Teaching digital innovation at the LSE: Sprint week reflections

The following article was written by students attending the our Digital Innovation Sprint Week at the LSE:  MISDI students race to innovate during Sprint Week

 

This October, 120 MSc Management, Information Systems and Digital Innovation students took part in LSE’s first ever Sprint Week- an intensive exercise in innovation and collaboration that forces teams to go from idea to prototype in just five days. It is designed to accelerate decision processes and produce clear results within a short time-span- a method used by many start-ups and innovation departments. They were supported by faculty and by consultants from Roland Berger who run similar sprint innovations for blue-chip clients, and by the client’s digital innovation expert.

In this article we hear from two students about their Sprint Week experience.

Organisations need to innovate digital products and services faster than ever before. This requires new skills for digital innovation but gaining skills is challenging. Traditional university lectures and classes are excellent at providing the vital theoretical backgrounds; for example in platforms, business strategy, digital infrastructures, systems development approaches, cloud computing and agility, yet they are poorly designed to provide a visceral understanding of how agile teams really innovate. Responding to that challenge is the aim of the Sprint Week.

Will Venters, Assistant Professor of Information Systems

martin kassethMartin Kasseth, 2017-18 MISDI student from Norway:

Tell us a little about your Sprint Week experience- which company were you working with and what approach did your team take to their problem?

We were working on an exciting project for an internationally recognised financial company (that unfortunately I can’t name here for legal reasons), with some help from consultants from Roland Berger to come up with an innovative idea to help the corporation and their issuers (banks) to engage with younger generations. My group came up with the idea of creating a new, flexible and disposable payment mechanism that we named “VSticky”. The purpose behind the solution was to engage new generation audiences and facilitate small payments at events. Enabled by NFC (contactless) technology, these sticker devices were limited by a geo-fenced and time-limited area, and could be easily deactivated and disposed after use. The sticker is linked to your own digital wallet via a mobile app, where you can set your own spending limits. We envisaged that this solution could be used at events to allow quick and safe payments within geographically-limited areas. Possible use cases included sports games, concerts, schools/universities, street markets, conferences, amusement parks, etc.

What challenges did your team face?
I think the greatest challenge for both me and my team was communication. We were a very international team, with students from Norway, Germany, the U.S., Iran, China and Estonia. While this was one of the most exciting dimensions of the week, it also posed some communication problems. Even something as simple as saying that someone’s suggestion is “okay” might have completely different connotations in different languages and cultures. This resulted in quite a few funny episodes that we also learnt from throughout the week!

How did you do?
Of the 18 groups, the top six were selected for the last day’s “Dragon’s Den”, where representatives from the financial corporate client, external consultants and industry experts listened to the groups’ presentations and asked questions about the designs. There were many creative and really good ideas presented by all of the groups. In the end, the jury picked a winner, which actually was my team’s solution!

What was your biggest takeaway from the experience?
Probably that innovation processes are much more complex and challenging than I imagined beforehand. It is not simply enough to have a good idea – you also need to think thoroughly through the possible usage cases, target groups, the value creation, in addition to the system design itself. Nevertheless, parts of the innovation process can be compromised into a single week and still produce good results. This provided me with a method and toolkit that I am sure I will bring with me into my future career.

Everyone has the opportunity act as the group’s leader for a designated day, providing you with valuable insight into team-work management and challenges, which are crucial for your future career. Moreover, getting the opportunity to work on a real-life case challenge for a global company, with the input from industry experts, is a really inspiring factor. It is probably the best academic learning experience I have had so far during my studies!

We all got together and celebrated with a big party on the Friday – it is important to celebrate after a week with hard work!

IMG_7499 resized

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Timo Fuhrmann, 2017-18 MISDI student from Germany:timo

Do you have any advice for future students about Sprint Week?

Before the Sprint Week, I would definitely recommend students read the book, Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days on which the project was based. It gives you a comprehensive overview and explains in detail the tasks that have to be done during the week.

The outcomes were very diverse among the 18 groups that took part in the Sprint as everyone approached the problem in a different way, leading to interesting products. My group worked on a mobile app and a smart card to unify payment and authentication. Other groups focused more on the payment aspect and also trying to approach new markets.

What did you find most challenging about the week?

