I have a confession to make – I have never had a 5-year plan for my career.
Yet I have managed to combine several things I love in my working life – research, education and designing experiences. At the crossroads of life, I have always made decisions based on how to open more doors. In the end, this type of reasoning has benefited me. Looking back now, 5-10-15 years ago, I never could have imagined the job that I have right now.
When I grow up, I want to be…
As a little girl I wanted to be at least one of the following: 1) A teacher, 2) A florist, and/or 3) Master of Science.
For some, this list would have seemed odd, but for me it made all the sense in the world. Although, at that time, I didn’t even know what it meant to be a Master of Science. But my dad was, and my dad knew everything about everything. So, I wanted to be like him. My mom was a teacher, but despite her love for teaching, she wanted me to pursue some other career than the one she had chosen. And florist…well, I guess it was just about my love for flowers.
When I graduate I want to be…
Answering this question is probably one of the most difficult things one can ask for from a person in their late teens. At this stage I remember wanting to pursue a career in sports journalism or marketing. But the math-loving little engineer inside reminded me that I could get more options if I enrolled in a technical university.
The use of technology in work life is ever increasing in all industries. Having even basic knowledge about, for instance, information systems, automatisation and manufacturing processes combined with business knowledge opens a whole new set of possibilities career wise. I’ve never considered myself a very technical person, but I wanted to go a little bit out of my comfort zone. I still sometimes have nightmares about not being able to connect my laptop when having to present something in a workshop or a speech.
But I’ve always been aware of some traits that could be beneficial in a technical industry:
1) I’m a researcher at heart – I want to find solutions to problems.
2) I’m process-oriented and analytical – I see the world as a continuum of imperfect processes waiting to be fixed.
3) I’m empathic by nature – I easily jump into other people’s shoes and try to understand their perspectives.
So, I figured that studying Industrial Management would fit these traits. I could study how organisations work and create value for different stakeholders, how industrial firms try to pave their way into service business, and how to define a strategy that would gain momentum. Also, becoming a Master of Science would not predetermine the industry or position that I would work in but give access to a bunch of interesting opportunities.
When my world is perfect, I’m going to be…
After graduation I realized that I wanted to continue with research. Also, my interest in teaching had emerged during my University years. I figured that the best way to combine these would be to pursue an academic career. I taught market research and focused on design and user/customer experience in a business-to-business context in my dissertation. Receiving the funny-looking black top-hat was in a way, and end of an era for me. I loved my work, but my pragmatic nature sought for something other than theorizing findings. I wanted to create functioning solutions to real-life problems. Even though I lacked the technical skills, I recognized I could be the person who can define the requirements of users and customers. And after a very determined search for work, I became a Business Designer. First, at Leadin, then at Gofore.
The basis of my work consists of helping our customer companies do better business and more informed decisions based on customer understanding. Every project that I’ve done includes research – whether with people working for our customer, their customers, users or other stakeholders. Why I love my job so much is that I’ve had the chance to work with people from so many different industries: children’s hospitals, education, manufacturing and engineering, dairy and fish farming, telecommunication, and financial services, to name a few. In addition, I’m responsible for developing our Business Design capability at Gofore.
In the end, I did reach some of the dreams I had growing up; I was able to teach and, occasionally still do whenever I get the chance. I upgraded my master’s degree to a Doctoral one. And though I’m not an expert in keeping flowers or plants alive, I still enjoy having pink carnations on our kitchen table.
Looking back, it seems as though I had everything planned out. And in a way, I guess I always knew what I wanted to do growing up. I just didn’t have the right term for it. Maybe now is the time to make my first five-year plan and see where that path will lead me.
An advice to my younger self: Choose happiness as a metric for success and understand what makes you happy.
Read the previous parts of this Women in tech blog series here:
Value your skills – they are needed in tech
My career in tech – a continuous learning curve
Finding my own material to design
Working as a woman in tech
I’m Outi Määttä, Industry Sector Lead at Gofore, Master of Science in Engineering, entrepreneur and a mother of three (a 4-year-old girl and 1,5-year-old twin boys).
