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Theme digitalisation: Digital transformation calls for user-centricity and technological knowledge

Anu Seisto

Olli Kuusisto

“Theme digitalisation” blog series offers now Olli Kuusisto’s and Anu Seisto’s views on user-centricity. Read also the previous digitalisation posts: Physical product or digital service? and How to navigate successfully through the digital transformation.

Internet of Things (IoT) and changes brought by digitalisation are increasingly becoming a part of our lives at work and at home. Gartner has predicted that more than 20 billion objects and entities will be connected to the Internet by 2020. A digital barometer published every year in Finland compares the abilities to benefit from digitalisation in various countries, where Finland ranked second just after Denmark in 2015. Norway and Sweden were also in the top five. What exactly does digital transformation mean in our daily lives?

Both consumers and employees are affected

Digital transformation refers to the use of digital technologies in all activities. For ordinary consumers, digital transformation is manifested in increasing number of everyday contexts. Domestic appliances can be connected to the Internet, and they can provide information for many uses. An often-cited example of consumer application is a refrigerator that can tell its owner about its’ contents or what is lacking. Sensors connected to the Internet can also show what is happening at home or at a summer cottage, and in the smartest services, sensors can adapt themselves based on our behaviour by using learning algorithms. Basically, intelligence can be added to any object or entity, which can then be connected to IoT network.

For employees, digital transformation can mean the adoption of new technologies in various ways. For example, augmented reality applications help maintenance persons to identify and repair faults faster, automatic integration of data reduces the amount of manual work performed by accountants, and digital identifiers make it easier to locate goods and keep warehouse accounts up-to-date at all times.

Whether we are talking about consumers or employees, the development of IoT products and services calls for understanding of user needs, technological opportunities and risks. A fancy technological solution without understanding of – sometimes hidden – user needs is not enough. Paying attention to the risks regarding e.g. data security is also essential. A development process that genuinely takes users and other stakeholders into account leads to better results.

Iterative co-creation process enables fast feedback loop

The best results are achieved when users and other possible stakeholders are engaged during the entire development work or a certain phase. In addition to providing ideas they can participate in developing and giving feedback on concepts, demonstrations, prototypes and service models. In this way, unfeasible ideas can be identified at an early stage. Depending on the case, rapid experiments may enable the creation of customised functional IoT prototypes in only few weeks. In addition to a sensor solution, a prototype can include mechanical modelling, wireless communication, mobile application and cloud-based services. Co-creative prototyping enables accurate feedback from users and customers faster compared to conventional interviews or needs assessments.

Besides user-centricity, there is a need for a wide range of technological knowledge starting from sensors all the way to the storage, processing and visualisation of the data in cloud services. Concept design and rapid experimenting offers businesses an efficient way to benefit from user and customer perspective and consider the effects of digitalization to their products and services. (Watch the video on co-creative prototyping process, with a smart rollator as case study).

Even though digitalisation is often perceived as a threat, it provides many new opportunities for doing things better or offering entirely new solutions to customers and end-users. By involving users and other stakeholders in the development process and carrying out quick experiments, companies can stay in the front line and create and develop customer-centric digital services.

A smart rollator concept and prototype developed through co-creative prototyping.

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