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 Meenu.Sharma@Cognizant.com