Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Co-Innovation In The Textile Industry

My father-in-law is an accomplished textile marketing executive. He had a long career during which, he worked at leading textile manufacturing companies in India and Africa. In Nigeria, he was the general manager of a textile mill. He has a deep understanding of all aspects of the business and always has very interesting things to share about the textile business in India and Nigeria.

When he asked about my work, I told him that we design software products in collaboration with customers so that we can create software that actually solves problems for customers. I also explained the co-innovation model to him.

He told me that the model is a good one because the best products are the ones designed by customers and people who will eventually use, distribute or sell the product. He then went on to share how textile designers and manufacturers design fabrics in collaboration with dealers and small retailers.

He said that good product marketing managers in the textile industry spent 50% of their time on the road talking to dealers, distributors and retailers. Product marketers learned about market trends, discussed design decisions and reviewed product problems with dealers and distributors. Distributors can give clear inputs on the design of the fabric, the quality of the fabric and trends in local markets.

So, when new fabrics are designed, marketing managers create small samples of fabric based on inputs from dealers and take the sample to them. The textile companies that involved their customers and partners in the design of the fabric were successful. The most impressive one is Reliance Industries, now India's largest private sector company. Reliance was so close to its distributors, partners and customers, that when the banks refused to invest in Reliance, partners invested their personal savings. Reliance Industries thus created an 'equity cult' among the Indian middle class.

I asked him about the people involved in this collaborative design process. He said that apart from the marketing manager, designers and production heads joined the conversation when possible.

I guess co-innovation started in traditional industries such as textiles and is adopted by the technology industry. Co-innovation works.

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