Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Software's role in Innovation

I'm beginning some research on the role that software plays in innovation or new product development. On the face of it, there are some obvious but fairly superficial ways that software might be employed. For example, CAD software is certainly central to the design of manufactured products; while the Boeing 777 made news for being the first all-digitally-designed plane, it seems impossible to imagine that any future planes, or anything as complicated, could be designed without the aid of CAD databases. Software also plays an important -- although still amorphous -- role in pharmaceutical drug research, as bioinformatics software datamines huge amounts of data for likely physiologic pathways or interesting chemical compounds.

But the broader, more interesting role of software in innovation, to me at least, is the potential that it has to serve as an intermediary between many different interests or stakeholders; innovation as an application of social software. For a new product to be successful, it must balance the interests of customers, both existing and potential, of manufacturing, of sales, of research and development, of strategists. With an enormous, multidimensional space of potential new product designs, software can serve a role both to explore this space and to help the many interest groups collectively navigate and find agreement.