People-first: innovating for impact

The human side of digital innovation

2018 just started, so your inbox is probably filled with Top Trends lists, like 'The top 10 innovations you can't miss in 2018'. But if you really want to get ahead this year, make sure you put those lists in the right context. It's not the technology that's going to change the game. It's you.

We sat down with Mirabeau's Hayo Rubingh, Director of DevOps, and Peet Sneekes, Senior Creative Consultant, to talk about why technological advancements are simply enablers. You must first know where you're going before you can let new tools take you there. 

Hayo Rubingh and Peet Sneekes

Ride the wave

"I can't think of a single industry that isn't feeling the effects of technological advancement," Hayo begins. "Many companies are still trying to adapt to the mobile-first world, and we're already seeing things advance many steps beyond that. It will be an AI-first world before we know it. In the age when new technology seems to become available every day, innovation can feel intimidating. Companies wonder where they should begin, and they're nervous about investing in the unknown."

"Mirabeau built its reputation building solid, effective digital platforms. That started with web and mobile," Peet explains, "but for several years now, we've been exploring and experimenting with the newest technology. We believe that alternatives to the screen - like conversational interfaces and AR - are the future of our business. In fact, AI services might even become bigger than web and mobile were in the past," he says. 

For Mirabeau, intense exploration of the newest technologies is the best way to serve our clients. Peet continues: "we focus on how we can use the latest innovations to develop smarter, more impactful digital solutions for our clients, and more meaningful experiences for people." Peet says the official opening of the Digital Studio of Mirabeau and Cognizant at the end of 2017 is the next step in a continuing journey. "We know that solutions rarely lie in a single new trend or technology, but rather in a blending of various innovations that create strong synergies." As part of Cognizant Digital Business, Mirabeau aims to remain firmly planted on the cutting edge.

Create the experience

Hayo and Peet say the secret to meaningful experiences lies in human-centered design and service design: adapting both processes and products to focus on people's specific needs and desires. That requires a good balance of what companies already have in house - like data, processes and products - and what design and new technology can offer. "Now more than ever, companies need to know their customers, and get to the heart of what matters most to them," Hayo emphasizes.

"When thinking about the future, companies need to adopt the right strategy and adapt their products and services, so that they can continuously address people's needs, now and in the future," Peet explains. "The future will be about structured innovation: it's not enough to use technology for technology's sake. It actually has to make people's lives easier," he says. "Often, the solution requires a combination of design, technology and insights, and a broad range of skills to bring it all together."

Of course, data lies at the center of all this innovation. Big data and thick data about people's preferences and behavior are key to ideating and identifying opportunities. "The more we know about people, the better we can create smart experiences that seamlessly integrate into people's lives," Hayo adds.

Pull back the curtain

Notice that we're talking about 'people', instead of just 'customers'? That's deliberate. Because, as Mirabeau sees it, the right mix of design, technology and insight will improve internal processes, empower employees, streamline communication with suppliers, and create more value for people and the company alike. If you're just thinking about digitizing your sales channels, you may be missing opportunities to create substantial growth.

In fact, some of the most effective uses for innovation can be found within the four walls of your company. After all, when you improve your processes, you improve your service, products and profits. When KLM - a Mirabeau partner for more than 11 years - wanted to help improve internal processes for their aircraft maintenance engineers, the Mirabeau team knew it had to dig deeper. So we spent three days shadowing the engineers - watching how they work, listening to their needs and expectations, and discovering their pain points. "It's only when you truly understand your employees' question that you can provide the most effective answer to empower them," Peet explains. 

Inspired by the work we did for KLM, Mirabeau went in search of ways to use technology to change the way engineers work. We developed a proof-of-concept prototype that could be used to improve maintenance efficiency. By combining image recognition, Augmented Reality (AR) and the HoloLens device, we developed a concept that could give engineers hands-free access to maintenance instructions and references. They would no longer need to stop what they're doing to look up process steps or troubleshooting tips:  those could all be projected onto their work area using AR. "Not only would this make maintenance engineers happier, but processes would be smoother and more streamlined than ever before, which would be a huge win for the company," says Peet. "Faster, better maintenance could have a serious impact on work capacity, and therefore quality of service."

