bright talents played a significant role in advising the first mobile network operators in establishing their GMS franchise. GSM services were targeting mobile busy people who primarily needed to talk on the phone while being on the move. Unsurprisingly, consultants and their clients ranked among the top target clients for MNOs. Ordinary people that could be reached on a wireline either at home or at work had no need for a mobile. Nor could afford one.

If the affluent was supposed to have a mobile phone, and the average residential consumer a wireline at home, some European telcos caressed the idea of launching a service that combined a residential line with a mid-range mobile device leveraging Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT), a standard primarily used for creating cordless telephone systems. DECT never turned into a commercial success as prepaid mobile plans democratised access to mobile telephony in many parts of the world where consumers can now get unlimited calls and data for less than 20 euros a month.

While many households have no more a wireline, their need to bridge local communication and mobile emerged as a new need in the digital world. Be it for receiving an Amazon delivery or opening the main building entrance to guests renting their property on Airbnb, the need to control an intercom with a mobile is indeed on the surge.

No surprise then that Ring, an Amazon company started to massively market an intercom box to provide verified building access directly from the Ring app. The device that is compatible with most of the existing intercom system lets users buzz themselves into the building using the Ring app on their own smartphone, or provide Amazon Deliveries with automated, time-bound building access when they have a parcel specifically for the building.

Unlike for the brilliant STEM graduates or MBAs, this is a clear example of an innovation that starts from the customer and work backwards, moving from a clear consumer need and removing all impediments to make that innovation possible.

A nice case study for my next MBA elective.