Apply Design Thinking to Catalyze More Informed Manufacturing

Design thinking is increasingly becoming a means to attaining competitive advantage in today’s business world especially in the manufacturing industry where physical products and software experiences are converging more than ever before. Ambient information collected by connected devices, telematics and  SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) that comprise the Internet of Things (IOT) are accelerating this change. It’s not only bridging the gap between consumers and manufacturers but also optimizing manufacturing processes across the supply chain, helping manufacturers achieve higher operational efficiencies.  

Recently, I spoke with Cognizant’s Head of Innovation (Manufacturing) Prasad Satyavolu on the implications of design thinking for the manufacturing industry.  

In this wide-ranging conversation, we explored the accelerating digital transformation of manufacturing sector – benefits and risks -- and the role of design thinking  

Meenu: How are new SMAC technologies helping to transform the manufacturing industry?

Prasad: Core manufacturing has always been tech savvy; think about core tech inventions such as automation, robotics, large-scale information management and ERP systems. They all started in the manufacturing sector and then percolated to other industries. The same can be said about management technology -- organization of teams, division of labor, lean operating principles, standard operating processes and integration across channels and partners. They all came from the manufacturing industry – and the list goes on! And, so as the product design processes focused on creating new technologies and building features into the products. But these processes require a complete rethink now. It’s no longer about finding glue, paper and then figuring out ways to make them work together. Instead, the importance of invention in today’s times is in user experience and not features and functionality.

Meenu: That means, design thinking is more important than ever before in manufacturing since the focus is now not only on products but its application and usage   

Prasad: Yes.  Traditionally, the approach for any feature or new design -- from automobiles, mining equipment or a simple home appliance -- is to get feedback from users through focus group discussions. Manufacturing organizations use house of quality /quality function deployment (QFD) methods to prioritize features. They then used market/price segmentation to position and monetize investments. These core activities at the front end of design fed into the downstream work for engineers, marketers to execute on various elements of design thinking.

But the problem with this approach is while companies have zeroed in on product features, compartmentalized it, and designed the product accordingly; many times they really have no insight into how people actually use the product, or may use certain features, the behaviors they exhibit and whether they are even using the product to begin with. So, uncovering these attributes by using a human-centered design approach can catapult the value proposition and therefore the monetization of the product features.  

Meenu: So,thanks to new technologies, companies today can very well understand and monitor user behavior by making products smart?

Prasad: We are seeing many examples wherein startups have disrupted market leaders on the basis of making simple products Smart. The whole user experience is changing the landscape of traditional products – take for example Nest. It not only disrupted the world of thermostat manufacturers but to quote an engineer from one manufacturer- “(it) made us look completely foolish!… how could we miss this shift in a non-descript device?”

I think what the companies need to do is invest in “meaning making.” Companies collect lots of data for reporting purposes and therefore have immense potential to predict, prescribe and curate, with human intervention or automation - based on various analytical techniques. But, the question is how to proceed with those insights and how and where to embed sensors or microcontrollers around the products to make them smart. For example driverless cars, microcontrollers on the assembly line, sensors in food packaging, etc. Embed sensors, collect information, convert your products into smart products and provide value to your users through making meaning of that information. 

Meenu: No doubt sensors and analytics provide immense value to consumers, but there are many concerns around data privacy and security. And recent data breaches have aggravated those concerns. How can companies protect themselves and their consumers from such risks that IoT brings? 

Prasad: This is where design thinking comes in. The core principle of design thinking is the human- centered approach – observation and empathizing with users. In order to be sensitive to these aspects of intrusion, design thinking should be front and center of how technology can assist consumers, manufacturers and just about everyone in the fulfillment chain!

Let me give you an example -- in Florence Italy, the cost of assisted living home is huge as there is perennial shortage of such facilities. So with the launch of smart home concept there, seniors can now get immediate medical assistance, whenever they need, without moving to a care center. So, in this case, it’s less of an intrusion and more of a benefit. And this is done through 24x7 monitoring of key activities, analysis and alerting.

I think the companies must respect choices. In today’s era of extreme personalization and customization, the products should cater to specific needs of individuals.  As long as companies are not creating a mass produced, one-size-fits-all concept to connected life, and are transparent to their customers regarding the use of their data, consumers will trust the products and the companies that produce them.  It’s a question of gaining trust.

 Meenu: How do you think technology service providers can help in applying design thinking within manufacturing organizations?