I believe that the biggest challenge was to bring everyone on the same track during the first two days. There was not always a clear way forward and there were also many discussions on various aspects. We had to make sure that everyone knows our goal, agrees with it and follows it. We needed to achieve a common understanding of our main idea to be able to find a good solution and work on our prototypes. On Tuesday, we managed to overcome this challenge and found our common understanding, enabling us to work more efficiently and to come up with a great solution in the end.

What did you learn from the experience?

For me, the Sprint Week has been the highlight of the MISDI programme so far. It was intense and demanding but a lot of fun to work together with my group on a real-life problem, creating our own solution and presenting it in front of experts and receive feedback. The Sprint Week is a useful and effective concept to think about and test new product ideas. This hands-on experience gave me a good understanding of the concept and I believe that I can use this framework for my future work life.

Sprint Week1
Timo’s Team
Sprint Week2
The “Rich Picture” from Day 1.

ISChannel – 12th Edition out now

The 12th edition of the IS Channel is out here. This is an annual journal on the social study of information systems which is produced, edited and double-blind reviewed by the students of the Information Systems and Digital Innovation programmes at the LSE, with advice from myself and our editor Marta Stelmaszak.

As a core subject, the journal focuses on the study of ICTs, and the social implications of technological innovation. Research works from other perspectives are considered for publication, provided that they place the discussion on ICTs at the core of analysis and problematisation.

We are already hard at work with the next edition of the journal so if you are a recent graduate from our MSc and would like to develop your Merit or Distinction dissertation into an article please contact us:  Is.Channel@lse.ac.uk

Editorial for this edition by Mame Frimpong (Associate Editor)

From my fellow associate editors and reviewers, it is my pleasure to present the 12th issue of the iSCHANNEL. Congratulations to our writers! To mirror the words of Associate Editor, Marta Stelmaszak, to submit to the journal is a worthy accomplishment and challenge for all who are dedicated to the process. To our readers, thank you for taking the time! We hope that in the next edition, we will be celebrating your work. As a note, we do not impose copyright on articles written so if you wish to develop your article further for other publications that is welcomed rather than discouraged (though a small acknowledgment would be appreciated).

In this edition of the journal,
Simon Draxinger uses Facebook Messenger as a case study to argue that chatbots are the potential outcome(s) of digital platforms’ architectural principles. To strengthen this argument, the paper focuses on the theory of Layered Modular Architecture as proposed Yoo et al. (2010).
Yunjing Joyce Li assesses “Emergency.” This innovative in-vehicle emergency response solution for the upcoming era of fully autonomous vehicles is studied as the example of an intelligent “personal assistant” system. In looking at this innovative emergency response solution, design analysis demonstrated that the interplay between human and digital agents will be determined not by machines but by the choices made by individuals, organizations and societies.
Curtis Goldsby examines a closed free-floating car sharing platform, DriveNow. In his analysis, the author determines that the platform struggles to capitalize on multi-sided network effects. Through analysis, the paper determines that closed platform born through traditional ventures, despite growth bottlenecks, also has the potential to disrupt industries.
Marina Alvarez studies how Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) systems, as tools for marketing and consumption practices, can affect aspects of consumer empowerment. Through recognizing the effects of discourses of knowledge, the paper uses the concepts of “choice” and “power” on narratives of information inequities and disciplining to establish a basis for understanding consumer empowerment through VRM systems for marketing and consumption practices.

As an MSc student myself, I know I am not the only one that found this year to be both intellectually stimulating and challenging. It would be amiss of me not to acknowledge the process the writers have gone through to present their ideas and give us the pleasure of reading them. The iterative process of the journal hoped to continue pushing the writers to think beyond established—and their own—frameworks to develop pieces that truly matter to them. The topics found in this journal represent the various interests of the writers and draws our reviewers to refine their ideas. Special thanks to all the
reviewers, associate editors Joyce Li and Marta Stelmaszak, and our faculty advisor, Will Venters. The journal is an indispensable space and one we all enjoyed working on.

