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In the 21st century economy, innovation might be the quintessential watchword. “Innovate or die” is something heard ‘round the clock in the business world, from small, scrappy startups to century-old corporate titans. Without question, if you’re not innovating to better serve your customers and partners, someone else is. That someone else is working their butts off to out-think, out-build and out-innovate you to steal your market share for themselves. That’s how capitalism works. It’s how we as a society and as an economy eschew complacency. It’s a built-in motivator to ensure forward progress and positive invention. But how do you make sure you’re innovating in the correct way? And often enough? While not delivering solutions in search of a problem?

There’s no question that much of the innovation happening in the world today comes in the world of software. From ground-breaking productivity software to mobile apps empowering entire workforces to operate at peak capacity from anywhere at any time, custom software presents one of the most cost efficient spheres in which to innovate. Plus, your customers and partners are already there. You’re not creating new ecosystems for them to work in, but rather connecting new technologies and services to an ecosystem in which they already exist and work, and with which they’re already familiar.

Your employees have smart phones. Your customers do too. They almost certainly have computers and/or tablets as well. 21st century workers are comfortable working and interacting within these systems and the resulting ecosystems. So, why not focus some of your innovation efforts in these areas where there’s little hurdle to adoption, and a great return on investment when done correctly? Plus, much of the innovation you’ll need to contend with or counteract is already happening in this space, so tapping into that allows you to not only keep an eye on the competition, but also scout complimentary companies and services that you can incorporate into your offerings to make yours that much better. That’s where the right partner can come in…

Mobile developers are a dime a dozen. There are many companies out there that can take your tech specs and build you a mobile solution. Some can even make it look beautiful and intuitive. The rarer ones still can deliver all that, and build it on a rock-solid code-foundation such that it’s stable, feature-rich and bugs are minimal. But, taking orders and delivering even a great solution does not make a mobile developer an innovation partner. That’s next level value.

The best of the best technology partners are at their core innovation consultants. They keep their partners plugged into what’s happening in their industry and beyond to assess competition, find new technologies or partners to leverage, or identify entirely new products or services to build and offer. Innovation consultants might work with industry leaders like IBM and their Watson supercomputer to help their clients tap into that computing horsepower and turn it into actionable, profitable services for those clients. If you don’t know what all Watson can do and how it can be leveraged, you might be missing out on game-changing features you could be offering clients, partners or using yourself. That’s just one example of a cutting-edge product an innovation consultant can help companies leverage in ways they probably never imagined.

For many clients, an innovation consultant might indeed deliver a custom software solution as the deliverable. But, what separates a company like this from any old mobile app developer is that slavish devotion to innovation. And not just innovation for innovation’s sake, but rather innovation applied judiciously to a real problem you, your customers or your partners experience.

As the Internet of Things grows, how will this new interconnectivity affect your business? What lessons can you learn from what’s happening elsewhere to make your business more effective or more profitable? What groundbreaking new things like Watson are out there and how can you harness them to make your business better? What does artificial intelligence, machine learning and neural networks mean for your business? And how can you use them to serve your customers better while picking up more customers to boot? How do new human/machine interfaces like Siri, Google Home and Amazon Echo change the way we interact with machines? Will that carry over to the enterprise world? What will that mean for user behavior throughout the digital ecosystem? And how will that affect your business?

All of these questions have answers. But, a company simply building software can’t answer those for you. Only the partners truly obsessed with innovation can synthesize all these moving parts, make sense of them and put the valuable nuggets in that sea of information to work in a healthy and useful way. That’s why selecting the right partner is so important. And if you must innovate or die, so too must you choose a partner best capable of delivering meaningful innovation when it comes to building software solutions.

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