Little did I know what was ahead when I chose a career in tech. Nor did I really think about it. I just loved STEM. A profound change has happened since I made that choice almost 20 years ago. Technology has become unavoidable; there isn’t an industry uninfluenced by digitalization.
There is a lot of talk about the low number of women working in technology. Additionally, themes such as work-life balance and equality are rightfully evoking more and more discussion. Indeed, one cannot get one without the other, and these three themes build on each other. Some claim that by bringing these topics up in the first place, we enforce the old fashioned and harmful stereotypes. I disagree, stating that as long as there is room to improve (and there is!), attention needs to be paid.
I could write a book about how to integrate work and life (just re-read my introduction in the beginning), and equality (or the lack of it) is something I’ve faced throughout my career. As has probably each woman in my generation. It is an inconvenient truth, similar to the fact that we grew up in a me-too world, and thought it was “normal”. My struggles have been tiny compared to many others, but even in surroundings like this – the topics still exist.
With this blog post, however, I want to alleviate some unnecessary fears women may have about entering the tech world.
Technology is no longer an individual industry segment or an isolated part of a business. It has become an integral part of all areas of life and work. Everyone will gradually grow to be some grade of tech-savvy, and every company will become a tech company. This integration of technology will again bring up the importance of skills “beyond coding”.
Technology in itself has little value and serves as proof that something can be done. But it needs to serve a purpose and be applied to a context. Our current technology toolbox is vast and quickly growing and the key skill is to use the tools in the right way. Design thinking has proven its value and design is essential in successful service and product development. At the core of it lies empathy and the understanding of motivations and emotions.
In a world where adaptivity is more important than muscles, the playing field for women and men has leveled. Unarguably workplaces need diversity in order to be the best they can be. And I mean also diversity in skills and backgrounds, not just sex, colour or age. Alongside technology, we need anthropology, linguistics, design, psychology…
Another interesting fear-alleviator could also be that organization cultures are evolving from masculine to feminine. According to Hoftstede, a masculine culture represents achievement, heroism, assertiveness and competitiveness, and femininity stands for cooperation, modesty and caring. Masculine cultures are more task-oriented and feminine more person-oriented. The latter creates an environment where people are more likely to express themselves, make mistakes, ask questions and experiment. Gofore represents a feminine culture, and we are a tech company.
My strong belief is, that everyone should play on their strengths, but not let that limit you to a box you assume you belong in. People tend to be the best experts in things they think “everyone can do”. That’s because you are so good at it, it comes naturally. Love and appreciate these characteristics about yourself – whether its coding, relationship building, writing, drawing or caring.
I also think, that it is naïve and idealistic to think that the road ahead is the same for everyone. We all face different challenges and we will never fully understand those of another. I will continue to be a feminist until I no longer need to. Hard work is something that one is lucky to avoid. It takes unending enthusiasm, guts and determination to develop one’s career.
What kind of an example do I want to set for my children? I want them to be brave and not to fear failure. I want them to know that they all have an equal possibility to make an impact. I want them to grow up appreciating their strengths and characteristics and encouraging each other on their chosen paths.
A career in technology was never a clear choice for me, I would say that I rather ended up here by accident. My passion has always been to positively impact the lives of people. I admire health care professionals, social workers, educators, etc. Still, I didn’t consider those as an occupation for myself, because I didn’t see them as a good fit for me. I wanted to do something that helps these fields of work, but from a wider perspective. I ended up working in information management in the public sector. Various IT projects on society’s different functions gave me an insight into how the public sector works and how technology should support the best services for citizens. Technology alone has no value, it’s all about people.
After working in the public sector for nine years, I desired a big change. At the same time, I was finalizing my PhD in Business information management – something I started six years earlier in addition to my work as an information architect. I definitely wasn’t ready to abandon the public sector, though. So, I started to think about how to combine these and ended up at Gofore almost four years ago.
