Why customer validation is crucial at every step of the innovation process
The opportunities for digitisation are endless, and at IHC, we believe that this is the key to addressing our customers’ problems and creating products that make a positive impact. With this in mind, different service-related departments from within our company joined forces in 2019 in an effort to digitise our existing condition monitoring service.
Recognising the value of customer input
When we first started, there were already several creative ideas about how to improve our services. After all, IHC’s condition monitoring analysts and programme managers talk to customers almost on a daily basis. This meant there were already several improvement suggestions floating around, as well as ideas about how to develop a digital solution on top of our existing proposition.
Before moving too far forward in terms of solution development, we follow a process in which we perform customer validation at every phase. During these sessions, we gather feedback and co-create in a structured manner, always putting the customer (and the value to them) first. We always ensure that we gather input from all stakeholders and go into every session with an open mind.
This approach might be unfamiliar to professionals not working on digital innovation, because the investment required for customer validation can seem quite extensive. However, our condition monitoring initiative – ‘Optimus’ – showed why customer validations are so valuable and actually saved a tremendous amount of time and money.
The driving forces for digital innovation
Based on IHC’s own insights we identified two main problem areas in our condition monitoring service. Firstly, measurements were not being executed on time, and secondly, creating reports was a labour-intensive and unsatisfying task for our analysts. We felt that the development of an online portal that supported the complete condition monitoring process would best address these issues.
However, before diving head-first into the development phase, we wanted to check-in with our customers. We organised ‘need validation’ workshops with three of our customers, which actually meant going one step back in the process. So, not focusing on the solution to be developed, but the need to be addressed instead.
The goal of the workshops was to discover whether there was an external need for a digital condition monitoring solution, and if so, what were the finer details. Here, customer validation proved invaluable. Instead of developing a solution to support the condition monitoring process, customers indicated a preference for a digital solution that would help them prove the value of a condition monitoring programme.
Although the potential for condition monitoring is considered to be extremely high, the lack of trust in the value of such a programme is an issue. Our customer contacts often struggle with clarifying the need for investment in a condition monitoring programme internally and it is hard for them to show the precise value.
This lack of trust at all levels of the organisation resulted in the measurements not being carried out (on time), which our IHC analysts also noticed. Therefore, we knew we did not need to focus on the effects of measurements not being completed on time, but rather on the root cause. That is, helping our customers see the value of a condition monitoring programme.
Alongside insights, speed is the key when it comes to innovation. It is necessary to rapidly bring products to the market and continue innovating afterwards. IHC sped up the process by using an ‘agile’ way of working, not only during development, but also in the solution validation phase. We used the customer insights from the workshops and together with a scrum team, translated them into a prototype in only one week.
Co-creation leads to easier customer adaptation
The prototype was validated again with the three customers and final feedback was gathered. All three responded very positively to the co-creation process, and were open to sharing their thoughts and thinking along with IHC about the solution.
After four ‘sprints’ (across eight weeks of development) the first minimal viable product (MVP) was ready and given the name ‘Optimus’. An agile approach means that even during development, customer validation continues. For half of the demonstration sessions, customers were present to provide their feedback, get a first impression of the solution, and start thinking about how it could be implemented within their companies.
For example, Vroon’s Manager Ship Management Johan Isaksen commented: “I like what we have developed and think it will make it far easier for us to keep track of the findings. I also appreciate the workflow and the development process. This is definitely a step in the right direction.” And Vroon’s Superintendent Foppe Molenaar added: “I would be willing and enthusiastic to be the first one from our company to implement the portal.
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The investment in customer validations meant that we not only rapidly developed a first MVP of the digital solution, but also had customer cooperation during the implementation process. Owing to their involvement in the innovation process, they were excited to begin and assigned the right people to jump-start the implementation.
While some might consider customer validation in every phase something of an overkill, due to the time and cost invested, it has proven to be invaluable in developing IHC’s condition monitoring portal Optimus. Although innovation is exciting and it is tempting to jump towards solution development right away, really finding out about your customers’ needs (and the opportunities for improvement) with a digital solution pays off in the end.
Optimus has now been released to IHC’s condition monitoring customers for beta use and we are looking forward to a period of continuous innovation with them in the near future.
Product Owner Digital Business (Optimus)
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