How to Build a Disruptive Product for a Conservative and Highly Regulated Industry

Seven tips for success.

I’ve been designing, building, and commercializing enterprise software products in several industries for the past 20 years. When Blooma was founded, I faced the new challenge of building a disruptive commercial lending platform for one of the most conservative and regulated industries – banks and financial institutions. Looking back at the last 18 months, it was an exciting and enlightening journey. We are getting great feedback on our product, particularly on our ability to utilize artificial intelligence to automate data collection, calculations, and valuation models, while enabling lending professionals to use their experience and talent in the art of their work.

I have learned a lot along the way so wanted to share my 7 best practices for anyone planning to build and launch advanced technologies to conservative industries that may just be catching up on disruptive innovation.

1. Build the product with customers for customers. We developed our product together with to-be-users, by partnering with future customers and hiring professionals from their specific industry. This is especially critical when the product team lacks experience in the industry that they are building for. The combination of views from both inside the targeted industry (for better product fit) and outside of that industry (for the “art of the possible”) typically leads to better innovations.

2. Combine user-centered and vision-centered innovation principles. Start building your product by applying user-centered innovation methods. Strive to understand the needs of users through deep analysis of their behaviors and how they interact with existing products. Later, vision-centered innovation methods should be added. This is required in order to focus both on doing the same things better, and also on doing things differently. During our development process, I pushed the team to bring up ideas and concepts that customers did not specifically ask for or did not think were technically possible, and some of those ended up being key parts of our solution.

I have learned a lot along the way so wanted to share my 7 best practices for anyone planning to build and launch advanced technologies to conservative industries that may just be catching up on disruptive innovation.”

3. Build flexible workflows using multi-services architecture. Each customer has their own way of doing things and requires the technology to adapt to their own workflows. This is simple when you build a custom solution, but much harder with a SaaS platform that is used by many different customers, where typically “one size fits all.” Early on, we decided to build a flexible architecture, allowing users to configure their own scoring algorithms, workflows, and how they would like to consume the asset and borrower analysis (in our intuitive UI, a summary report, or even directly feeding their own Excel spreadsheet models).

4. Build your human/machine interaction to be mutually beneficial. No matter the level of sophistication of the artificial intelligence and automation that you develop, it must be clear that the human users are always in control. AI can enable customers to make scientifically informed decisions, but it should not make decisions for them. Our product provides ways for users to validate AI-driven information gathering and to easily correct it where needed. For example, we use machine learning models to select the best sales and rent comparables for an accurate valuation, but users can still include or exclude comparables based on their specific experience and knowledge of the area. Not only do users end up getting better data that exactly fits their needs, but these interactions help train our AI models and make them even better.

5. Pay attention to the unique needs of the sector you’re serving. If you’re working with AI, the type of models that you develop must fit the needs of the specific industry that you’re building for. In more conservative and highly regulated industries there will always be a need to know exactly how the machine came to the results that it did. You should avoid deep learning models which typically don’t provide reasons or explanations. Think of the machine learning-based movie recommendations in Netflix. Based on a list of movies that you’ve watched, they tell you that you’ll probably like a certain recommended movie. If Netflix recommended a movie for you without explaining why, you might be less likely to pay attention. And in a heavily regulated industry, a conclusion like that without an explanation would not be acceptable at all.

6. Keep it simple and avoid developing complex technology where it’s not needed. Technologists many times are so focused on the art of the possible that they build features that will never be used just because they’re cutting edge or the latest trend. I say, where advanced technology doesn’t make sense, don’t use it! For example, you can spend months building complicated screens and models that are expensive to build and hard to maintain, when what users really want is a simple download to an Excel spreadsheet. When I review each proposed new feature, I always consider usability, simplicity, and maintainability in equal measures.

7. Build the “leap” disruptive innovation in parallel. Sometimes customers (or industries) are just not ready for truly disruptive innovation. So, while adhering to the previous recommendations, I always maintain a product innovation track where we research and develop truly disruptive innovation that might not be accepted today but could be eased into in the future. For example, today users would probably not accept making loan decisions based on an AI model, but we can build this model in the background while still allowing users to analyze risk the way they are used to. Then sometime in the future when we can show them how accurate the AI model would have been in predicting a loan default, they might be ready to adopt it.

Hopefully you’ll find something helpful in these 7 tips. Introducing something new to a sector that has been satisfied with doing things the old way for a long time can be daunting. But it can also be fun, especially when you know that you’re truly making a difference.

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