Three Disruptive Trends Influencing the Innovation Pipeline of the Future

By I.P. Park, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, HARMAN International

Three defining trends—Big Data, Smart Connectivity, and the future User Experience, require that innovation reaches beyond traditional hardware and software development. Modern R&D strategies for technology companies must holistically consider and incorporate multiple domain disciplines ranging from software technology and industrial design to human psychology and socio-cultural influences such as music, art and literature.

Leading companies in all industries are facing significant challenges and opportunities as we make our way through a period of transition in the realm of cutting-edge technology. The key to success will be the ability to evolve the way we approach technological development and how we address the current dramatic shift of the IT & Communications technology (ICT) paradigm of our connected mobile universe. Take HARMAN, for example. As a global provider of audio and infotainment products for the automotive, consumer and professional markets, our traditional strength has been, and still is, in audio and system integration technologies. However, three new major “growth” technology themes are just as important for our future technology innovation. They are Big Data, Smart Connectivity and User Experience.

Many of us can still remember the era of mainframe computers, and how they quietly succumbed to personal computers that exponentially multiplied processing power and the overall computing user base as a whole. Today, we are in the middle of a far more dramatic transition into yet another new era of mobile computing, in which Smartphone sales now surpass desktop and laptop computer sales combined. Ever-smaller devices, third-party applications and robust mobile networking are already launching computing to new heights, forever changing the technology paradigm as we know it.

This mobility-based, connected universe will very soon have trillions of connected devices and sensors, serving billions of users, with millions of apps. Virtually everything will be connected together and the collective intelligence that results will make devices and thus each life-action smarter – hence, the coining of the term “smart connectivity.”

This new mobile, connected, app-centric universe both consumes and generates data…lots of data. For example, Facebook now has more than one billion users, and every second there are 50,000 YouTube videos being viewed all around the world — along with 100 billion Google searches per month, 400 million tweets per day, and nine million order confirmations per day for new products shipped from Amazon. Every day, 2.5 Exabytes of data are created, and this number doubles each month. Ninety percent of the world’s data was created in the last two years. The Big Data universe captured in massive collections of virtual servers we call “the cloud” can now be processed by intelligent analytics, allowing for communications, solutions and services that are increasingly personalized, targeted and efficient.

Continued exponential growth in the data universe is a given. Tomorrow’s successful innovators will be those who provide users with access to this prolific content as a perfectly unified lifestyle experience. As consumer devices increasingly break from their current physical limitations and become even more intuitive they will have the ability to anticipate user needs and proactively serve up appropriate entertainment, information, and lifestyle services. In HARMAN’s world, we are hoping that our audio and infotainment technologies will soon immerse into users’ daily lives in ways we can’t yet imagine.

Let’s take a closer look at these three defining trends—Big Data, Smart Connectivity and the future User Experience.

Big Data

Big Data has generated a great deal of ‘buzz’, but given the massive, unstructured and potentially overwhelming amount of information generated, there is debate over the amount of value that can be derived. However, new technologies are emerging to help solve the unique problems presented by Big Data, providing tools that could elicit real insight. One example is Google’s BigQuery, which can run queries on petabytes of data in just few seconds.

The promise of Big Data is not centered solely on efficient computer science techniques, which are critical, but rather the tremendous insight that the analysis of Big Data can bring. Yet, while the future potential is massive, it is important to note that Big Data is still in its infancy. According to a 2013 Actuate Corporation study, only a few large companies with revenues over $1 billion are actively involved in Big Data projects. Most companies not actively pursuing Big Data projects cite the lack of expertise and anticipated costs. Nevertheless, Big Data is estimated to be big business. Research Firm IDC predicts that the Big Data market for servers, storage, networking, software and services will reach $23.8 billion in 2016. I believe this is yet an uncharted territory with tremendous amount of potentials in all business domains. For example, HARMAN’s future Infotainment systems will derive values from Big Data by not only analyzing various real-time sensor generated data from the car, but also aggregating related information from other sources, such as traffic and weather information.

Smart Connectivity

From personal fitness devices that follow our every movement and transmit the results to precise fitness tracking apps, to cars that notify us well before a maintenance problem occurs, we are witnessing a transformative time in electronics— the era of smart devices that connect, communicate and inform.

Smart Connectivity is built upon two main principles—Technology-Centric Convergence and Smart Everything. The first, Technology-Centric Convergence, allows for intelligent and seamless experiences to reach across domains. Taking this a step further, Smart Everything means that devices will become increasingly intelligent and aware of their surroundings. Communications capabilities will extend to products traditionally without electronics.

While Big Data is still in its infancy, Smart Connectivity is upon us now and it presents major opportunities for the re-invention of entire product categories. About one billion people currently use the mobile Internet, but soon there will be trillions of sensors around us that form a connected network of lifestyle solutions to quickly and quietly help us with our daily life. Innovators must embrace the two large product trends of Technology-Centric Convergence and Smart Everything to maintain relevance in the increasingly connected world. For example, virtually all future HARMAN products, in all infotainment, consumer and professional spaces, will include smart connectivity as part of their core designs to provide users with the latest and greatest from the connected world.

User Experience

User Experience (UX) is an area of design focused on the holistic interaction a user has with a product or a service. This includes the user interface (UI), but goes way beyond that, also covering the user’s expectations and even emotions, as well as other intangible factors.

Over the last few decades, UX design has evolved dramatically and is increasingly being made the center of the design process. UX is highly relevant for a product or service because it can become the main product differentiator in otherwise mature product areas.

But what are the qualities of a good UX? Intuitively, “ease of use” is often brought up as an initial criterion. However, when digging deeper, it seems that this criterion is not precise enough to provide successful UX design guidance. And by ‘digging deeper,’ I do not mean technically, but psychologically. Like all user interface-related domains, UX has a deep root in psychology. This makes sense if one considers that a user interface is the interface between a piece of technology and a human. The best innovators understand both sides, the technological aspects and the human aspects (or human factors), to be successful in UI and UX design. For example, UX  is becoming one of the top priorities for future automobiles, and in particular Infotainment companies like HARMAN are focusing on delivering contents and information in the most natural and safe way to the drivers.

Future-Proof R&D

The three defining trends—Big Data, Smart Connectivity, and the future User Experience, require that innovation reaches beyond traditional hardware and software development. Modern R&D strategies for technology companies must holistically consider and incorporate multiple domain disciplines ranging from software technology and industrial design to human psychology and socio-cultural influences such as music, art and literature.

Technology companies also need to manage and aggressively prioritize their company’s growing portfolio of technology building blocks and third-party applications. Which ones should be core differentiators versus which ones are enablers; which are mature versus which are emerging; and ultimately — which ones are missing? Open innovations with potential for reuse across the company and integration with third-party applications will take on an increasingly important role. Each technology building block should be evaluated not just for its merits as an incremental contribution to today’s products, but also for its potential contribution to the customer experience of tomorrow.

This process can help companies develop a pipeline of continuously flowing innovation to targeted divisions that hold the biggest potential impact – a process that I like to call “Future-Proof R&D.”  This new way of thinking will be critical to the endurance of companies that wish to maintain relevance and a reputation for innovation in the new technology paradigm, and importantly, help companies be in a position for major profitable growth in this new era.

Dr. I.P. Park is Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at HARMAN International. As CTO, Dr. Park leads the company-wide technology strategy and is responsible for overseeing all R&D activities. As a member of HARMAN’s Executive Committee, he leads advanced research projects to bring innovative thought leadership into HARMAN products.

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