R&D departments can create a class of new digital services beyond the reach of tech companies (for now).

    Jamie Downing and Paul Gunstone

    Clever apps are associated with tech giants and vast consumer data. Corporate R&D departments have data too, and it provides much deeper insights.

    Apps shape our lives, from finding a place to eat, to buying products, to choosing films. Most are built by companies that ask for vast amounts of user data, which they analyse to provide insights based on people with a similar online footprint to you.

    Online user data is not the only type of data. Companies with major R&D programmes have vast research data and deep product knowledge. This gives them a data-driven understanding of how their products perform on a physical, chemical and biological level, and on how they are used in the real world.

    Tech innovators know how people engage via an app. Product innovators know how a product looks, smells, and absorbs; how it changes under stress, temperature, and humidity. This data could form the foundation for a new class of digital services based on real-world science.

    Data on shampoo and skin cream could create apps for highly personalised care regimes. Food data could support health plans. EV battery data could create onboard systems that optimise charging and driving. Pesticide data could create crop maintenance tools. Paint data optimise vehicle aerodynamics.

    Google or Apple may be able to build a model that correlate inputs and outputs – food diary and heartrate, pesticide application and crop survival, before and after hair shine. They can add in publicly available environmental data to factor in time and place based variables. But the outputs are correlations, not causal connections.

    R&D departments can do all this too. But they can also add an understanding of what’s driving these changes. This can – if designed right – offer far richer user insights.

    The real differentiator of any model comes not from the sophistication of the model, but from the uniqueness and quality of data. R&D data is often limited to informing new product development. With a bit of creative thinking (and some deep scientific and data expertise) it can be used to create unique digital services.


    Traditional companies who move first will win big.


    For now, non-digital companies have a chance to get ahead of the tech giants. They can use their treasure trove of existing data and models to build unique high-value digital services that no one else has.

    They can launch new B2B or B2C offers which deliver added value, and lock customers in by providing differentiated services that are very hard for competitors to copy.

    In our next piece we discuss a model we have developed to help you start this journey to R&D-powered digital services, with examples of companies who are already progressing through each stage.

    A maturity model for building R&D-based digital services

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