Timex ticking with product innovation apps

To keep itself ticking, wristwatch maker Timex Corp. has revamped the way it develops watches with product innovation software that can help it quickly tailor new products for a rapidly changing market.

For much of the company's 152 years, the watch industry was more about style than engineering, said Bernd Becker, vice president of product development at Middlebury, Conn.-based Timex. But in the last 10 years, innovation has become the industry buzzword as consumers demand new features in their watches, he said. Keeping track of those innovations and making them easier to build into products is now a key to staying competitive, he said.

For years, the company, which has 7,500 employees in the U.S., South America, Europe and Asia and sells 30 million watches a year, relied on an active project system that used individual files not shared in a live database, Becker said. Instead, the files were scattered in various locations, making it difficult to coordinate work.

"[Project information] was hard to get, and you could never be sure that it was up to date or not," Becker said. "In the past, [innovation] was driven by research and development, so there was lots of disconnect between R&D and brand managers. That's a typical problem in many companies because engineers and brand managers talk in different languages."

To ease communications and make the company's innovation efforts more nimble, Timex began searching for solutions two years ago. "We looked for a different process," Becker said. What the company found was a "stage-gate" approach from software vendor Sopheon PLC that used milestones or "gates" at each step of the innovation process. It allows discussions, reviews, planning and decisions to be analyzed by everyone from designers and engineers to product marketing staffers.

Timex evaluated similar products from two other vendors, Centric Software Inc. in San Jose, and Oracle Corp., before choosing Sopheon's Accolade application.