Tech trends in product innovation: how can you harness them?

From AI to customer centricity and sustainability to IoT – there is no shortage of buzzwords in the world of digital products. Which trends are hot right now and, more importantly, which ones are relevant to you? How can your company harness these trends in an intelligent way and leverage them to create value? We sat down with Lander Bouten, co-founder of Sweet Mustard, to find out.

Which trends are hot right now?

"First and foremost, it is important to point out that there are different types of trends. There are the larger, more general trends that provide a snapshot of what is happening in the world. Think of well-known topics such as sustainability, security and privacy for both citizens and companies. These are hot topics in the broader sense of the term that we are already applying to digital products.

When it comes to technology, the trends are more specific. The hype cycle is interesting to look at here, as it shows how AI has exploded in recent months. AI is right at the top and is at the forefront of the general public's minds. It has such a presence and is evolving so quickly that many companies are becoming fearful of missing out. What's more, the trends seen in recent years continue to be current: automation and robotisation, IoT, 5G, the entire data process and so on. We see a large number of of relevant use cases emerging around these issues. We have been collecting data for a long time, and companies are now asking themselves what they are actually going to do with it."

Sweet Mustard studio Lander 2 LR

Which trends have altered the digital landscape in the last few years?

"Again, we are seeing the same tech trends, such as AI and security, but also the ways of working, such as lean or agile working and design thinking. In particular, we are encountering many developments that enable these tech trends to be implemented properly. Among other things, we are moving from traditional 'waterfall thinking' to a more iterative and creative way of working. When Sweet Mustard was launched, we had to raise awareness of how we work at many companies, but most companies now work in the same way we do. They are now looking to the next step: our teams are in place, but we are noticing that they are becoming bogged down. How can we optimise that?"

How do you establish whether a trend is here to stay?

"This is a tricky one. One way is to stay calm and see how things go. With each technology, it is worth taking the time to look at where it comes from and who is behind it. Take Matter, for example – a brand-new smart home standard that has won the support of major players. This tells us it has something special. We are keeping an eye on the new kids on the block and considering whether we need to evolve at the same pace. We are also monitoring whether customers want a particular new technology in large numbers, and then cross-check this demand against our in-house knowledge and how the technology is evolving compared to others.

Cronos aan de Leie's large-scale network is a huge help here, as it enables us to talk to and share knowledge with a lot of people. Thanks to companies that focus specifically on AI or other trends, we already have a good idea of which trends are staying with us and which ones are not."

Should your customers stay abreast of the latest trends, too? And what is the best way for them to do that?

"In an ideal world, yes. We're happy to help them do that, of course. That said, 'digital' is now an integral part of many companies' strategy or product portfolio, so they are definitely along for the ride. A lot of companies actively seek out the latest trends as well. They will sometimes hear quite a lot about a particular trend but won't know how to use it to enrich their portfolio or services. This is where we can help. We can look at how companies can use trends to create value, become more relevant or provide a better customer experience. With just the technology itself, you cannot do much – it's all about the value the technology can create for you. This is why it is important that we paint a picture of what a particular technology can bring to your company or your end users."

“With just the technology itself, you cannot do much – it's all about the value the technology creates for you.”

- Lander Bouten

"We also try to inspire. In partnership with Cronos aan de Leie, we bring together CIOs to discuss new technologies and listen to what keeps them awake at night. We also share our knowledge with students and schools. Customers who want to have an in-depth discussion about a particular tech issue are more than welcome. We also organise innovation workshops with tech experts who look at a customer's issue or question from their perspective and specific area of expertise."

How does Sweet Mustard apply these trends?

Feedback and evaluation

"At Sweet Mustard, we're technology-agnostic. We help our customers build the right digital tools, software and solutions, but never for the sake of technology or due to the fear of missing out on specific technology. We track the technology and are aware of the areas of application, and if we know we can do something with it, we make sure we have everything we need to build something with it.

We don't start working with hyped concepts immediately, but we do with proven technologies. We build solutions that can incorporate all sorts of technology, including trending technologies. You can also identify trends on how to work together with others. Sweet Mustard is strongly committed to co-creation, and the feedback we receive from numerous companies is that it really works. We also use an agile methodology and design thinking in our work; design thinking is something that has become well established.

We are also constantly looking to optimise our own way of working. We learn new things from our research groups in certain fields. We also have our 'lunch and learns', evening sessions, expert speakers, Innovation Days (where we focus on certain topics twice a year) and more. We monitor what Sweet Mustard needs to know and what they can do within three and five years, and then adapt accordingly."

How do you make tech trends work for you?

"In our opinion, the power of different technologies often lies in combining them. You can rely on AI, IoT and 5G, but if you combine them, you take it all to the next level. This can make your products truly innovative. We aim to have a strong understanding of these technologies and communicate this to customers.

What's more, you may also have specific trends, but even more important are innovative use cases. This is because there are significant differences in applicability between technologies and industries. As an example, AI can be put to good use in hospitals to scan huge numbers of X-ray images and learn from them. You need a combination of disciplines to see which technology can add value. This doesn't just include technology experts, but also surgeons and heads of department – people who know processes. If you can add AI to all of that, for example, you'll add value."

SWTMSD Blog Innovation Trends 02

NoWire a specialist in IoT

"In aiming to unlock potential, we founded NoWire. This subsidiary within Sweet Mustard focuses entirely on the question of how we can make devices smart. Customers come to us with their product, and we look at the best ways to make it smart, connect it or control it. We look at which technologies, such as 5G or IoT, can be applied to it, and how we can use that data.

The synergy with Sweet Mustard is strong. NoWire focuses on expanding software to physical products, while Sweet Mustard builds quality software for them, such as a user-friendly app or a handy dashboard. The subsidiary Octoo is also on hand to look at how people interact with the smart device."

Getting started: How do I know which trends to focus on?

"Make sure you understand the opportunities available to you, ask the right questions and do your research. You can also come and talk to us. We challenge everything: do you really need a particular technology? Do your customers expect it? We start with specific use cases and make sure you are not flying blind. You could also come along to our Innovation Days or an innovation workshop for further inspiration.

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