Building blocks for transformation

By | 8 minute read | June 29, 2016

Leadspace for icosense transformation

If you saw Eric-Jan Kaak at the CeBIT conference in Hannover, Germany you would have seen a man playing with LEGO® wearing a big smile and a suit in a room full of enthusiastic geeks and technologists. The toy building blocks are a part of the IcoSense showcase, not just because they are playful and attractive, but because they demonstrate how IoT is so much greater than the sum of its parts and an engine for transformation. But before we get to that, let me tell you about Eric-Jan.

Erik-Jan Kaak profile

Erik-Jan Kaak, Senior Agile Coach, IcoSense

Eric-Jan Kaak is globally recognized through his earlier career as the CIO of Tecnica Group, an Italian based sports equipment manufacturer and maker of Blizzard Ski. At that time, Tecnica Group faced challenges from global competitors, the 2008 financial downturn, and the rise of the sharing economy, which meant fewer ski sales.

As CIO at Tecnica Group, Eric-Jan led efforts to modernize the plants and use big data to turn the company’s fortunes. Together with his team, they virtually eliminated their inventory and developed processes to enable them to respond to trends in real time. They achieved all of this while increasing output overall and invigorating the company culture. His success is featured in this Wild Ducks podcast, or you can read about it in this Forbes article.

Design thinking and exploration transformation techniques

Today Eric-Jan has honed the lessons he took away from his success and joined a newly founded technology consultation firm, IcoSense, to help other manufacturers become truly agile and data driven. They use Lego to demonstrate how you can retrofit virtually any manufacturing plant with the help of a Raspberry Pi, a couple of boards, and IBM’s Watson IoT Platform. The demonstration illustrates how important IoT data is to industrial manufacturing in improving culture, optimizing processes, and responding faster to the market.

IcoSense building blocks for transformation

IcoSense preparing to showcase at CeBIT Hannover, Germany, March 2016

“We use Design Thinking for exploration; Lean Startup methods to establish the ‘build-measure-learn’ loop for testing; and finally we use agile methodologies, like Scrum to implement.“ – Eric-Jan Kaak Senior Agile Coach, IcoSense.

IcoSense clients are comprised mainly of manufacturers, many of whom are contending with competition from international manufacturers, changing consumer trends, and aging equipment. Faced with the challenges associated with manual processes, large inventories, poor resource allocation and excess waste, Eric-Jan and his team at IcoSense explore how Big Data and IoT trends and advancements can help them to transform their business.

Eric-Jan described the process to me as follows.

“When clients contact us, they want to know how much they produce, or how much scrap they generate in a given day. The other problem they have is that a lot of the data they generate is captured on paper and then someone has to manually input it into Excel.”

In many instances, Eric-Jan sees clients operating with well maintained 20+ year-old machines that run perfectly fine, yet these machines are not generating data. New machines are either cost-prohibitive to purchase outright, or the prospect of retrofitting the existing machines with the appropriate electronic components from original machine manufactures is not possible. In either case, the organization might not even know what data they need, or which data could be useful.

A collaborative, hands-on workshop to show the possible

Initially, what IcoSense does is show what’s possible. Using the Lego showcase helps would-be clients see that it’s not out of their reach – they don’t need to be a rocket scientist to very quickly visualize the potential of IoT and data coming together.

The next step is to conduct a Design Thinking workshop that revolves are around  a single problem within the organization that needs to be overcome. During the workshop the team builds a very basic prototype to validate the solution, and the next day work commences on a more robust prototype.

Rapid prototyping made possible by low cost entry point, builds confidence and vision

The progression from prototype to a working solution often occurs within 3-10 days. It’s not hard to get excited about how to implement a working solution once everyone can see the data start to flow. By showing people what kind of data they can collect and analyze after such a short period of time, with very low investment in equipment – basically using a combination of a Raspberry Pi and an industry board – the workshop attendees quickly realize the possibilities of rapidly prototyping ideas, trying different approaches – which leads to a better understanding of what kind of data do we want to collect and analyze. With any problem, identifying the right questions to ask is the first step to getting answers that can help solve business problems.

For example, when you know that one machine starts to have quality problems when it heats up beyond a certain temperature, there’s no point in measuring the number of scrapped parts if you can work on a solution that measures temperature and immediately reacts, therefore preventing the problem in the first place.

Sell the problem you solve, not your product

Eric-Jan’s approach doesn’t lead with technology, but rather focuses on the people who are trying to solve a challenge within their organization. Understanding an organization’s problem in the context of how the leadership team will benefit from the use of data to improve operational efficiency and productivity is the secret sauce. He describes it as follows:

“When we go in, we start by talking to the maintenance teams, the production department, the workers on the shop floor because they sometimes know better when the machine is going to break because they have the right gut-feeling for spotting problems. Some of them have stood there for 35 years – they don’t need a sensor. They know it because they recognize the smell that the machine makes when it overheats. We call them the Machine Whisperers.

If you work with them directly and show them working prototypes, we can really understand the problems they are having. Only then we can go to the IT department with specific requests.”

What we bring with IcoSense is the view that the industrial IoT is not just technical. What is the use of having that data in real-time if you still need 12 weeks for internal decision making to solve the problem? If you want to have real time data you also need to have real time decision making. Otherwise you lose the benefit.“

The way people in the company interact, and the overall culture is critically important to transforming the business. Simply getting a new dashboard with real-time data is not sufficient and that is where Eric-Jan’s background as a leader becomes critical to successfully shepherding an organization through the process of transformation.

“You can’t change company culture. Culture is read-only. Culture is what happens when the boss leaves the room. What you can do is change mindsets. In factories they used to separate the ‘doing’ and the ‘thinking’. The workers do the work, the managers do the thinking – that’s old school and not respectful. Nowadays you can’t think like that anymore.

The value in the data is that it allows transparency so individuals can do the right thing on their own, and when used openly, that is a sign of trust. If you show trust to people, you show them respect and that is the strongest motivator.

There is an easy way to measure this. When you ask your employees first thing in the morning – why are you here? If they don’t know how to answer that, or if they tell you that they have to be here to keep their job, that means that you are not open enough as a leader they don’t have a sense of mission, they are not intrinsically motivated.”

Accelerated learning within an organization form the building blocks of change

Through this method IcoSense is working with many clients that want to take advantage of better data and automation to modernize their organization. It takes a visionary leader to present them with the opportunity to experiment and to use data at the core of their business. It starts with Lego blocks and iterates through design thinking and prototyping to help people at every level of the organization be more effective through the use of data.

“You can never know where things will be in the next 3-10 years. [holding up an iPhone] this thing changed the world in 8 years. When I think about manufacturing I think about new technologies like IoT, blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, and 3D printing that represent new and unknown territories. There is no book of standards for implementing IoT. The constraints are not clear and there are infinite degrees of freedom. In this case you have to prototype and experiment.”

Eric-Jan and his team are quick to point out that the value they provide to their clients is ultimately about accelerating the rate of learning at an organization to match the pace of the market. IcoSense uses several IBM products in their implementation, but they value the Bluemix Garage Methodology for putting these tools in the context of learning and experimenting.

“The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage at the end of the day. IBM, for example, has the Bluemix Garage Method, which is most suitable for that.”

So go ahead to start your experiments today. Sign up for a free trial to our IoT platform and play with one of the hundreds of recipes and tutorials. Take a free hands-on Coursera course or visit a Bluemix garage near you.