The change didn’t stop there either. I worked as a consultant for a year and started to shift towards sales and customer excellence. None of these moves were really a part of my bigger plan, because I never really had a plan. My aim has always been to jump at opportunities that come to my path and work hard to thrive. Often the most intriguing things happen when you leave your comfort zone. Now, I have such an exceptional bunch of experts around me to learn from and collaborate with. There are definitely more technically oriented gurus than me, but I like to think I bring my own strengths to the crew. Technology is such a wide field and needs a versatile ‘know-how’. We don’t seek to build software or chatbots for their own sake, we build them to have a positive impact.
I’m participating in the Women in Tech event in October while on maternity leave for my second child. For me it’s obvious to maintain and grow my networks and expand my expertise during this time. The change in technology is fast paced and I definitely want to keep up. WIT is an excellent example of doing this. I see maternity leave as a chance to look at my career from another perspective and gain a more insightful view on the impact I want to foster through my work. At this point, my passion for making a difference in society is stronger than ever and I feel I have begun to understand the effect we can have with the help of technology and digitalization.
The number of women working in the field of technology should increase. Simply because the number of women is still quite low. In addition to balancing the gender gap, I feel women have a lot to give. Women can offer a different view on things, e.g., moms are an excellent source of understanding on how to develop early childhood education services, how to balance work with family life and how to attract more women to technology. In my opinion, women often bring empathy and a human-centric point of view to the table.
Technology is such a big part of children’s lives today that questions such as “was there electricity in your youth mom?” have been asked by my child to the point where I’ve told him that I didn’t switch the lights off with my phone when I was a child. For my son, it makes no difference that I’m a woman working in IT, for him, I’m a professional working in IT. They will be on a whole new level by the time they grow up. Meanwhile, it’s nice that women in technology shape the field together.
My top career tip: Don’t overthink your career, jump at opportunities and go full speed ahead.
Raise your hand if preparing travel invoices is the highlight of your day. Or if you enjoy recording working hours and reserving tickets for a business trip. These mundane tasks can become a pleasant and even attractive experience – you only need an open mind and a splash of new technology. Gofore’s ”bot addict” Aapo Tanskanen tells us how artificially intelligent bots have made everyday work more pleasant and fun.
Artificial intelligence helps Netflix recommend programmes we may like and Facebook tag friends in photos. Even a robot car could not drive by itself without machine learning. But can artificial intelligence also help ordinary office workers? Yes, it can. We have developed three intelligent chatbots that help people perform many essential every day tasks effortlessly.
Seppo, Granny and Gene are text-based conversational chatbots that operate in the Slack instant message environment frequently used by Gofore employees. Seppo chatbot is the veteran of the bunch and was developed in 2016. Like many other successful projects, it grew out of a real need. We do not have an actual middle management. This does not, however, eliminate many of the tasks that are performed at this level in more traditional organisations.
Seppo, for example, helps to manage working hours. It notifies you if an employee has worked too many hours, or if entries need to be fixed. Based on the good experiences with Seppo, we started to develop new chatbots to help with everyday routine tasks. Gene, for example, takes care of booking train tickets, which greatly helps employees who work in various locations. Granny, for her part, is a laid-back generalist, who can be consulted on general matters regarding the company.
”Bots have really changed every day work here,” says data analyst Aapo Tanskanen, who confesses to being a bot addict, and who has been closely involved in the development of Gene. ”Their use, for example, in entering hours worked, is considerably easier and more pleasant than clicking menus in a traditional interface.”
The short history of improvements in working life
Our bots are a great example of how the quality of working life can be improved with technology. Work hour entries, ticket reservations and travel invoices are an obligatory part of our work, but liked by few – especially when they steal a disproportionate amount of time from the work itself.
When routine tasks become smooth and pleasant, job satisfaction also increases. “Since our communications are based strongly on Slack anyway, the threshold to making daily obligatory routine entries is very low. You don’t have to open separate applications, instead you can take care of things quickly right away. In addition to making life easier, bots make routine activities more efficient and even more fun.”
Indeed, bots have become very popular with Gofore employees. For example, more than 200 train tickets have already been booked with Gene, even though it was rolled out only a few months ago right before the holiday period. People are not, however, forced to interact with bots, and old methods are used alongside the new ones.
