Co-creation of digital services is a great way of putting customers at the heart of innovation – but it’s often undermined by slow development methods. Low-code platforms are about to change all that.

Co-creating digital services

Henry Ford is supposed to have said that if he’d asked his customers what they wanted, they would have said “a faster horse”.

Today, most companies take the opposite view: if you want to design a successful product or service, knowing what your customers want is actually pretty useful.

The methods they use to get that insight range from web analytics and surveys to social media listening and focus groups. But in recent years, a new idea has taken hold. Rather than second-guessing what customers want, why not actively involve them in the product development process?

That kind of thinking has spurred a trend for “co-creation” or “open innovation”: the practice of tapping up customers, suppliers, employees and alumni for new product ideas.

Leading brands are reaping co-creation benefits

Co-creation pioneers have used it to generate some winning ideas. At Starbucks, contributions to My Starbucks Idea have driven numerous innovations, including new drink flavours, mobile payments at drive-throughs, and cakes on sticks. Kraft Foods harvested over 60 usable ideas from consumers during a three-stage co-creation exercise. And at energy provider E.ON, an online competition returned 1,600 ideas for the energy-efficient “home of the future”.

But is it really creation – or crowdsourcing?

Strictly speaking, though, what’s going on here isn’t so much co-creation as crowdsourcing of ideas. In many of these innovation models, customers may make suggestions, but they don’t actually sit down with the brand’s designers to build something together. Rather, the brands select from among the ideas submitted, and task their internal development teams to work on the new product.

That’s because true co-creation of digital services is extremely hard to do. Product development takes a lot of time, and requires a particular combination of skills, knowledge and technical expertise that few external parties possess. Coming up with ideas is (relatively) quick and easy, but actually turning those ideas into products – even minimum viable products – takes time, effort, skill and investment.

Digital co-creation is difficult, too

That’s certainly true in the world of digital innovation, where even the most dedicated co-creation efforts only tend to involve customers up to a certain point.

Customers may be invited to a workshop to help the company imagine a new app or digital service, but the output of that workshop is more often a set of post-it notes or sketched-out user journey than an actual prototype.

The danger is that, once those post-it notes or paper rolls are taken away and handed to an internal development team, momentum and focus start to be lost. The enthusiasm of the workshop begins to fade, and internal concerns – such as resource availability, the limitations of existing IT systems, and the need to fit with internal business processes – take over.

More often than not, the product idea ends up on the shelf, or appears in a form that’s more reflective of endless compromise than of delivering something customers really want.

Low-code makes co-creation possible

But what if there was a way to involve customers in the actual development of the product – right there in the initial workshop? Rather than leaving at the end of the day with a bundle of post-its, leave with a minimum viable product that actually captures the essence of what was discussed?

With the advent of Low-code development platforms, this is starting to happen.  Low-code platforms, like our own MATS, enable apps and processes to be configured as they’re discussed, using a totally visual approach that doesn’t involve writing a single line of code.

With a Low-code developer in the room, workshop participants can provide input as the developer configures the app, and test out functionality as it’s generated. That way, they can provide immediate feedback that can be incorporated back into the design.

A shorter and smoother product development cycle

Using a Low-code development platform to support co-creation of digital services greatly increases the chances of launching a product that meets genuine customer needs. Not just because customers can test a prototype immediately, but also because a Low-code platform allows a prototype to be easily created in the first place.

That cuts out many of the cycles that can spell death for an idea in more traditional innovation models. There’s no need to put together a business case for funding development of a prototype, because it costs next to nothing to build and can be done as part of the workshop. Feedback is immediate and can be immediately acted upon, so momentum doesn’t get lost.

And because Low-code platforms are easy to learn and use, even for non-technical people, it doesn’t require expensive digital developers to be tied up for weeks building a minimum viable product.

All of that significantly reduces the lag and friction between conceiving a new product or service, building a version of it to see if it will work, testing it with end-users, and incorporating their feedback in further iterations.

Murray Cox, strategy director at Pancentric, a London-based design thinking consultancy that’s pioneering the use of Low-code for co-creation, explains the benefits as follows:

“Low-code gives us a step above paper prototyping. It means we can get a new service experience out in front of test audiences very quickly, and start gathering data to build the business case. We don’t have to ask the board for a six or seven-figure investment just to find out if customers will like this new user journey we want to try out.”

Co-creation will be a core capability for innovation

As Jacques Bughin of McKinsey has noted:

“For companies that figure out how to do [co-creation] well, the rewards can be far greater than a more effective and efficient R&D organization. More important, it is a core capability for unleashing the vast ingenuity of outsiders on an organization’s biggest challenges.”

With Low-code, unleashing that “vast ingenuity” just got several times easier.

Learn more about using Low-code for co-creation

If you’d like to know more about using Low-code to support digital co-creation, ask to see a demo of our MATS platform.

Ask to see a demo today