January 24, 2022
Video: Data-Driven Product Development
With the growing adoption of e-commerce services, organizations need to understand the importance of utilizing digital solutions and the data derived from those solutions. Using analytical tools to gather and make sense of complex product data has become essential for successful business operations and growth.
In this video, OST’s former Director of Software Development, Austin Asamoa-Tutu, and CIO, Jim VanderMey, outline how organizations can benefit from implementing a product configurator and analyzing data to gain actionable insights about how customers interact with their products. We explore how our deep expertise in strategy, software development and technical services help companies ask the right questions, reorient focus onto consumers and leverage technology to gain a competitive advantage through data-driven product development.
Austin Asamoa-Tutu: Hello and welcome. We’re here today to talk with you about data-driven product development. My name is Austin Asamoa-Tutu, and I’m a practice lead at OST. I lead the Configuration Services Practice as well as the Data Analytics Practice. And here with me today is Jim VanderMey.
Jim VanderMey: It’s good to be with you today. I am Jim VanderMey. I’m the Chief Innovation Officer and co-founder here at Open Systems Technologies, a Grand Rapids-based company. Our company specifically helps companies that are the best in the world at what they do take on the challenges of digital transformation. We do this across industries and with a number of practices ranging from user design to application development, data analytics, as Austin’s already alluded to, our configuration services teams, our IoT and connected product teams, and our traditional IT infrastructure and modern IT operations groups. So, we work up and down the technology stack with companies that are the best in the world at what they do and help them take on the challenges for both IT and product development in this space.
And I’m very excited to be here with you today. I had a what I’ll call proud Dad moment when I received the Configura annual report. As I was reading through it, I literally opened it up the moment that I got it, and I read through it and I was so excited to see on page 20 of the annual report an article talking about being empowered by the CET community, which highlighted the good work that Austin’s team did in partnership with Kimball when we built out some extensions for their environment.
So, well happy to be here.
Austin: We were so honored to be featured alongside Configura and Kimball in that project. It was a wonderful working experience together, and it highlights our commitment to the fact that we want to be the best implementation partner within the CET partner network. And our hope is that there are many, many more proud dad moments to come, Jim. And case in point is what you see on this slide is Configura’s new platform called Stage, which has largely been driven by the demand, and what I like to call the consumerization of product configurators. So, as you know, with the pandemic, many companies have added new distribution channels for their products in order to sell directly to consumers online. And, now with Configura Stage product, manufacturers of complex, configurable products are now able to provide these products to individuals who can order directly from home, directly from the website. So, if you imagine in your home office, if you wanted a chair from one of our local West Michigan furniture manufacturers, you can go online and configure your chair and order it, and that chair will be shipped directly to your home. And OST’s configuration services practice is the go-to-market partner with Configura on Stage. Looking forward to many, many more proud dad moments as we continue to succeed in that area.
Jim: Well, I’ve been excited about configuration services because I think designing digital experiences for complex configurable products is really the next stage in digital commerce because we’re used to dealing with products that we order online that have simple SKUs but to be able to step into discretionary recreational boat purchases or a recreational vehicle or any number of complex consumer products that heretofore have simply not been able to be purchased as an online transaction. I think that’s a really exciting space for us and look forward to a lot of good stories, but it’s not just the digital experience of the consumer that I think is interesting; I think it’s also about how we use the data.
I actually built a Configurator in 1987 and one of the things we discovered when I was building that configurator for the manufacturer that I was working for at the time; was how we learned that people weren’t always picking the options that we thought were interesting and our engineers and our marketing team were developing options on products that we never sold. And I was talking to someone involved in data analytics that was talking about this very problem. And Ford recently got out of the business of selling small sedans, and it turned out the Ford Focus had over 300,000 configurable options, potential end configurations. Hondas have less than 1,000. Toyotas have less than 1,500. And when you think about the supply chain complexity and manufacturing complexity and the procurement and quality complexities that are put in place by that degree of configurable product, it simply became unsustainable for an organization with the brand and capabilities of Ford Motor companies. So they exited a market space. I think that illustrates the power of the data sources of configurable products as a place that we need to go.
We talk about designing the product, we talk about designing for people but have we thought about designing the questions that we ask. So the questions that you ask will define the degree of impact that you have when you think about how you leverage data. And we like to talk about how are you going to engage the organization’s imagination.
So, what kind of data can you harness from a configuration environment?
Austin: That is a very insightful question. And just imagine Ford had to exit this specific business, which you know there are so many of these vehicles driving around and made the decision based on how complex choices impact the business.
So, in a product environment, when someone is in the configurator—and I talked about the consumerization of product configurators—there is a data trail that they’ve already created leading up to interacting with your product configurator, and the first question to impact is why are they there? Why are they interacting with your brand? What’s the use case that they’re looking for? That’s one layer, and then as they start interacting with your product configurator, they’re starting to look at the physical dimensions of what your specific product has to offer. So that is telling you something: what are the preferences in terms of size, height, width, and length that people want. And then within those, there are subcategories when people start to think of color, materials, fabrics, and all of these generate data that could be useful in terms of manufacturing your product and informing the inputs that go into manufacturing that. And then, there is a final layer that has to do with your sales cycles. How do you understand the configuration process that you’re presenting to your end consumers? And what I mean by that is how much time are they spending to configure a specific product? And is that getting translated into actual sales? So, that drives implications for your sales cycle and how to optimize on the back end in terms of manufacturing.
Jim: If I understand you correctly, Austin, that means that a configuration platform could be a novel new data source to see what your customers are looking at and what they’re not looking at in your products.