”Our bots are made to be approachable, and the threshold for using them is very low. They already understand natural language really well and continue to develop through use. Using natural language makes interaction with bots somehow more human,” says Aapo.
Bots are not faceless workhorses, but instead they all have their own personalities. Especially the newest family member Granny’s personality is the most developed. As her name suggests, Granny’s nature is gentle and uncomplicated, and she knows how to tell jokes. Seppo, on the other hand, is more of a managerial type, and Gene is a snappy assistant, who manages designated tasks efficiently.
”Bot’s personality traits may lower the threshold to use them again. The user experience plays a large part in determining whether people start using the bots. Therefore, their good design is key.”
Bots help people develop at work
Fortunately, sometimes one good thing leads to another. Bots have also been found to be good for onboarding new employees. It is easy to ask them basic things about the company and its practices without having to bother a colleague every time.
”Of course a bot does not replace personal onboarding, but it does offer excellent support and enables people to review things at a convenient time for them,” Aapo says.
Long-time employees have also been provided with new opportunities to develop themselves. “Our bots know, for example, to recommend what skills an employee should develop. Behind this are skills profiles collected from the staff, with which the algorithm knows how to make recommendations based on the said users’ profile.”
The breakthrough of artificial intelligence in the office is near
Many skills are needed to build a functional conversational bot. In addition to service design and UX development, essential knowledge includes cloud utilisation and understanding API interfaces. Natural language processing (NLP) and chatbot technology know-how is also necessary for developing the bot itself.
According to Aapo, many customers have been extremely interested when they have seen Gofore’s bots in action. “I have not run into bots such as Seppo, Gene and Granny that are internally used by a company and improve the employee experience elsewhere. In this respect, they are so far, quite unique.”
”There has been a lot of hype in the field, but now we have clearly arrived at a situation in which the benefits gained from them are obvious. I strongly bet on autumn 2019 being a real bot autumn.”
Watch the video and see how Gene books a train seat. If you want to hear more about bots, please contact Aapo via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or via LinkedIn.
I’ve been working as a UX-designer at Gofore for two years now. My core skills are UI design, visual design, graphic design, prototyping and user studies. Service design is also close to my heart and luckily there is some overlap between the processes within UX design and service design.
One of the reasons that I work with technology is that it is closely related to my family. When I was little my father had a great career at Nokia. I think all three of us children were impressed with dad’s work: he made the technology industry look exciting and important. I don’t think any of us could tell what dad actually did for his job, but it sounded exciting anyway. Most importantly, I realised at a young age that the technology industry is the future. So, it’s not a surprise that I was already leaning towards the tech industry before I even realised it myself.
Both of my big brothers became interested in the tech industry at an early age and headed to the world of coding. However, I was attracted to visual design, different services and the desire to understand users’ needs. After high school I became an artisan and then went to Turku University of Applied Sciences to study design. The studies immediately felt right for me and I was excited about the program. However, finding the context was difficult because I did not consider myself in the world of traditional materials. Textiles, wood, metal and plastic all seemed strange to me. Traditional product design was far from what I wanted to do in the future. When I got familiar with service design, I felt relief that I was now moving in the right direction. Service design was not tied to a context or physical material. It was something bigger and more comprehensive.
When it came time to look for an internship, there were no other options for me than IT companies. I had a great desire to try a position in which I could pursue my own professional development. At the end of the application process I didn’t get an internship, but an actual job from Leadin, which Gofore later bought. It was truly a dream come true. My whole application process was long and at times really challenging and I really know how it tests your self-confidence. But if you have a clear goal and you are able to use feedback for self-reflection, you are very unlikely to fail.
Still today, almost my entire family is in the technology industry: my two brothers are Software Developers and my dad is a Project Manager. I enjoy my work every day because my projects vary a lot: from sector to sector, from one industry to another. My work is all about understanding the users’ needs and that is my passion.
