Breakthrough ideas can generate products and services that change a market landscape, open up future innovations, and expose revenue streams not previously realized. They also can be something much smaller or incremental, such as expanding a product’s capability in an existing market or changing a process or organizational structure to realize further efficiencies or advantages.
Applying problem solving–based approaches such as design thinking, human-centered design, and innovation to projects is becoming a common, and often pivotal, practice for organizations including IEEE. These approaches are centered on the belief that there’s a solution to any problem, and the key to delivering that solution lies with the people who are dealing with the problem every day. By accepting this principle, it becomes necessary to understand the issues being faced by those you support and to involve them in all phases of the project.
To that end, the IEEE Information Technology department established the IT Innovation Lab last year to help foster this approach for the organization’s technology projects. The lab collaborates with users to deliver prototypes or proofs of concept for new products, improvements, or ideas—which allow for more timely and informed decisions about their feasibility. The team leverages the innovative thinking-based approaches discussed throughout these activities.
“We are excited to champion these efforts within the IEEE Information Technology department and deliver the best products and services to our members and customers,” says Cherif Amirat, IEEE’s chief information officer.
The IT Innovation Lab leverages the design thinking approach set by the Stanford Design School, which follows five basic steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. Starting from initial interviews with the people most impacted by the problem they are trying to solve the lab assists with defining the project, brainstorming possible solutions and approaches, building prototypes, and testing.
The lab’s team has two full-time and two part-time IT staff members, who partner with representatives from across IEEE’s business units along with volunteers, to build a virtual team to work through the process phases. The Innovation Lab also assists other IEEE organizational units with developing ideas for innovations.
The lab’s support can be in the form of providing physical resources, software, and network access, or providing a resource to work with its clients in their own environment. The Innovation Lab also provides subject matter experts. For example, sometimes a project being worked through the IEEE project management life cycle requires an expertise to complete the project.
Here are some of the projects the IT Innovation Lab team has completed:
- Established an idea-submission portal for staff to propose suggestions for new projects, products, and processes.
- Conducted proof of concept on machine learning and machine-aided indexing to improve product and content recommendations and relationships.
- Completed a proof of concept to make TryEngineering.org lesson plans available offline—which resulted in a fully functional app.
- Created a prototype, then built, released, and maintained a real-time visitor usage tool on article downloads from the IEEE Xplore Digital Library—which gives the IEEE Marketing, Sales, and Design team up-to-the minute statistics.
- Collaborated with the IEEE Mobile Center of Excellence on apps and frameworks to deliver content to mobile devices.
- Supported several IEEE Standards Association working group projects by providing in-depth content knowledge, document extraction, and metadata enrichment services.
- Performed evaluations and recommendations on alternative technologies, products, and services such as content management systems, awards platforms, mobile devices, and reusable application frameworks, and suggested how they could be leveraged within IEEE.
To inquire how the IEEE IT Innovation Lab can help your IEEE group, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Richard Reeps is the manager of the IT Innovations team, which is part of the Digital Center of Excellence under the IEEE Information Technology Department. He has been with IEEE since 2007 and has more than 20 years of experience working with IT groups on all aspects of product and project management.