A Publisher’s Guide to Tablet Innovation

The tablet market was established one year ago with the introduction of the iPad. No publishing company can say they have discovered the right strategy for serving audiences through this channel. The technology is evolving rapidly and new tablet devices are coming on the market every month. To remain relevant, you have to be able to change course faster than ever.

Recently, we launched The Orange County Register iPad app. The app is just one publisher’s experiment among many others to create a relevant news experience for tablets. I am 100% sure we did not hit the bullseye with the OCR app. Our readers have told us so. And that is great. A runaway hit would have been fantastic, but it was never expected. Rather, the idea all along has been to release the app, ask for feedback, then improve the app accordingly. Quickly.

We have created a framework for innovation to help us do two things: 1) Ensure continuous product development, 2) Set us up for the next breakthrough idea. This framework is specific to the tablet space, but it could easily be adapted for any other industry. Below, I am describing our framework in detail.

Innovation Pillars

An innovative environment comes from investing in these pillars, adapted from the Newspaper Next Project:

If one of the pillars are missing, the framework will be severely weakened and perhaps even collapse.

Organization

We don’t have the luxury of hiring new FTE’s to manage the innovation process. Instead, we are recruiting staff from across the company to volunteer their time. As described by the visual below, three groups of people are involved.
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The Innovation Steering Team is a cross-functional team put in place to manage the innovation process (Here is a cool little tool from BoardOfInnovation.com to pick your team members).  This team is responsible for evaluation ideas based on research, strategic variables and enablers as described in the Innovation Framework further down. They meet monthly and receive input from the Sub-Teams and the Imagination Team.

The Imagination Team is a group of designers and programmers. This group is mandated to spend 10% of their work hours on innovation (we stole that from Google’s 70/20/10 model). Their time can be spend on “blue sky” ideas or can be based on requirements set by the Innovation Steering Team.

The Sub-Teams will focus on specific innovation projects. They will conduct everything from research to ideation to business planning and product development. The Sub-Teams report to the Innovation Steering Team. In some cases members of the Innovation Steering Team will be leading or be part of the Sub-Teams as well. However, the Sub-Teams gives us an opportunity to get as many people involved with innovation, thus increasing the creativity and avoiding group-think.

Innovation Framework

Here’s the big one. The framework! It is a comprehensive visual but let me try to break it down below.

The research is the fuel that powers innovation. The Innovation Steering Team is tasked with monitoring and analyzing research and feedback. As the visual indicates, there are a variety of sources that needs monitoring. We are currently evaluating a couple of tools that we hope can help us, including:

(By the way, this is not an endorsement of these two companies)

The strategic variables are based on research conducted over the last year. The channel specific variables refer to the strategic options we have in the tablet space. Each product idea that surfaces can be categorized according to these variables. For example, should we focus our product development on a new iPad app, or should we put our efforts into creating an HTML-based web app? Which screen(s) do we optimize for? How does this product fit into our product portfolio?

The product specific variables deal with the actual product itself. Which content should we have in this app? What unmet need does it serve? What form will it have (i.e. design, navigation, interactivity)? How does advertising fit in? And should this be a paid or a free product? If paid, how so?

The enablers are the variables that we need to engage in order to create the product.

Lastly, the Innovation Process itself, as indicated by the black circle at the bottom, is a series of stages that again is managed by the Innovation Steering Team and conducted by the Sub-Teams. The stages are described below and are adapted from the “Innovation Metrics” white paper by Langdon Morris:

  • Research: The Innovation Steering Team and Sub-Teams continuously conduct research on interactive trends, user behavior and needs, competitors and the market.
  • Ideation: All three groups works on generating new ideas in workshops. These ideas are then evaluated during monthly steering team meetings.
  • Insight: Following, ideas are turned into actionable insight about innovation opportunities
  • Targeting: Innovation ideas are submitted to the executive sponsors for review to ensure we target areas that enhance our product portfolio.
  • Innovation Development: The Sub-Teams pursue funded ideas, develops all plans related to execution.
  • Market development: The Sub-Teams ensure that the ideas are tested and meet customer demands

It is our belief that innovation is our only true sustainable competitive advantage. Whether we are talking about tablets or any other product. Implementing a formal framework for innovation allows us to focus on both incremental innovations and the next breakthrough project.

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3 thoughts on “A Publisher’s Guide to Tablet Innovation

  1. Nice post Claus. You seem to be doing great work at FC.

    I have to admit, however, that this looks awfully bureaucratic to me. The alternative view would be to create an entrepreneurial team operating more freely inside the media company. In this way multiple apps could be developed rather than concentrating on just getting one product through the pipeline.

    When I launched a monthly magazine at McGraw-Hill one of my colleagues came to me afterwards and asked how I got the project through McGraw-Hill’s massive bureaucracy. I answered that I simply did the project and made sure it was a success. And if it didn’t succeed, he asked? I was prepared to resign, I answered.

    If this is what it will take to create a tablet publication then I doubt many will want to bother.

  2. Thanks for the feedback Douglas.

    Hmm, interesting that it comes across as bureaucratic. That wasn’t the intention. In fact, the approach is more decentralized than how it came across. The power really lies with Sub-Teams and the Imagination Team. The goal is to empower these groups to do whatever. Hopefully they will create multiple apps. The Innovating Steering Team is meant to facilitate, encourage and coach rather than shoot down. At the same time, we have limited resources and have to make sure innovation efforts are focused.

    For us, innovation has traditionally been conducted on an ad-hoc basis. This approach has served us well in the past (the OCR iPad app is product of an ad-hoc Sub-Team), but we realize that in order for us to stay ahead of the digital curve, we need a more comprehensive approach to innovation and the processes that go with it.

    I will be the first to admit that legacy media companies like ours have not been fast to transform. It is my hope that this framework can help us move in the right direction.

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