Teaching digital innovation at the LSE: Sprint week with Roland Berger

Organisations need to innovate digital products and services faster than ever before. This requires new skills for digital innovation but gaining skills is challenging. Traditional university lectures and classes are excellent at providing the vital theoretical backgrounds; for example in platforms, business strategy, digital infrastructures, systems development approaches, cloud computing and agility, yet they are poorly designed to provide a visceral understanding of how agile teams really innovate. Addressing this challenge we drew inspiration from  Mark Thompson at Judge Business School who has run small sprints within their MBA and we developed a 1-week “Sprint week” bootcamp within our core MSc course.

This week all our 120+ MSc students studying “Management, Information Systems and Digital Innovation” are coming together in teams of 6 to innovate a new product or service for a real global company during a 5 day sprint [1]. They are supported by faculty and by consultants from Roland Berger who run similar sprint innovations for blue-chip clients, and by the client’s digital innovation expert.

In essence our week follows the Sprint method set out in Jake Knapp’s book “Sprint: How to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days” with some significant changes:

  • Students will use richer (and more complex) modelling methodologies, which makes sure groups appreciate the different cultural, social and organisational perspectives within their design. This ensure they produce designs which are both systemically desirable but also “culturally feasible” wherever they will be applied.
  • Students will be pushed to not just produce solutions based on user interface or web design. They must develop a coherent digital design using basic UML modelling techniques alongside Wardley mapping techniques, to ensure a realistic strategic design.
  • Interspersed with the innovation work are a few short lectures – refreshing them on key techniques and introducing challenges their design will face.

On the Friday, the consultants will select the top groups for a Friday afternoon “Dragon’s Den” where experts from the global company, Roland Berger, and from the consulting and software industry, will put those groups through their paces – asking the difficult questions and pointing out the failings in their design. Finally, and most importantly, there is a party on the Friday evening (kindly sponsored by Roland Berger).

As the week counts for 50% of the student’s course mark, their designs will be marked by LSE academics based on LSE assessment criteria – something that is important to ensure this is not a “game” but a deliverable for our students.

Students will benefit from this unique opportunity and will experience some of the frustration, stress and elation of this kind of digital innovation work. Students will also get a chance to show in future job interviews that they know how to work in groups on digital innovation work, for a real client under real pressure.

One group might just come up with the next big thing and then, perhaps, be given a chance to work with the client to develop it further!

Will Venters 2017.

  1. Knapp, J., J. Zeratsky, and B. Kowitz, Sprint: How to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days. 2016: Simon and Schuster.
  2. Checkland, P., Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. 1981, Chichester: Wiley. 330.
  3. Checkland, P. and J. Poulter, Learning for Action: A short definitive account of Soft Systems Methodology and its use for Practitioners, Teachers and Students. 2006, Chichester, UK: John Wiley and Sons.
  4. Checkland, P. and J. Scholes, Soft Systems Methodology in Action. 1990, Chichester: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

 

Naps in the Huawei office – perhaps the secret of China’s digital success?

We have just spent a week visiting Shenzhen, China to see the headquarters of one of the world’s most innovative and fastest growing companies – Huawei. Since its founding in 1987, Huawei has grown to become one of the world’s largest telecom’s companies with revenue of $75Bn[1]. Globally it employs 180,000 with nearly 60,000 of these based at the Shenzhen campus. 768px-Huawei.svg

Our overall aim is to understand their global innovation practices[2]. We want to understand how management and governance arrangements support the demand for concurrently tightly knit, yet open, innovation networks. In particular we are interested in how they harness digital platforms in support of this global innovation practice. Understanding this is particularly important since Chinese firms must successful harness capital and talent beyond their borders (Fuller 2016) and since, given the diversity, scale, and adoption-willingness of the Chinese home market, innovation networks outside China will be attracted to take advantage of the “world’s biggest Petri dish for breeding world-class competition” (Yip and McKern 2016).

So how does Huawei achieve its amazing growth and success?

It was amazing to spend time digging into the practices of this fast-growing successful Chinese technology company. Away from our intense research activity, we became mindful of stark differences between Huawei and other Silicon Valley technology companies we have visited. We noted two things which we thought particularly interesting (acknowledging that many others have provided much more detailed analysis of Huawei’s management practices (e.g. Tao et al. 2016) which we do not aim to repeat or claim to validate).