In my opinion you can end up in tech-industry through many different ways. After all, my studies hardly emphasized this area, actually vice versa: traditional materials were still popular. I don’t think you need to know everything about the field in advance. Even though my mindset was towards tech-industry, I knew little about the industry itself. I just learned it through practice and dived deep into unknown. My best advice is just to be brave, curious and just do your best.
A failure I learned from: Long recruitment processes and many no-responses. Through failures and feedback, I got an idea of the direction in which I should develop myself. Honest and objective self-reflection was the most valuable skill that I learned from the recruitment processes.
Read the previous part of this Women in tech blog series here:
Working as a woman in tech
I’m Anni Roinila, a recruiter, a mother of two little women and a Goforean. I’ve been working in both recruitment and the IT-industry for over 10 years. I didn’t especially choose IT myself, but after all these years I’m so happy we ended up together. I started my career by recruiting IT support specialists and as a big bunch of the candidates were female, I didn’t even think about women being minority in the IT -field for a long time. It was only when I got deeper into the industry and the roles that we were recruiting for started to vary more, when I realised that there’s absolutely no balance between my female and male candidates. Pretty much all the candidates I met were male.
While working for a big consulting company a few years back, I had a chance to get more familiar with this challenge. We were trained to better understand our biases and making sure that we, the recruiters, were able to make non-biased decisions based purely on the recruitment criteria. I also started to learn more about diversity, inclusion and women in tech by myself, and got super intrigued by the subject. As a recruiter, I found another meaning for my work. I’m not just helping people to reach their dreams, but I can also encourage women to enter the industry in various ways, and be the shout-out person for diversity and inclusion matters whenever possible. How cool is that?
In my current job at Gofore, I feel like having all the possible opportunities to make these things reality. Not only because we have a strong ‘gals-network’ inside the company, but also because the benefits of diversity for the company have always been well understood and inclusivity is at the heart of our values. Though the base has been well built, the work is never finished. As a recruiter, I feel it is my job to make sure our recruitment and decision-making processes are as non-biased as possible. We need to do everything we can in order to make the industry appealing for everyone, no matter the gender. If it means starting from kindergarten, then we’re ready to do it.
My core message for people considering a career in the tech-industry has always been this: You do not necessarily need to be interested in coding when entering the industry. At Gofore over 25% of our employees are female or non-binary, and they work in various roles such as web development, design, project management, advisory roles, sales, marketing, and data analytics for example. They also come with various different backgrounds and fields of study.
The tech industry and IT are extremely interesting fields to work with. Though not being especially tech-savvy myself, I’m learning new things every day, as I’m surrounded by extremely talented people, who are willing to share their knowledge. The IT industry is a forerunner in many ways and by working here, I feel I’m getting to be at the top of the latest development trends all the time. But to continue that way, we need to make sure we stay innovative and competitive – and that, I believe, comes from diversity. In order to be successful in the future too, we certainly need more Women in Tech. So do not fear; you are capable, you are intelligent, you are brave. Just give us, the tech industry, a chance and I’m sure you’ll fall in love with us! 😊
My favorite quote:
“What if I fall? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?” – Erin Hanson
The latest X-Road Community Event was a huge success. With 150+ participants from 22 countries, it is evident that the interest and tangible actions for enabling digital societies are hot topics among the nations worldwide.
The event was organised by the Nordic Institute for Interoperability Solutions (NIIS) who are developing and managing an open source data exchange solution called X-Road. X-Road is the basis for data exchange in the public administration in Estonia and Finland, both of whom are founding members of the organisation. Lately, Iceland and the Faroe Islands have also joined as partners – and various countries and regions in Europe, Africa, the Americas and Asia have run trials and adapted X-Road for their use. See the X-Road world map for details:
Currently, Gofore is the sole developer of the X-Road core for NIIS through a public procurement.
X-Road version 6 is deployed in Finland and Estonia, and Iceland will follow suit shortly. The Faroe Islands and some other countries are preparing to migrate their platform from version 5 to 6.