Austin: Exactly, Jim. And it is just because it’s now beginning to be made available to consumers. It is a data source that many different business functions don’t even know about. And to tell you the truth, a lot of business functions that own the configurator platform have just recently started to ask those questions to understand the amount of data that’s being generated by their product configurators.
So, this is a novel new space that we’re very excited about.
Jim: Yeah, and, and we’re going to show a screen now for something that I think is one of the most interesting projects across all the technology domains that OST is in and that is around, well, this screen, Austin, you can explain a lot better than I can.
Austin: Yeah, so, this screen shows a demo of a product configurator analytics dashboard that OST has built. So, we have our own version of a configurator just to highlight our capabilities with clients when they need advisory or if they want us to help them build their configurator. And on this page, it is just a demonstration of what we can do by collecting the broad data and so you can see information around part numbers that are going to into a specific configured product. What catalogs are being used? What’s the total cost in terms of the price that people are configuring? And you can imagine how the power of this ties into your back end. So, if you have this information, is it translating into actual sales? How is it driving your supply chain strategy? Are people not selecting options that you think they would select? And if so, why complicate your supply chain with that? And so, to your point about asking the right question, this dashboard simply highlights the possibilities, and we partner with clients to help them answer the questions that they have today. And once those questions get answered, more questions come up.
Jim: Well, I think that’s why this is one of the most exciting things that we’re working on because what we’ve done is take our design disciplines, our human center design team and our data analytics disciplines and put those together to understand the new organizational questions that could be addressed by this novel new data source. And I think that that’s one of the hardest things then is how do we create the space and the understanding of the value of this in an organization? Because people constrain what they ask for based upon their understanding of the possibility. And so, the people in the supply chain, the marketing teams don’t even know to ask the question. And so, what we’ve seen is that people in traditional IT and data analytics spaces will say, well, no ones asking us that question. And so, they don’t view it as something of interest and at the same time the potential new customers of this data, users of this data, are not asking the question because they don’t even know it’s possible. And it’s not that we’re stupid or ignorant. We’ve done work in the healthcare space where organizations at the level of sophistication of John Hopkins and Mayo Clinic have very, very smart physicians who don’t ask the questions because they don’t know it’s possible. And that’s why I think that we have to open up people’s idea of the possible so that they’ll start thinking about these questions. So, designing the question is a really important piece of this.
And Rob Siegel, who’s a good friend of OST, he’s a lecturer at Stanford Graduate School of Business. He just wrote a book this past summer called The Brains and Brawn Company, and in that he talks about two disciplines and he uses the metaphor of the body about the left hemisphere and data analytics and the right hemisphere being creativity, and these two pieces going together to leverage data in a creative way is a fundamental discipline of organizations that are going to scale and use data and apply creativity to solve novel new business problems. So, that’s the point of view that we’re coming from, which is tied into our approach. We take an approach where we go from learn to make, to run, and then the data exhaust from running these digital platforms is then harvested to create new learning opportunities to tie into designing new things and creating new experiences for our customers. Designing the platform to generate the data to answer the question that we’ve never thought about getting answered before is a really interesting idea, and I think it’s at the forefront of how digital commerce and configuration platforms are going to be designed in the future, to capture customer understanding.
Austin: That is very, very insightful, and that is a key reason why we’re excited about this space. To your point about asking questions, sometimes even a company may have owned and operated a product configurator for years and other departments that have questions that remain unanswered don’t know that they could leverage the data that’s being produced by the configurator to help them answer their questions. And to your point, the power is even more apparent once all those data sources are brought together to have a unified view of how the business is functioning in order to learn, to ask the right question and then take action.
So, we’re very, very excited about this and we continue to remain curious.
Jim: Curious. Great word. Well Austin, thank you for inviting me to be part of this discussion today. I appreciate it.
Austin: Well, thank you for joining us today, Jim. It was our pleasure and our privilege.
So, we remain extremely passionate about this space as far as product configurators go and what we can do to ask the right questions in terms of leveraging data. So, if you already have a product configurator today, you may have these questions that remain unanswered, such as: Who’s using our product configurator? How are they using it? Very simple questions, right? What does the sales cycle look like? And how long is it taking people to actually configure products? So, we can help optimize around that.
And then there are specific questions that are related to things that we discussed in terms of supply chain and the options that are being made available to users, both your dealers and end-users who are using your configurator on our website. And then finally there’s a question around other business functions in your company that may not realize that their product configurator exists today, and what questions do they have, right? Because once they understand the value proposition of a product configurator, they can enable further success in your configuration in terms of designing the right solution space and optimizing choice navigation for your users and your dealers. So, we love this space, we love advising our clients and customers in here. So, you can visit our website at ostusa.com/configurator and read some of the content that we’ve made available. You can reach out to us, schedule a meeting, ask questions and we’ll be very happy to learn from you just as we hope you’ll be able to learn from us.
Thank you for your time.
Jim: Today you know you said something at the end that makes me think about choice architecture, but that’s another discussion for another day.
Austin: Alright, maybe we’ll invite you back next time.
Alright, thank you.
Jim: Thank you, Austin, and thank you.
OST: Your Strategic Partner for Data-Driven Configurator Development
Whether you’re considering CET extension development, want to see real-life examples of an analytics dashboard or are curious about how to utilize product configurators, our experts are ready to talk when it’s convenient for you. Fill out a short form to schedule a demo with our Configuration Services team or contact us today!
The transcript has been edited for clarity.