Firstly, like many others across China, the employees of Huawei take naps at lunchtime[3]. They have lunch in huge canteens[4] then return to their cubicles, roll out camp beds kept hidden under their desks, and go to sleep (with the office lights turned out and blinds drawn). The whole company knows not to call between 1pm and 2pm, and so sleep is uninterrupted. Talking to an expatriate who now works there it is “like taking a shower” – refreshing and revitalising everyone ready for the afternoon. A downside is clearly that it extends the day in the office, though for many this would also allow them to travel outside commuter hours. But it provides a natural pause in the day, with time to reflect, pause and concentrate on afternoons tasks by reducing the mid-afternoon productivity slump. Naps might also be helped by the focus on tea rather than sleep-depriving espressos and flat-whites!

Secondly, alongside naps, was an overall general lack of overt hubris and self-aggrandising. In the USA and Europe tech-companies invest in amazing offices with slides, banners, bright colours, ping-pong tables, foosball tables etc. At Huawei, the offices felt much more like a university of young clever people – the furniture functional but personal with each workstation organised with bags of tea, pot-plants, posters and the roll-beds. Rather than amazing (like Google’s offices) it felt homely, welcoming and personal. Plastic fruit and cheap toys hung from the ceiling as decoration – presumably put up by the employees themselves rather than interior-designers. Chairs were comfortable rather than “designer” and the focus was upon working efficiently rather than “jerking around” or having fun. It felt efficient, focused, and much more like the university campus’ that tech-companies work so hard to try to emulate. Huawei in Shenzhen was clearly a friendly enjoyable place to work – albeit to work very hard.

* Our research is funded by Huawei’s HIRP Open funding programme.

Will Venters and Carsten Sorensen.

Fuller, D.B. 2016. Paper Tigers, Hidden Dragons: Firms and the Political Economy of China’s Technological Development. OUP, Oxford.

Tao, T., D. De Cremer, W. Chunbo. 2016. Huawei: Leadership, Culture, and Connectivity. SAGE Publications India.

Yip, G.S., B. McKern. 2016. China’s Next Strategic Advantage: From Imitation to Innovation. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

[1] http://www.huawei.com/en/about-huawei

[2] Our research is funded by Huawei’s HIRP Open funding programme: http://innovationresearch.huawei.com/IPD/hirp/portal/hirp/hirp-open.html

[3] http://www.goabroadchina.com/Why-Chinese-People-Always-Take-a-Noon-Time-Nap_b70#.WcjoC0yZPOY

[4] http://money.cnn.com/2016/05/20/technology/china-tech-huawei-campus-life/index.html

 

Image (c) Huawei – used with permission and thanks

Cloud Expertise Report with Rackspace and Intel

For a number of months I’ve been working with Rackspace and colleague Carsten Sorensen to undertake a study of the impact of skills and expertise on cloud computing. The report “the cost of cloud expertise” has just been published here. The headline figure is that $258m is lost a year through lack of cloud expertise.

Cost of cloud expertise report

In the press release I am quoted as saying; “Put simply, cloud technology is a victim of its own success. As the technology has become ubiquitous among large organizations – and helped them to wrestle back control of sprawling physical IT estates – it has also opened up a huge number of development and innovation opportunities. However, to fully realize these opportunities, organizations need to not only have the right expertise in place now, but also have a cloud skills development strategy to ensure they are constantly evolving their IT workforce and training procedures in parallel with the constantly evolving demands of cloud. Failure to do so will severely impede the future aspirations of businesses in an increasingly competitive digital market.”

The report also explores the requirements for cloud skills, and discusses the strategy businesses can adopt to mitigate the risks of the cloud skills shortages:

  • Split the IT function into separate streams – business focused and operation focused.
  • Develop a cloud-skills strategy.
  • Assess the cloud ecosystem and ensuring a balanced pool of skills.