HoloLens Proof of Concept

Developments in touchless interface are now focusing on what Mirabeau calls 'empathetic design' - using AI technology that can not only detect faces and voices, but also moods, tone of voice and emotions. "Soon enough, the office coffee maker will be equipped with face recognition, and will know whether to offer you your favorite cappuccino or a soothing cup of tea," Peet laughs.

Master the mix

That highly sensitive face- and voice-recognition technology opens possibilities on every level: from how you unlock your new iPhone X to how you shop. Amazon has already opened the first Amazon Go shop in Seattle, Washington. Shoppers don't ever have to stand in a checkout line. They simply walk into the shop, fill their baskets, and walk out. Special sensors throughout the store help identify the shopper and the goods in the basket - and bill customers electronically. 

'It's no surprise, then, that Mirabeau is already mastering the art of blending pattern recognition, deep learning, AR and other technologies to develop strong business or value cases for our clients," Hayo says. "A simple example is our Beer Recognition demo, which was featured at the Digital Studio's opening. Our guests simply stepped in front of our sensors with their beverage of choice, and the technology we developed identified the bottle they were holding. Suddenly, the person in front of the sensors was surrounded by an animation that 'matched' their drink choice. The guests at the opening had so much fun experiencing the technology like this, and it really illustrates the great things that happen when design and technology come together."

Peet Sneekes demonstrating Beer Recognition

Explore the unimaginable

Creating meaningful experience can also touch people much more close to home. "Most people love a beautiful and thriving garden, but not many people know how to actually make it happen," Peet explains. "We thought it would be great if your garden could talk to you - tell you exactly what it needed, and when, to grow to its full potential."

That thought led to the creation of AI Garden - a blend of AI, Internet of Things (IoT) and conversational interface that allows people to chat with their garden, get advice, and learn how to best care for each of the individual plants within it. From changes in the weather to pruning tips and warnings about dry soil, even people with zero gardening skills can soon become masters of the backyard. "The possibilities for connecting this technology to commerce are nearly endless," Peet continues. "By developing partnerships with garden centers, gardening experts, weather apps and other services, the right client could turn this AI garden concept into a very lucrative product."

AI Garden demo

This powerful blend of technology isn't limited to gardens, of course. In fact, potential uses are nearly endless. "Think of home automation, cars and even shopping," Peet adds. "With similar technology, store owners could manage their stock and meet their customers' needs without invading their privacy. That would be pretty amazing!"

Empower the people

AI, IoT, conversational interface, face and voice recognition… all the technology out there is likely to make your head spin. Mirabeau's advice? Remember that all these innovations are simply vehicles. The key to driving your company forward in the digital age is to identify people's needs and desires. Then, Mirabeau can guide you to the blend of design, data and insights that create real solutions to those needs.

"None of the new digital tools have any use unless the data and information driving them is robust and accurate," Peet says. "But when companies have real insight into peoples' needs, technology and design can be used to empower employees and empower customers. Together, it becomes a sort of data superpower. And that will make companies unstoppable."

Want to know more about how Mirabeau can empower your organization? Contact Hayo Rubingh or Peet Sneekes today.

About the Digital Studio

Mirabeau and Cognizant opened the Digital Studio in November 2017. It is one of the largest (2,500 m2) digital innovation and delivery centers on the continent. In the Studio, clients and partners can sit down with strategists, designers, technologists, data scientists and human sciences experts. Together, the teams will work hands-on to develop human-centered solutions that solve real-people challenges. 

The Digital Studio expands our capabilities and complements our expertise in domains like IoT, Data Analytics, AI, blockchain, conversational commerce and cloud migrations. What's more, Cognizant employs more anthropologists and sociologists than any other tech company, to ensure that people remain the focus of every innovation.