3 Questions to Dr. Thomas Abrell

Dr. Thomas Abrell was one of our speakers at the Service Design Day on June 1st. Afterwards he kindly answered our ‚3 questions to…’ about Smart Mobility, AI and digital transformation in general.

Digitization and Smart Mobility are determining your work. What do you think is significant to develop successful digital services and appropriate service innovations?

In my opinion it is significant to understand both, service context and user, to achieve a
successful service. This is the only way to ensure that a service adds value for the customer. Furthermore it is crucial not to work by oneself but in teams cooperating during the service design process. At Volkswagen we set a high priority to a close collaboration with our partners, even beyond organizational boundaries.

Taking the special character of service as an advantage is the determining factor: Service
is an immaterial good and it is co‐created with every different user each time. We often
work on product‐service‐systems consisting of digital touchpoints, interaction with service staffs as well as hardware components. These systems often are particularly sensitive in terms of its context. That means, that they need to fit into local ecosystems.

Prototypes are playing an important role. Unlike complex functional hardware the essential
part of a service can be prototyped easily (I am talking about a ‚minimum viable product/service’ according to Steve Blank’s Lean Startup): The prototype must only be refined enough to be able to examine a predetermined hypothesis. This leads to a fast and highly iterative learning process in which services can be developed in co‐creation with the customers.

Digitization and AI are scaring topics to a lot of people. Do you think a positive development
of service design can help taking away these fears and to emphasize its advantages instead. How can this be achieved?

Digitization in general and particularly AI create new opportunities and are associated with
risks at the same time. A lot of people still cannot imagine what these technologies mean, as they have never been in contact with those new technologies. For me as a business and service designer this technology primarily opens up new opportunities and enables us to manage things that were unimaginable before.

Service design helps to understand the customer and to chose those design options that ensure the success of the developed service. During the process the main focus lies on
the customers’ value as well as on the feasibility and the economic viability.

In doing so service design makes use of classic design methods – e. g. visual methods such
as story boards or service blueprints to present complex matters, but also utilizes prototypes of different levels of maturity. For example in co‐creation workshops for use cases the customer is already involved early in the innovation process. An AI use case for example
can be prototyped by simulating the capabilities of the (future) AI through a real person (‘Wizard of Oz‐Prototype’).

Only after several iterations and when the service promises to be desirable to customers,
real technologies like AI will be developed and integrated. This visual and interactive way of working makes complex issues more concrete and tangible. It offers the chance to talk about advantages, concerns, fears as well as opportunities early and to design the service accordingly.

You are involved in the ‚Markthalle – Raum für digitale Ideen’ (Market Hall – room for digital
ideas) in Wolfsburg. What are we talking about and what is the purpose of this project?

‚Markthalle – Raum für digitale Ideen’ ist a joint project between the City of Wolfsburg, the
soccer club VfL Wolfsburg and Volkswagen. The City of Wolfsburg and Volkswagen have started #WolfsburgDigital with the intention to create a digital future city. Around the market hall, located in the heart of the city, an experimental space for digitization is created with the intention to become a platform for initiatives and to give access and support to digital projects

From January until April 2018 we initiated a pop‐up‐space to test every activity planned for the market hall in terms of functionality and usability which was a great success and now reconstruction of the market hall is in progress.

A public café will function as an entry to the hall. Furthermore the above mentioned partners
will establish a low‐tech‐workshop, an event area for 200 people and a meeting point
for the digital community. The city of Wolfsburg will offer a co‐working‐ space as well as a laboratory for AR and VR and a youth club. VfL Wolfsburg will start a ‚digital sportsfield’, a soccer court that enables visitors to experiment with regard to new digital technologies and
E‐sports. Volkswagen will open a service prototyping lab and generate new project spaces.

To us it is extremely valuable not to develop services behind closed doors but to open up
step by step and to co‐create with partners and customers. An active community helps us as services can be developed and easily checked with users of different ages. Hence we are talking about co‐creation of services and mobility services in a real context provided by the living lab in Wolfsburg.

Consequently the market hall is a core project of #Wolfsburg Digital and a valuable platform for generating new service ideas, for new initiatives as well as for testing services in a real environment.

Dr. Thomas Abrell’s talk was about “OPEN INNOVATION,
SERVICE DESIGN & PROTOTYPING” – find more information here.

Header pic
by Ivan Diaz

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