Rich Internet Application (RIA) Champions of Change… Who are the innovators within your organization?

In our internal marketing meeting last month, we made an attempt to better understand our customers . We took a look at the people we are currently working with and discovered that there were no commonalities in department, industry vertical, job title or pay grade. The big, “Ah-ha” moment for us was when we realized that these individuals all had a common persona: They are the champions of change within their organizations. If you look at the truly evolutionary applications on the web today, they are all championed by somebody that was willing to, in essence, stick their neck out for something they believed would make a difference. I thought it would be interesting to profile a couple of the people we are working with to understand how someone might identify that person of change within their own organization…

Who ARE the people that champion change?

Alan Lewis
Technical Evangelist, eBay
Alan, who has been working for eBay for 3 years as an evangelist on the eBay API infrastructure, had an “off the ranch” idea to build a desktop application on top of eBay”s robust SOA. He thought there was an opportunity to build a better buying experience for eBay shoppers; one that had a rich application feature-set and gave eBay a more prominent desktop presence.

Alan came to effectiveUI with only an idea… no budget approval or no initial internal support. His idea was to revolutionize the eBay buying experience by creating an engaging desktop application that focused on eBay shoppers. He knew that if he could simply “show” his idea to the eBay executive team, they would jump all over it (he was right). Alan pulled a few strings for a small budget to build a prototype.

That prototype was featured at the Max Conference last year and the DEMO conference this year, and is the flagship implementation for Adobe’s new Apollo platform. He understood the importance of quickly materializing an idea and how that visualization can have a catalytic effect on building internal momentum.

Alan’s ability to innovate was not only a testament to how a small voice can be heard to make a large organization shift towards positive progress, but also to eBay. Most large corporate structures are too rigid to foster a culture of innovation.

Allison Suhowatsky
Internet Marketing Group Manager, Wilton Industries
Wilton Industries is the leading supplier of cake decorating supplies and educational materials, and they occupy a substantial share of the crafting business in all verticals. The three main aspects of Wilton’s business are manufacturing of crafting products, publishing “how to” books, and education of crafters worldwide. Most of their business is entirely offline, with a strong presence in most well known craft supply stores.

Allison is known as the internet guru in the company. She champions innovative, online changes that are showing a huge ROI. For example, Wilton created a new product line of T-Shirt Transfer paper. Instead of following the “traditional” product launch formula, Wilton decided to augment the product by building a means to allow the customers who bought the paper to be creative (think of a very simple online version of illustrator). Wilton Easy Image was conceived and developed in just a few short months and just in time for the product launch at Michael’s.

Like Alan, Allison has an uncanny knowledge of her customers, her business, and the technology. She is able to visualize how to bring these aspects together to create new channels that engage existing customers and, most importantly, create new customers.

… The same story is true for almost all other clients I have dealt with over the last 5 years, weather it’s a top level executive, or someone just starting out in their career. Creative thinkers and problem solvers see RIAs and instantly “get it”.

Who struggles with innovation and change?

Last year I went to the research labs of a major consulting firm to introduce rich Internet application technology. I found myself in a room filled with more than 25 Computer Science PhDs, and another 30 or so overseas on videoconference.

I walked through my presentation, lots of nods and positive feedback assured me that all was well, that is until I came to a slide that discussed usability. One of our tenants of usability at effectiveUI is that an interface must emotionally connect with a user in a positive way. When I stated this I was challenged by one of the senior scientists:

“I don”t understand, what do you mean by “emotionally connect” ? I”m looking at these examples and I don’t feel emotional. I don’t have a connection with them at all”

I tried to explain:”
“Well, I don’t expect you to look at these and sob with enthusiasm, but these examples have a visually emotive feel to them” (It dawned on me that most developers don’t connect with the applications they build, what I REALLY wanted to say was: “Of course you don’t you’re a developer buried in code everyday, writing software for people like you, not for the everyday users”)

Then, someone else in the room said (I wish it had been me):
“Have you ever used a piece of software that you absolutely hated?”

— the response was a 30 second anti-application rant

“Can you imagine the opposite feeling to a piece of software?”

— “Yes”

“Well, I think that is what Anthony is talking about”

The point is that most people, even the super geniuses in your organization, may not understand how to conceptualize your customers, your business goals, and available technology and leverage this combined knowledge into a solution. If you ask Allison how she is able to effect change, she’ll tell you “its the right combination of prayer and badgering”…

Look for the most vocal advocates of usability, make sure they know your customers and business, give them a little room for a small failure here and there. You will rarely be disappointed with the results.

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