Take a look!

https://blog.rackspace.com/258-million-year-cost-enterprises-lack-cloud-computing-expertise-says-rackspace

Some early press coverage below…

Only 29% of IT leaders have the skills needed to fully embrace the cloud TechRepublic Sep 21, 2017
Rackspace asked organization execs around the world about cloud IT — here’s what they found San Antonio Business Journal Sep 21, 2017
Cloud Skill Shortage Costs Large Enterprises $258 Million Each Year: Report Windows IT Pro Sep 21, 2017
Cloud skills shortage holding back some Aussie businesses CIO Australia
Is cloud computing a victim of its own success? Computer Business Review Sep 21, 2017
Two-thirds of businesses losing money over poor cloud skills Cloud Pro
Here’s what’s costing businesses a lot of money London Loves Business
UK organisations lose millions a year due to lack of cloud technology skills Bdaily
Lack of cloud expertise costing companies $258mn per year The Stack
UK businesses losing revenue due to lack of cloud expertise ITProPortal

The real cost of using the cloud – your help needed for research supported by Rackspace and Intel.

It’s almost a given that cloud technology has the power to change the way organisations operate. Cost efficiency, increased business agility and time-saving are just some of the key associated benefits[1]. As cloud technology has matured, it’s likely not enough for businesses to simply have cloud platforms in place as part of their operations. The  optimisation and continual upgrading of the technology may be just as important over the long term. With that in mind, a central research question remains: how can global businesses maximise their use of the cloud? What are the key ingredients they need to maintain, manage and maximise their usage of cloud?

For instance, do enterprises have the technical expertise to roll out the major cloud projects that will reap the significant efficiencies and savings for their business? How can large enterprises ensure they have the right cloud expertise in place to capitalise on innovations in cloud technology and remain competitive? Finally, what are the cost implications of nurturing in-house cloud expertise vs harnessing those of a managed cloud service provider?

A colleague (Carsten Sorensen) and I are working with Rackspace® on a project (which is also sponsored by Intel®) to find out. But we would need some help from IT leaders like you?

How you can help

We’re looking to interview IT decision makers/leaders in some of the UK’s largest enterprises (those with more than 1,000 employees and with a minimum annual turnover of £500m) which use cloud technology in some form, to help guide the insights developed as part of this project.

The interviews will be no more than 30 mins long via telephone. Your participation in the project will also give you early access to the resulting report covering the initial key findings. We would also share subsequent academic articles with you. We follow research ethics guidelines and can ensure anonymity to yourself and your company (feel free to email confidentially to discuss this issue).

If this sounds like something you’d like to get involved in then please email me w.venters@lse.ac.uk

Best wishes,

Dr Will Venters,

Dr Carsten Sorensen,

and Dr Florian Allwein.

  1. Venters, W. and E. Whitley, A Critical Review of Cloud Computing: Researching Desires and Realities. Journal of Information Technology, 2012. 27(3): p. 179-197.

(Photo (cc) Damien Pollet with thanks!)

England’s Electronic Prescription Service: Infrastructure in an Institutional Setting

Good friends in Oslo (Margunn Aanestad, Miria Grisot, Ole Hanseth and Polyxeni Vassilakopoulou) have just launched their edited a book on Information Infrastructure within European Health Care. The book is open-access meaning you can download it for free here.  

Infrastructure Book

Our team’s contribution is chapter 8 which discusses England’s Electronic Prescription Service that we evaluated for NPfIT over a number of years. This service moved UK GPs away from paper prescriptions (FP10s – the green form) to electronic messages sent directly to the pharmacy.  We examine the making of the EPS temporally by looking at:  (1) How existing technology (the installed base) and historical actions affect the project. (2) How the present practices and the wider NPfIT programme influenced. (3) How the desired future, reflected in policy goals and visions, influenced the present actions.

To go to our article directly click here.

England’s Electronic Prescription Service

Ralph HibberdTony Cornford, Valentina Lichtner, Will Venters, Nick Barber.

Abstract

We describe the development of the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS), the solution for the electronic transmission of prescriptions adopted by the English NHS for primary care. The chapter is based on both an analysis of data collected as part of a nationally commissioned evaluation of EPS, and on reports of contemporary developments in the service. Drawing on the notion of an installed infrastructural base, we illustrate how EPS has been assembled within a rich institutional and organizational context including causal pasts, contemporary practices and policy visions. This process of assembly is traced using three perspectives; as the realization and negotiation of constraints found in the wider NHS context, as a response to inertia arising from limited resources and weak incentive structures, and as a purposive fidelity to the existing institutional cultures of the NHS. The chapter concludes by reflecting on the significance of this analysis for notions of an installed base.

Image (cc) Simon Harrod via Flickr with thanks!