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The innovative Pathfinder, an IT-solution guide to support innovation processes in SME

Final Activity Report Summary - KNOW IT (The innovative Pathfinder, an IT-solution guide to support innovation processes in SME)

The project KNOW-IT addressed one of the main challenges of European SMEs: how to develop a systematic process of product innovation to keep competitiveness in the international market. The main scientific achievements have been made in the field of structuring a methodology to support SMEs innovation process through the combined usage of a market-driven approach and a technology push approach. In such methodology development, the usage of QFD (Quality Function Development) as starting point for the market drive approach, and of TRIZ (theory of inventive problem solving) as technology push have been used, with an integrative model that allow the SMEs to focus on product innovation (as defined by the TRIZ theory) with the highest potential impact on customers.

The project focused also on the development of an IT to help to support SMEs in doing their daily business in the innovation framework. Gathering the huge amount of needed data and the possibility to store this information along a well structured workflow is the outcome of the developed methodology. The main objective from an information technology oriented point of view is the support of weak signals that can be derived from a domain specific information base and the abstracted indicators of the TRIZ/QFD-methodology to stimulate the innovation process. Weak signals are new emerging features in the present that can be used for fore-sighting the future and that often appear as far-fetched and irrational from the current perspective (e.g. new disruptive or alternative technologies).

The methodology and IT tool developed in KNOW IT can help SMEs to unlock the available data within the company and in public sources for potential new attributes for product innovations that evolve into new product features. The interesting aspect of KNOW IT is that it combines an information mining approach with a methodology (TRIZ and QFD) to implement the appropriate filtering for gathering weak signals. The methodology developed can be considered able, therefore, to:
- Structure the overall process of innovation within a company, applying a formal methodology to describe the product/process to innovate and unlocking potential knowledge by using the abstraction power of TRIZ that help SMEs to focus on the "function" a system is performing rather than the "mechanism" on how such function is performed. Such approach allows thinking to innovative solution eliminating the psychological inertia that professional face while searching for innovation potential.
- The way the product/process is structured and the usage of the search engine of KNOW IT, able to carry out federated search over the Internet (in particular over source of information such as patent database), allow to realise searches that are focused on the semantic ways the technological system is described in terms of Function that the system realises. Such feature gives to the user the possibility to search for relevant knowledge outside of the company (concept of Open Innovation), in a way that allows to find relevant knowledge (such as existing technical systems or research actions) also in different sectors.

The whole KNOW IT process is centred on the following steps:
1. Outline the current Technological System (TS)-function in a systematic way with respect to technology and market situation (combining a market driven and a technology push approach)
2. Positioning the TS on the technological trends chart, through the support of analysis methods on relevant information sources.
3. Identify possible developments of the TS using the Systematic Innovation approach with respect to identified relevant technology trends.
4. Evaluate the possible development directions and choose the most appropriate ones in a cost-time-benefit scenario.