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Libraries… really ?

Early September the Library of Birmingham reopened. And remarkably this was a huge event.
Libraries you say ? Do they still exist ? Are these not becoming mastodons of an era almost gone now we have the digital age ? Sure. And that is exactly why you should be on high alert.

Libraries are fortresses of information and knowledge. But without innovating, they would just become that: a fortress. Probably decaying as well as fortresses usually do. This is what the Birmingham library did not want to become.

So….libraries. They contain a wealth of information which draws an interesting parallel with us in analytics. And if they are at the forefront of innovation, where does this leave you in analytics ? And more interesting; how do they do this ? What can you learn from them ?

Architects are designers

One of the most striking elements in the Birmingham library is its architecture. Prince Charles apparently once said that the old library building looked like a place where books were incinerated rather than being read. Does it sound familiar ? When you look at the reports that you produce from your BI system, do you think that your user would actually love to use them ? Do consumers of information find it fun to do ?

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The library of Birmingham plays a pivotal role in the ambition of the city of Birmingham to become one of the world’s top 20 most livable cities on the Mercer chart of cities. At a far distance from the top players like Vienna, Zurich and Auckland, you will find Brimingham at 52 on the 2011 ranking. This is still better than Glasgow, Aberdeen and Belfast (63), but worse than London at 38. So to overtake Stockholm (currently ranked steadily 20th for a number of years) something had to be done. The library became the Trojan horse and is seen as an image-changer. And they started with…. The “big picture”. The thing that you see when you approach the building. Correct they selected an architect who could transform the old concept of the library as key driver for this innovation.

And here is the thing with architects. They have a very specific capability. Sure they can draw and build inspiring miniatures of their plans. But most of all, they combine a lot of different inputs, data points, outside and inside influences, thoughts and ideas into a single concept that they build. Architects have a true designer spirit in that great architects not just build something, but they go through a process of observation, scoping, ideation, early prototyping and creation with the end user in mind.

This is a typical designer approach. Understanding how a solution to a problem fits to the people who benefit from it in terms of them being able to use it (usability), them wanting to use it (desirability) and them being able to use it (feasibility). Oh and they design beautiful things too that people may actually buy. I mean, it must all remain business viable. We call this design thinking. The relationship between architecture, design-thinking and SAP has been extremely well illustrated in the following video where SAP’s co-CEO Jim Hagemann Schnabe delivers his keynote speech at the d.con festival at the HPI School of Design Thinking. (http://www.tele-task.de/archive/video/flash/17782/ around min 1:32 but I would recommend you to be inspired by the full length of the video).

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Analytics Innovation driven by design thinking

In many ways, people who have to think about how information and analysis are consumed by users have the same role. You can call them architects, information designers or data geeks. You can replace the library example with Business Analytics. And apply Design thinking to innovation…… It gives a different spin on maybe the accepted methodology where consultants asked you what you needed to report on and then went out to build it. But what if innovations in analytics technology happen:

  • like super fast processing power that allows for variety, velocity and depth of data never seen before are there.
  • access to data on your tablet or phone everywhere by anyone, even for the novice user
  • or easy self-service with attractive visualisations and a stunningly simple interface
  • predictive ? Anyone ?

Should you then not question yourself, how can I use all these new elements … so that they make real business sense. And even if you don’t understand what all these innovations mean, could you still not go creative and think about what would benefit your business most if traditional boundaries are no longer there because vendors like SAP managed to tackle them ?

So, here is the answer to the earlier question: If libraries are becoming top-innovators, what should you do ? Picture yourself as an architect !

Would design thinking be something for you ?

SAP is well known for embracing design thinking in its innovation consultancy services. In particular for analytics we offer specialists trained in this methodology who bring a solid background in various industries and analytics processes to the party. They can help you to create the use cases that apply to your business. Here are just a couple of examples:

  • reducing returns from supplier to retail outlets by allowing business planners to use predictive models
  • linking detailed customer sales data with social profiles to select the best customer segments for targeted offers and increasing the propensity to buy
  • equipping account managers with mobile access to real-time purchase history and profitability analytics while at the customer venue so they could advise the best possible sales basket resulting in higher sales volumes per sales visit.
  • replacing thick monthly report booklets with real time access to financial results and KPI’s allowing line managers to have discussions on business performance rather than flipping back and forth in paper lists with numbers that looked more like a phonebook than actionable information

You can start today too.

All it takes is a call to your SAP Services account manager and ask what type of innovation service is best for you.

I would recommend to taking a tour with design thinking. And of course making a trip to your local library. To see what happens if you don’t innovate.

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