The roaring success of the games company Supercell is partly a result of making use of customer feedback at all stages of game development. Medium-sized and large companies are also seeking a similar rapid product and service delivery capability, a feature of start-up businesses, by exploiting their benefits of scale. In the N4S-program, working methods that support this are being constructed.
The industrial leader of work package of “Paradigm Change – Delivering Value in Real-time” , Jari Partanen, Head of Quality and Environment, from Elektrobit (EB), is at Helsinki-Vantaa airport early. Partanen is leading the work package in close collaboration with research heads Dr. Tommi Mikkonen from Tampere University of Technology and Dr. Markku Oivo and Dr. Pasi Kuvaja from University of Oulu. The morning includes virtual discussions German colleagues who work with car programs, amongst others,but before these there is still time to do some work and present the N4S-program. Its objective is to build a solid foundation for the success of Finland’s software-intensive companies in the new digital economy.
Jari Partanen from Elektrobit (EB) is responsible for the Paradigm Change – Delivering Value in Real Time work package of the N4S-program. In it, operational models are developed with which companies build continuous delivery capability and the real-time production of added value.
“The new digital economy contains significant service and software business activity opportunities. The N4S programme is part of Finland’s ICT growth strategy and in it we are seeking to build up speed in finding new market gaps in different kinds of products and services,” says Partanen.
“This is also the objective of Elektrobit. We want to grow into new wireless application business activity areas,” adds Partanen.
EB is specialised in the integrated software and equipment solutions demanded by the automotive industry and wireless technologies. For example, EB makes automotive software that powers cool car technology such as AUTOSAR, FlexRay, infotainment, navigation, human-machine interfaces and driver assistance systems.
“We believe that different kinds of wireless connectivity services and product solutions, for example, such as special devices or connectivity solutions, will be used in the future in very varied applications. Through these, we can find global market areas in which the expertise of EB and its customers will be utilised.”
Value to Customers
EB’s wireless business segment in Oulu, Kajaani, Tampere and the USA, with some 500 employees, offers products and product platforms for defense and public safety markets as well as for industrial use. Further EB offers product development services and customized solutions for wireless communications markets and for companies needing wireless connectivity for their products. Partanen, who has worked for the company for more than 15 years, has previously worked in roles including the forestry industry and business consulting and seen the development arc of the working culture of the IT field over the course of his career.
“Attention began to be paid to agile software development in the latter half of the 2000s and during the last few years feedback chains have been incorporated into Lean operations. The objective has been to construct mechanisms with which feedback can be obtained constantly from the field,” says Partanen.
“At its best, this has led to the creation of operational models that are adapted to the company’s own activity, so-called ’Way of Working’, which suit the company’s customers well and are motivating from the perspective of the personnel as well. In the N4S-program, use is made of the whole of this infrastructure and working model. Pilot models are built for the real-time collection and utilisation of customer feedback and the ability to carry out quick product and service trials in new business areas.”
Jari Partanen on future connectivity services
Partanen is leading the first-stage research projects, the aim of which is a paradigm shift, i.e. a new kind of working practice based on real-time delivery of value. The objectives arise from the needs of today’s markets.
“In the N4S-program, it is predicted that business activity will be created in Finland’s software-intensive industry on the basis of the choices of the customers and the things that they consider to be of value. It is believed that companies will develop products and services in the future which contain software and services that create a significant amount of added value to the customer, not only the devices that are associated with it.”
Feedback Guides in the Right Direction
Partanen believes that it is a risk in today’s markets to create a product following the old model so that feedback from customers or consumers is only obtained for a finished product or during intermediate stages. The needs of the customers may change in the interim.
“A more sure way of working is to ensure that sufficient feedback is received throughout the whole development of the product. Feedback can be sought, for example, with a prototype or demo, with which it is possible to check if the work is going in the right direction. Through feedback, some feature can be tested and taken forward for a moment.”
Partanen says that at EB the customers are linked in to the activity and to producing value.
“They see which stage of the work we are at. At the centre, there is a collaboration in the direction not only of the customers, partners and consumers but also our own staff, so that the features are found in the products and services that produce value for the customers,” says Partanen.
He adds that the Leaner the organisation in the company is, the more co-operation has been initiated, both inside the company and with customers and partners. There are not different levels in discussions, but instead everyone talks to each other so that projects succeed.
A Rapid Delivery Capability Requires an Operational Model
Doing things together, open discussion and rapid decision-making may well also be factors that originally led to the setting up of Supercell. The games company has organised it activity so that a small team consisting of programmers, graphic designers and producers can create a demo game in a short time, analyse the requirements of the market and ensure that its functionality matches that of the core product in the further development stage as well. With dispersed management, the makers of products and services have freedom and responsibility.
Speeding up the delivery capability of products and services is also a core objective of the N4S-program. Even though the products and services may also be physical, the objective of the programme is to create working models with which all factors relating to the development of the services are accelerated, not only software development. The goal is to change the cycle in which products and services are only brought out from once to a few times a year to a faster one so that the latest version can be delivered at any time whatsoever.
”In the N4S-program, use is made of the whole of this infrastructure and working model. Pilot models are built for the real-time collection and utilisation of customer feedback and the ability to carry out quick product and service trials in new business areas.”
Speed Must Be Seen As Bringing Value
So where does one begin in changing the operational model? Partanen replies that the company must itself want speed and see it as necessary and as bringing value. A new kind of organisation of activity is also required. The whole operational model from products to services, including the working practices of the organisation, must be developed to facilitate a rapid delivery capability that is adapted to the real-time economy.
“Each organisation has to build this in a company-specific way. To plan from its own starting positions how things should be organised and what operational models should be re-used from the existing processes. At the same time, thought is given to what this means technologically”, says Partanen.
He raises as one key question the issue of how testing can be speeded up as a whole so that feedback is linked in more with development than before and the quality of product releases is improved. There should be a move from continuous integration development models towards even more continuous delivery models.
“How can the prototype testing of a product, which contains hardware, be carried out as quickly and in an agile a manner as possible? For example, EB has examples of teams in which the whole added-value chain has been built up holistically and in which it is possible to create even a very rapid delivery capability for a new product, but on the level of the whole company, we are not there yet.”