Despite technological advances, today's techniques for obtaining customers' reactions to new-product concepts are costly, time-consuming and not well integrated into the product-development process. Current Web-based methods of conducting customer research offer companies hope but have limitations. From a product-development perspective, notes Alex Cooper, president of the Management Roundtable in Waltham, Massachusetts, “The challenge is on the back end.” What matters most is how the rest of the organization responds and uses the information.The Virtual Customer Initiative (VCI), a research program under way at MIT's Center for Innovation in Product Development, is working on prototypes of new-product-development tools and methods. The tools could help product-development teams obtain customer evaluations of new-product concepts, prototypes and preproduction models more quickly, accurately and inexpensively. By taking advantage of new computational algorithms, multimedia visualization tools and the interactivity of the Web, companies can apply the tools throughout the product-development process — exploring and identifying new market opportunities, improving the design phase, soliciting input during product testing, and gathering reactions from customers after a purchase.“It's a quantum change.