IBM Garage fuels Mueller Inc’s AI journey with design thinking

By | 3 minute read | April 10, 2020

In today’s environment, seasoned companies who continue to weather the tests of time suddenly demand greater attention. How do they retain their grit and withstand adversity, whether from the COVID-19 pandemic or digital disruption? How much do values play out in their approach to customers, their ability to embrace new technology, or adopt a new method?

U.S. Southwest steel building and metal roof manufacturer Mueller Inc. has long impressed both technology and industry observers for its unobstructed perspective and ability to succeed. At its essence, it’s a small-town company that – despite having spread its wings through several U.S. states – remains defiantly headquartered in Ballinger, the West Texas town where it was founded in 1931.

Yet at the same time, Mueller has been on a transcendent journey to harness IBM data and AI solutions that defy its humble origins. There’s a sales dashboard, for instance, based on IBM Cognos Analytics and Planning Analytics; which ensures a well-informed workforce, providing salespeople with daily targets, activity, and critical actions.

Perhaps there’s a dash of pride and contrarianism for this manufacturing company’s decision to buck outsourcing trends. But by boasting all America-made products, the company has built a strong base of loyal contractors that give the company high marks for its customer service and value – with a strong analytics foundation.

Learn more about this West Texas company’s journey to AI from Mark Lack, manager of Data and AI.

Having achieved key milestones, Mueller has traveled a step farther in its AI journey – partnering with the IBM Garage to learn new ways to think about creating customer-facing products. The engagement aimed for a working prototype of an app for customers to submit orders and rework quotes in real-time.

Using the IBM Garage Method, the team spent a week learning from the contractors in the field about their needs, then led a design thinking workshop for Mueller’s leadership team at the IBM Garage in Austin – identifying where they could quickly provide both the contractors and themselves the most value. The app, built in less than eight weeks, allowed contractors to submit building specifications and instantly receive a guaranteed price quote.

At the same time, the Garage team worked with Mueller to create a new “data ontology” so contractors could quickly drill down to their desired product items. The result? An NPS score of 60 with 82 percent of contractors reporting they would use the app weekly.

The IBM Garage method showed Mueller how to incorporate design thinking into its business, and how and when to pivot or punt on projects to ensure they are delivered successfully and don’t end up getting stalled in their tracks.

For example, the Mueller team had a goal of having Watson voice recognition capabilities built into the app but then realized most users in the construction industry would be challenged with using voice capabilities in machine-filled environments. Would it be worth delaying the project another 15 weeks while developing a speech API to filter out diesel engine noise? Using design thinking, Mueller could quickly prioritize what was most important  and leave the rest behind.

Applying design thinking is one of the attributes that most distinguishes leading organizations, according to a 2019 study by The IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV). In this world-wide research study of 1,500 mostly C-level executives “Six crucial strategies that define digital winners,” some 76 percent of Leaders use design thinking methodologies to quickly prototype, test, and refine elements of their strategies. In sum: a design-thinking approach reimagines customer behavior and “doesn’t jump to conclusions about what customers want.”

Create a culture of innovation, experiment with confidence, and co-create game-changing solutions fast with IBM Garage.

Learn how to get started with expert guides by visiting: https://ibm.com/garage.

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