Customer involvement in the development of new products has generated a lot of work, both in marketing and in innovation. Traditional marketing approaches view the customer as passive with needs that need to be analyzed in order to design an offer.
The literature on project management and new product development defines project organization models. But the client stays out of the design process or intervenes only occasionally.
On the contrary, the user innovation literature considers that the customer is often the source of innovation and plays a decisive role in its development.
The evolution of this new paradigm is explained by the emergence of customers who want to be more involved in the design of new products.
Therefore, companies are now trying to develop their innovation capacity by allowing customers to play an active role in the innovation process. This literature is part of the later open innovation movement.
Working on user innovation highlights a specific category of designers. Lead users, however, do not discern the roles these lead users can play in the innovation process. Except for recent studies, they treat this category as a whole.
The role of customers or users is highlighted in the new product development literature, without identifying their function in the process, as is that of project actors.
Thus, our study aims to contribute to the lead user concept by linking it to certain concepts developed in the project management literature.
To this end, we have chosen to examine a software innovation process.
Innovative software is likely to drastically change user practices. Therefore, analysis of the needs of these users is critical, as is the value that such innovations can bring to them.
When faced with this challenge, new forms of interaction between software publishers and end users were tested.
However, this study aims not to characterize the contributions of suppliers and their first customers in the innovation process, but rather to characterize the forms of their interactions.
In the literature review, we highlight the features of innovation in the software industry and develop studies on customer involvement in the innovation process.
After defining our research methodology, we present two innovative software development projects by software publishers for two clients.
Finally, we analyze the role of first customers in the innovation process. We delve deeper into the concept of the lead user and propose to distinguish four roles played by the actors in the client.
Characteristics of Innovation in the Software Industry
The software industry is characterized by a steady stream of innovation. These innovations are often developed by start-ups focused on a particular technology.
In the case of radical innovations, they participate in the process of creating a market. They face scarcity of resources in terms of manpower and time.
Indeed, the software industry is governed by a phenomenon known as "winner takes all". Only a few software survives in each category.
This is due to the increased adoption returns associated with this software, and more specifically the learning-through-use phenomenon, network externalities, and technological interrelationships.
Next, software publishers need to focus on their technology to rank among recognized leaders in the field. They also need to combine their offerings with software designed by other publishers to offer compelling solutions to their customers.
The first applications of a new concept with customers are a key step in the innovation process that enables the transition from concept to product. These applications are implemented through projects involving innovative software publishers, the customer, and possibly an IT services company.
The role of customers and users in such projects, as we mentioned earlier, is little discussed in the project management literature. Therefore, the application of a new software concept seems like an interesting case to better characterize these roles and related skills.
In the user innovation literature, the concept of the lead user has been defined. These are individuals or organizations that sense the needs of a large number of customers and hope to derive a certain benefit from meeting those needs.
Regarding digital products, lead users can design and develop any innovation in the field of information products such as software. Firms must produce innovative concepts in partnership with leading users in almost all fields.
Faced with the increasing pace of innovation in every industry, it can even be profitable to let certain users develop innovations themselves. Therefore, an approach is recommended in which users take the tools that allow them to take on the design of the product.