At the event plans for the development of the next version of the software, X-Road 7 Unicorn, were introduced and presented in various workshops by experts from Gofore, the Finnish Population Register Centre (VRK) and the Estonian State Information System Authority (RIA). NIIS CTO Petteri Kivimäki stated: “X-Road is not developed for us [NIIS] but for you [nations and organisations]”, so it is evident that close collaboration between the development of the core and existing and planned local installations is highly valued. The MIT-licensed open source software enables maximum utilisation and all users are welcomed to contribute and create pull requests for additional required features.
Planning to utilise X-Road?
If your country or organisation has various data sources and siloed services, taking X-Road into use will enable a fluent, fully secured and easily manageable solution to exchange data between sources. Such fluent data exchange enables endless possibilities for derivative machine-to-machine applications and easy cross-border data exchange between countries. Of course the ultimate target are smooth human-centric services for citizens, which often require additional trusted digital identity management system to be build alongside information systems connected by X-Road.
Gofore has experience and deep expertise in all layers of X-Road and digital identity design, development and deployment and we are looking to support their utilisation at an international scale.
If you want to hear more, please contact the author or download the leaflet below – it will provide more detail on why, what and how X-Road would help to achieve a digital society in your context.
Interested in reliable, secure and easy to use integrations for digital services? X-road provides this and more. Download our X-road leaflet to learn more about how this could be utilised in your business: X-road leaflet
Data and information are or will be, inevitable prerequisites for success, no matter what your business is. Data is said to be the new fuel, new services, new tools, new professions (very sexy ones), etc. Data is also said to be risky, vulnerable, unsafe, out of control, etc. All these statements are true and at the same time very confusing. This post gives some guidelines on how to tackle the ever-growing data and information overload.
Problem or opportunity?
The ever-growing amount of information can be seen as a problem or as an opportunity. Both these options are, not good or bad, but dependent on the relevant approach to data and information. By selecting your approach, you might even select your future career. Cybersecurity professionals love to solve technical data privacy problems whilst business development people see endless opportunities for new services and platforms. So even viewing information as a problem might be a business opportunity.
Bring the data together
Data and technologies become more and more complicated and diverse all the time. And sad to say, too often data and solutions are very isolated and siloed. Silos are a very big problem. Successful organizations are transparent. This means you need to get rid of data silos, especially mentally, and bring data together in one platform. This applies not only to your own data but to all data which might belong to other departments, other companies or to publicly available data.
Technically this is not a problem, there are a huge number of tools and platforms which enable you to put data in one place and to combine and integrate it. Usually the problem lies in people’s thinking and in organizational cultures. There can also be some legal restrictions, but still it is often possible to have some elements of the data transparently available.
Don’t try this alone
It is impossible for a single person, and in most cases even for a single organization, to do everything alone. You need a team, people for certain roles. On the football pitch, you cannot be the goalkeeper, midfielder and forward at the same time. In realizing the opportunities lying within your data you need people for different roles, e.g. data engineer, data scientist, developer, business analyst, security expert, etc.
The roles in your team depend on the approach you take and what you are trying to achieve. Tackling information problems requires engineering, security, quality skills, etc. Grabbing information opportunities requires e.g. experimenting, prototyping, visualization, AI, design and sales roles. To be successful in the long run you need to assess both problem and opportunity approaches. Like Tom Davenport says, “Great data teams play both offence and defence”.
The way forward
The glue between data, the development team, the production team and the technological platform is the way of working. You might say these are the processes, but they represent a strict and siloed way of working. The nature of data related development whether it is dashboard building, advanced analytics, AI model development, etc. is such that when you start, you don’t know where, and with what results you will end up with. In addition, new requirements will very probably emerge during the work. Traditional project methods for development are not capable of handling these ever-changing situations fast enough.
The line between development and production is very vague in the field of data and analytics. The transition from development to deployment and to everyday use must be seamless and continuous. You must understand constantly changing needs and constantly increasing data. Agile and experimental ways of working are the key. You must be able to show results, iterate them and adjust your direction continuously with your clients in ever-shortening cycles.
