Helsinki is designated World Design Capital in 2012. This is nothing less than a really interesting opportunity for Finland to promote innovative design. I took part in a seminar last week where a number of distinguished keynote speakers issued their views on innovation, new ways of seeing and doing things. They showed examples of Finnish design, argued where we should we focus our efforts on, articulated some design megatrends. And they explained how they look for new innovation, travelling abroad to be immersed in new ideas – essentially studying what others are doing and where the world is going. One might claim that innovation is only paying attention to what is out there, apprehending new ideas and commercializing the most relevant ideas. This is one definition for innovation. On the other hand, are we then setting trends or just emulating what others have done?
What is somewhat discouraging is that our examples (of international scale) of the Finnish design feat are always the same. Alvar Aalto, Fiskars, Iittala, Marimekko and Nokia. And lately Angry Birds of course. Well, for a small country like ours, this is admittedly a strong suite of examples.
I had an interesting discussion on a break where my claim was that design and innovation is a recreation of few in Finland whereas in France for example, it seems to be much more broadly embedded in culture. This is not really a surprise. French culture has valued “high-end” aesthetics for centuries, industrial design has been emphasizing form over function, contemporary design is complemented in broad scale by modern, even futuristic development and the image of France as a design innovator, especially what comes to industrial design, is probably more renown than that of Finland.
For the sake of argument, let us assume that we really have an eye for original design and that have a uniqueness in our ability to innovate. Given that in products, our industrial scale is peanuts compared to superpowers such as China, India, Brazil, larger European economies and the US, could we landmark innovation also in services? If you take scarcity as one catalyst for innovation, as was the argument made by one of the speakers last week, we might be getting somewhere. Doing more with less. Or having to innovate to get by.
I come from enterprise applications and associated professional services. Having worked with both small and very large enterprises and having worked for global, multi-national and local companies, in Finland and abroad, I claim to be qualified enough to make some remarks.
Service design in large companies is the product of extremely long development cycles. Profitable service production and delivery require economies of scale i.e. the same service everywhere, repeatability and volume. In ICT industry, innovation is limited to the software itself and even there, innovation is often an overstatement – gradual, incremental development is closer to the truth. In associated services, very little has happened over time. Distributed delivery (offshore, nearshore), software-as-a-service (SaaS), open source development and cloud all have an impact on services. The services themselves have changed very little. Customers have not been demanding enough. Customers are now and only recently starting to cry for shorter development cycles, conceptualization instead of blueprints, agile instead of waterfall and accelerated concept-to-cash. Very good, it is about time.
How could Finland then be an innovator in service design? We are a relatively mature ICT market and if scarcity is indeed a driver for innovation, we could have the basic elements in place for a successful formula. At Bilot we believe to have cracked the code of success. Was it really intentional and an outcome of conscious service development or just a natural and accidental success? I believe it was largely accidental but due to our way of embracing our customer engagement and based on our forward thinking, it was bound to take place. We are a small organization with a pioneering spirit and we have always listened closely to our customers. We have had to differentiate ourselves and provide an extremely good and arguable reason to be chosen instead a “Big 5” vendor. We have shaped our service delivery to match the changing customer requirements but also we have stubbornly applied changing industry requirements to our service delivery. We have not had the seemingly endless corporate development resources our global rivals feed on – scarcity has been our fuel. We also believe that these service essentials could be branded and exported. I am not saying Bilot is the next Angry Birds, or that we would even have such global ambitions, but when it comes to intangible products, service innovation does have export potential. And excellent service quality is a currency valued everywhere. Additionally, if Finland’s positive image helps to strike a positive note, this could be an excellent window of opportunity.