The Hidden Dimensions of Innovation: Cutting-Edge Testing at Drexel University’s Behavior Lab

This week, I invited Russ Kliman to contribute a guest post to Front and Centered.  Russ is the head of our strategic programs and innovation. Last year he shared his thoughts aboutkliman185 digital transformation and now he’s back to talk about what it means to be truly innovative in today’s world. 

 I really like that he makes us think about using innovation “behind the scenes” as much as on the front line. He shares an example of how we used this kind of innovation during a recent project in partnership with Drexel University.

Innovation defined

The term innovation has become an industry buzz word, often intended to capture the imagination of prospects, clients, and the markets we serve. But does everyone understand this word in the same way? Whenever I speak, I ask my audience to take an honest look at their offerings, and pose the question, “would your customers or the markets you serve describe you as innovative?” Their perception is, after all, a tangible measure of our successful innovation.

At the same time, we often hold ourselves to a definition of innovation that is hard to achieve,
comparing ourselves to the likes of Apple, Google, or Amazon. These companies are inarguably innovative, but we might not recognize just how deeply their advancements run. Their innovations frequently transcend products and services that consumers can see, touch and feel — and they often don’t make headlines.

Innovation is not always what you think it is

Each of these companies — and countless others — innovate along a continuum. By this I mean that they look at all dimensions, from the obvious product features that consumers can touch and see, to the proprietary processes that enable the company’s business model, to its value network, to its product and service delivery, and even to the company’s brand.

Some might argue that Apple has lost its innovative touch, but consumers and media may miss the fact that the company continues to be incredibly innovative in areas that no consumer will ever experience – their propriety manufacturing processes.  Everything they use, from the glass in the phones, to the packaging, goes through their unique process. Manufacturing process innovations may not garner headline news in mainstream media, but they do ultimately impact the bottom line of Apple’s earnings, leading directly to increased margins and profitability.

At SEI, innovation is part of our DNA. We believe innovation is every employee’s responsibility.  It’s embedded in our culture and our jobs. We embrace a 70/20/10 rule: 70% of our innovations focus on incremental opportunities, 20% focus on evolutionary opportunities, and 10% focus on revolutionary (or disruptive) opportunities.

Innovation in action: Cutting-edge testing at Drexel University’s behavior lab

Let me share an example.  When we embarked on redesigning the end client experience for our wealth management solution, the SEI Wealth PlatformSM, we knew we wanted to deliver something unique that our clients and in turn their clients would value. However, in the world of end consumer experiences, what exactly is “innovative” these days? A new donut chart? Use of icons? A cool mobile app? I think we can all agree we have more donuts than we can handle, and icons and mobile apps are more than expected.170016-PB-Blog_04_10_17

Our challenge was in asking the right question: How can we design an experience that goes beyond best practices; one that consumers will find easy to use, but more importantly, engaging?  How do you test to see if you’ve achieved that goal?

We partnered with Drexel University and leveraged their cutting edge user testing methodologies to determine just how engaging our new end client experience is — before we invested to build it.

At Drexel University’s behavior lab, we used a combination of traditional testing methods, neuro research and neuroergonomics. We performed functional optical brain imaging to measure the cognitive functions of our test subjects. The brain imaging provided insight into our subjects’ concentration, motivation, and mental effort. We also performed eye tracking, task behaviors, and qualitative measures.

As a result of this testing, we were able to quantifiably identify which areas of our design fostered the highest degree of engagement. In the end, this approach enabled us to not only design a new end client experience that was visually appealing, intuitive, and easy to use, but more importantly an experience that fostered positive engagement.  Through our partnership with Drexel, we could ensure our latest innovation would provide a new way for customers to interact with their wealth and keep them frequently engaged with the tools available to them.

In a world of constant disruption and evolution, we have to remember that opportunities to innovate exist within every part of the service or product value chain.

On behalf of SEI, I want to thank Drexel for their great partnership in this endeavor.

  • Watch the video below to see the approach in action