Prasad: Experience is the new driver of product success. In fact, providing excellent user experience is the core business strategy of many of today’s businesses.  And technology companies can help different businesses by bringing a convergence of digital and physical elements of a product and process.  Applying design thinking at the front end of innovation in the design of not just product but the software applications touching business users at all levels – is definitely the way forward.   

Technology service providers can enable the transformation of employee experiences as well by taking a persona- centered approach – by integrating business information and analyzing work behavior. For example, take the trucking industry where retention of drivers is a big problem. If one looks at the balance sheet of a trucking company, one would find millions of dollars spent just on recruitment.  With such high turnover rates, the industry is looking at transforming the employee experience. This is a classic example of using multi-dimensional inputs for truck manufacturers. And this is true across the industry spectrum not just manufacturing.

With personal and professional lives blurring in today’s work, machine-to-machine (M2M) data exchange and decision making is becoming more important than ever. So, we definitely need a better approach than meeting the requirements and feature-focused recommendations of group studies.

Meenu: Thanks Prasad, very well said.  Customers today are buying more than just products - they are buying experiences. And design thinking can enable organizations strengthen customer relationships as well as open up new strategic opportunities along with operational efficiencies.

For more information, questions and comments on the interview, feel free to reach us at 

Digital proficiency will be essential in the future workplace

The future of work will be based on highly intelligent software tools, giving workers access to relevant information in real time and therefore improving their ability to make decisions faster than ever. Because of all this, The Huffington Post reports, digital proficiency will become an essential skill for the future office worker.

The publication spoke to Alan Lepofsky, vice president of Constellation Research, for his thoughts and predictions on the future of work.

With a background in next-generation collaboration techniques, enterprise social media and disruptive workplace technologies, Lepofsky feels that despite new communication platforms and tools, "the future of work is still functionally job-based."

This means that rather than being an integral part of the worker's day, tools and collaboration software will be 'supporting structures' that help people get on with what they need to - without even realising they are there.

The two technologies that Lepofsky feels have really changed the way we work in recent years are cloud computing and mobile. He feels that mobile has made the greatest impact so far - and that doesn't just include phones and tablets, as "mobile is the ability to work anywhere, anytime, not tethered to your desk," he explained.

He foresees that this trend will continue advancing in the years to come, to the point where "we can look at information on anything":

"In the future information will be projected onto your kitchen counter-tops [...] Imagine three, five, 10 years from now whenever it happens to be, where the physical structure of the device disappears [...] whether it is augmented reality information, or our walls and surfaces and curved objects, dashboards in our cars -- all of these things are going to become screens for information."

Besides what people might think, the adoption of digital technology has less to do with age and more to do proficiency, Lepfsky explains; and proficiency falls into two areas of concern: skill level with technology and comfort level with technology. Accessibility to useful information will also play a major role in enhancing digital proficiency among staff.

It will also be important for business leaders to actively demonstrate the benefits of digital proficiency and aim for 100% adoption of collaboration technology.

"There's no happy medium," said Lepofsky. "For something to be successful you need 100% adoption [...] It has to be the way that that process is done, not an optional way."

Every click, swipe, "like," buy, comment, deposit, jog and search produces information that creates a unique virtual identity - something we call

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How robots can help boost employee happiness and productivity

There has been a lot of concern about robots stealing our jobs; but a new piece of robotic technology could not only help people to stay in work, but make them happier while doing so.

According to Business Insider, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been trialling a new scheme at its Sloan School of Management that allows employees to work from home at least two days, with the option of making an appearance in robot form if they feel like they're missing out on the fun.

The growing trend for flexible working means that more workers are choosing to work remotely; but it can lead to feelings of disengagement and a sense of disconnect from colleagues and office events.

Luckily for staff at the MIT, they can now use a robot on a wheels - featuring a live web-cam screen on the top - to feel as if they are really in the office, and to remind others that they still exist. Remote workers can control the robot from their homes, moving around the office freely to join in with meetings, collaborative projects and even hang out on lunch breaks.

The program's executive director, Peter Hirsch, saw the technology being used during a conference last year and could immediately see the benefits.

With video conferencing, he explains, remote employees can often become 'just a face on the screen' and get ignored by others in the conversation. But because these movable robots take up a physical space, it's almost as if that person is actually in the room.

He was also surprised at how quickly staff adapted to having them around the office, despite their amused reactions initially.

So, as more and more people choose to work remotely, we could see more of these robots cropping up in offices all over the world - not replacing humans, but improving our working lives.