Internet tool aids innovation

Paul Boughton

Companies would be unable to compete on the global market without innovations, and the same flexibility is required of small and medium-size enterprises. A new free internet tool can help to identify opportunities, develop ideas, and drive them forward to market.

The economy is booming in the Far East. With their low wage costs, Asian companies can manufacture goods at prices far lower than firms manufacturing in Europe.

The pressure is being felt not only by major international groups but also by the small and medium-sized enterprises that fuel the job market in Germany and elsewhere. To remain in business, they have to keep developing new and innovative products.

But that is often their weak point: small firms have a particular tendency to pay too little attention to market forces and changing customer demands, sticking to a familiar routine and relying on their traditional product portfolio and established customer base.

This conclusion was drawn by researchers at the Fraunhofer Technology Development Group TEG in Stuttgart. Innovations happen more or less by chance states Clarissa Bay, a research assistant in the Innovation and IP Management department who is co-ordinating an EU project designed to give SMEs the start they need to improve their methods. TIP or 'top-down innovation planning' helps businesses to find new ideas, either in dialogue with the TEG or, from mid-July onward, using an online tool available free of charge on the internet.

As a first step, the user completes a checklist that enables companies in any sector of industry to determine the efficiency of their existing innovation processes. Along the way the questions are worded to provide useful hints for future action. The subsequent evaluation includes suggestions of ways in which the company can plan for the future, taking into account a systematic analysis of the market environment in which the company operates: Have new laws come into force? What are the latest technological trends? Do the customers have new or changed requirements?

The online tool provides material to assist in answering these questions. Information, documentation and links to sources concerning the process of innovation enable users to improve their knowledge of technological trends and market developments without charge at their own desktop.

A case study by the TEG researchers demonstrates the usefulness of a systematic search for innovations: using the TIP method, a small firm in Baden-Württemberg harvested more than 50 contacts to potential new customers and around 200 ideas for new products.

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