Execution brings results, prepare for change
The problems very often lie in the execution. Not only ready-made solutions but also small and more ‘academic’ experiments should be taken into use and deployed into production. If you don’t try them in production with real data, you don’t know what they bring to you. Another aspect of execution is actions. No solution or information is useful if it is not used or no actions are based on it. Usually, it is most effective, also cost-wise, to build up and kick-start new solutions with help from a partner(s), even in this case you need to take care of the action-part. When new solutions are deployed and new ways of working have become business as usual, then you can rethink what resources and competencies you need to have yourself and how you continue with partnerships.
The field of data & AI, like many others, is in constant development and transition. And like all development, it is not only about tools and technologies. People, competencies, ways of working and organizational culture are key parts of success. New development drives constant change, and in order to succeed in a changing environment, you, or at least your thinking, must also change!
In the past, companies have addressed changes in business situations by adding more control. Control has been seen as the tool to gather and process more information about change and thus to gain a better understanding of the situation. This has led to a hierarchical organization with unnecessary organizational layers and structural resistance to change. But ‘change has changed’ and the dominant industrial thinking model based on a hierarchical organization is outdated. Organizations have become inefficient, incorrectly structured and complex to manage.
It is not that companies’ leadership and management have been lazy and stupid, but the business at large, and society have changed towards something new, which is called digital. The change is evolutionary, comes in waves and has gained momentum since 2000. At the same time, current legacy management is based on industrial thinking characterized by concepts like static operations, manufacturing, raw materials, products, markets, economies of scale, value chain, shareholder value, and asymmetrical information. These are things that are more concrete and based on business models ignorant to environmental and social issues. Anyhow the industrial era has produced plenty of wealth, growth, health and societal good.
Companies are getting more profitable, but at the same time, there are challenges to create growth by introducing new services and products. Digital technologies generate efficiency gains through automation and improved situational awareness by improving existing solutions. Companies can get stuck between industrial and digital. The more you apply digital technologies to existing products and production, the more efficient a company becomes, but that doesn’t necessarily create growth.
What does the digital era look like? We don’t know exactly and we are afraid to admit that our society is entering a totally different era. A similar magnitude of change was witnessed 200 years ago when the industrial era started. The future comes in small pieces, not all in one go. The small pieces that characterize the future are the digitalization of products to services, vast data and advanced analytics, customer centricity vs. product, economies of flow vs. scale, individual homogenous needs vs. markets, dynamics vs. statics, ecosystems vs. value chains, IoT devices vs dump devices and stakeholder value vs shareholder value. The information which caused the change is so vast and volatile that hierarchical organizations can be too slow to react. There is a need for new ways to organize collaboration.
The challenge with company growth is the balance between legacy and renewal, resilience and adaptation of new ways of working. The root cause seems to be industrial-organizational thinking, where a company is seen as one hierarchical organization. Contemporary thinking is nothing like emphasizing companies systemic, adaptive, self-organizing and intelligent characteristics. Companies are not just organizations that react to external events, they also change all the time because people want to do what they see is right.
Companies are good to react when their existence is threatened. The danger with digital transformation is the evolutionary nature. It doesn’t create immediate urgency, results just become harder to achieve. Also, the transformation process is seen as ‘One Model Fits all’, instead of fit for purpose and against customer demand where parts of the company are transformed individually.
So there is a struggle with the past, and the future looks distant and different. The situation often presents itself differently from that which you were expecting. The past says that there is no need for change, the future says total change. From a company point of view making sense is a customer demand related topic. A company has several futures depending on their customers’ true needs. Company resilience is the sum of the resilience of the customer serving parts. This is also the reason why there is no need for ‘One Model fits all’ transformations because there is no ‘One Model’. In the past, management expected and wanted to create a trust to ‘One Model’. Now the flow of trust is reversed. Management needs to trust that autonomous units know their customer needs and will act in the best interest of customer and company.
The challenge with company growth is the balance between legacy and renewal, resilience and dynamic new ways of working. Resiliency is an organizational capability that is needed when the times are good, bad and between. Resiliency is good for company stakeholders.
