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Company: National Instruments
Categories: Best Community Business Integration
Entered by: Laura Feeney (Laura)
Community Name: NI Discussion Forums
National Instruments (NI) transforms the way engineers and scientists around the world design and deploy systems. Often deemed the "Home Depot for Engineers," NI offers a wide variety of hardware and software products to empower technology leaders working on applications ranging from LEGO MINDSTORMS® NXT® software to hardware for the CERN supercollider.
At National Instruments, we understand the importance of embracing our lead users and other customers when developing new product features for our flagship software platform, NI LabVIEW. While social innovation has been a hot topic among technology companies recently, we truly embrace this notion of co-innovation and have built user feedback into the development process. The LabVIEW Idea Exchange on our website (powered by Lithium) has been instrumental in our success.
Customer Loyalty Survey Data
As we began to think about building co-innovation into our LabVIEW development process, we knew we needed to gather more information about our community, because we intended for community members to be part of the process. We began by evaluating our community. We specifically wanted to embrace the audience of innovators and evangelists in our community, and to find these innovators and evangelists we used customer loyalty survey information.
The survey showed that 41 percent of NI customers are “active” NI community users. Additionally, the more active the customer is with the NI community, the more loyalty they are meaning they are:
This data, shown in the following graphs, emphasized the need for NI to embrace these customers for software development.
One of our key social business objectives is to embrace our customers when developing new versions of LabVIEW. Using cutting-edge social technologies, we want to not only listen to their feedback but also incorporate it into our products. Because no industry represents more than 15 percent of our revenue, it is imperative that we gather feedback from various areas to prioritize new features and connect with lead users as we enter emerging markets or new vertical industries.
Strategies and Technologies
After evaluating our audience and objectives, we came up with the following strategies:
• Make it easy for NI customers to share, discuss and vote on new software features
• Obtain feedback from lead users as we enter new markets
• Encourage customers to share their feedback in the community-driven software development areas
• Launch customer-driven software developments at NIWeek 2010
• Integrate these ideas with traditional marketing
The LabVIEW Idea Exchange was born out of the need to implement the above strategies. Going beyond the typical beta program, it is one area of our website where the online community can interact directly with NI R&D and provide candid feedback about our products. We then work to incorporate their feedback into our products as much as possible, which results in increased customer satisfaction because they see that we pay close attention to their needs and suggestions.
We promoted the Idea Exchange on the NI home page.In the LabVIEW Idea Exchange , LabVIEW users can submit and vote on features covering topics such as user interface enhancements, performance improvements, computation capabilities, and hardware integration. Since August 2009, more than 2000 ideas have been submitted for consideration in future versions of LabVIEW. In August 2010, the newest version of LabVIEW launched with 14 new ideas incorporated into the product. This video shows some of the users whose ideas were incorporated.
The LabVIEW Idea Exchange includes ideas straight from customers interested in helping NI develop the next version of LabVIEW.
In today’s social environment many companies are interested in what their customers are saying, but do not know how to best gather this information. The most innovative characteristic of our activities is that we not only used social technology to listen to our customers, but we also incorporated their feedback directly into our products and gave them immediate access to our R&D team. Many companies are afraid of what their customers might say about their products, but by making co-innovation an important step in the product development cycle, we have been able to work with our customers to create better and more technical products.
Overall, the LabVIEW Idea Exchange has been a great success. One important measure is that it has decreased the number of customer complaints. Before the Idea Exchange existed, customers requested new features for the product by emailing a private database maintained by R&D, and if users had a complaint they often posted it to their own blogs. By launching an open, public idea board for users to share their feedback, we gave our customers a voice that they did not have before in the development of our software.
We have also seen an increase in our own productivity because we no longer have to guess on the priority of new software features. Now our community does the initial prioritization of these new features followed by our R&D team.
Some specific metrics follow:
• 2,400 Ideas submitted across several software product lines (initial goal first year goal was 500)
• More than 47,800 votes on product ideas
• 9,470 customer comments on ideas
• More than 45,400 unique visitors to the Idea Exchange, for a total of 99,100 visits
• LabVIEW 2010 included 14 new features from the Idea Exchange
• The LabVIEW 2011 beta (the new version will release in August) includes 13 new features from the Idea Exchange
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