Recently I attended the Service Design Network´s event of Doing Good in Design: Social Impact and Ethics In Service Design. I thought I would share my notes and maybe you will also pause for a minute to really think about the impact of your work on the world. I sure did.
Miko Laakso from DNA (the host of the event) shared some wise words from Victor Papanek (1970):
“You are responsible for what you put in the world.
And you are responsible for the effects those things have upon the world.”
The main part of the evening was facilitated by the guest speaker Jethro Sercombe who works with social impact projects in Australia, projects like enabling better opportunities for homeless youths in rural areas of Australia.
We briefly touched upon the principles of ethical design:
Jethro reminded us about the position of power we take and bring into situations as designers, and how that can have a negative or misleading impact on the interaction and thus the outcome of the research. This applies not only to designers, but any profession and any situation. We all have and take power positions. That is why with great power comes great responsibility.
Jethro presented six different bases of power (by French and Raven (1960, 2008)):
How do we acknowledge our power position and dismantle it in order to create a safe place for the ones we are interviewing or observing (or for any human interaction for that matter)?
In designing for social impact, the object is different from commercial projects. We usually design for users or potential users of the service, when designing for social impact the object is families or communities – the community experience. See how this shift in perspective will impact your thinking.
Great questions to think through in the design process are:
- Who are we excluding with our design?
- How can we minimize the influence of our own biases (and yes, we all have them)?
- How can we anticipate the short-term and long-term effects of our design?
Working in smaller teams using the futures wheel
Next, Jethro divided us into smaller groups for ideating a billion-dollar business idea around: “What might an Uber or Airbnb of healthcare or childcare look like?” After a few minutes of individual time for ideating business ideas on post-it´s the team voted the most potential business idea. I will share our team´s idea to illustrate the process, not because it was any good or proposing any of you to actually run with the idea 😄
We voted for a “health taxi service” (Uber of health care) in which trained nurses are the drivers of well-equipped taxis that anyone can order to their home for health checking purposes.
Now Jethro told us our business was booming and in fact, our “health taxi” had become a Unicorn that ruled the health market. By using a tool, the futures wheel, we were supposed to come up with utopian and dystopian scenarios with newspaper headlines of what our business was going to look like according to those future scenarios.
In the Utopian (desired future) scenario our “health taxi” business pivoted into a data-AI driven company utilising all existing location-based health data gathered by all taxis. Since ordering the health taxi to your front door was so easy, people used it more often than traditional services. This enabled the company to move from “sick care” into preventative health care finding patterns and probabilities from the data. A newspaper headline was: “No more sicknesses and longer life expectancy for health taxi users”.
In the Dystopian (undesired future) scenario our “health taxi” business was in fierce competition with other health taxi services and due to legislation lagging behind there were a lot of fake nurses driving the taxis mistreating patients and giving false advice to people. Traditional health care centres were shut down a long time ago when the government decided to buy the services from the health taxi companies. Trust in health services dropped dramatically and media reported of mistreatments on a daily basis. The newspaper headline read: “Health taxi strikes again: yet another 10 people died during Christmas time for mistreatment”.
By using the futures wheel in your design process, you can challenge the customer to anticipate the long-term impacts of solutions through utopian and dystopian scenarios. Impacts can be considered on a micro or macro level like on people, community, society, globe (Earth). When both scenarios are ready the most important part of the exercise is to mitigate the risk of the dystopian world so it never becomes reality. This approach exposes the team to include a long-term perspective as part of the design process.
So, is doing good in design just about those who practice design for social impact in charities or governments or should we also take responsibilities as designers (or as developers) to ensure business decisions and solutions in the long-run cause no harm to people, communities, society or to mother Earth? I will leave you with this thought.
Ethical design: https://2017.ind.ie/ethical-design/
Bases of power: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_and_Raven%27s_bases_of_power
Futures wheel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Futures_wheel
´Speculative design´ – a tempting path (go there with your own risk bearing in mind it can have a great impact in your thinking) for learning more about addressing big societal problems and looking towards the future: e.g. in https://www.invisionapp.com/inside-design/speculative-design/