“If there is a grand vision out there, Industrial PRIME will share it.” That is the promise you’ll discover if you navigate to the About page on our website.
To be perfectly honest, we might not be quite able to tell you about all of the visions that are out there. Still, this time around, we were in a good place, as we found ourselves taking part in an event hosting thousands of brains all potentially incubating the Next Big Thing.
We are of course talking about Slush, one of the most exciting start-up events in the world. What began in 2008 as a small-scale event has since evolved into one of the year’s most important meeting venues for prominent start-ups and investors.
As a minor setback, the organizers did not agree to grant us a proper media pass, referring to our lack of international coverage. But as you can see, we were not going to let that slow us down: after all, last time we checked, we had more than 100,000 annual readers from 147 countries, and they are all hungrily waiting for our next story to be published.
And to be honest, we knew about a few holes in the fence. So we were never really that worried about getting in at all.
After entering the shady, smoky Slush environment, we navigate our way to meet with a new acquaintance in Tieto’s territory. Ms Ksenia Avetisova, Lead Customer Experience Consultant at Tieto Experience Hub, has invited us to gear up with an HTC Vive virtual reality headset accompanied by two hand controllers.
In a blink of an eye we end up in a cozy room that feels incredibly real. In the corner, we find an armchair. We like it, and are able to pick it up and place it into our personal space, where it will be stored until we decide what to do about it. This is not limited to furniture only: the demo presents an opportunity to store anything one comes by in virtual showrooms, even a pretty fancy-looking sports car. We’re not sure if we’re ever going to be able to afford that one, but at least we can have it in our parallel reality…
In Slush, Tieto’s guests were offered a chance to briefly visit another reality. The screen in the background illustrates what the visitor is experiencing in the VR environment.
Virtual Reality – The Future of Retail?
Ms Avetisova and her unit devote themselves to looking into the future development of technology and services and the new, innovative ways of combining the two in order to create greater and greater customer experiences.
“In our vision, business strategy cannot be separated from design thinking and technology,” she tells us. “The virtual reality demo we are presenting here in Slush is one direction towards which we believe the service landscape is heading in its quest for the better customer experience.”
Although the ownership of VR headsets has not yet gained critical mass, there are already retailers out there offering shopping experiences in virtual reality, as well as utilizing augmented reality in various cases.
According to Ms Avetisova, those early birds might just be in for the worm: surveys have shown that the number of households with VR gadgets is on the rise, and it is only a matter of time before they are mainstream.
“Virtual and augmented reality are coming fast, whether you want it or not,” Avetisova states. “We believe that in order to stay relevant in this ever-changing landscape, businesses need to be hungry for new things – they need to be bold and ready to try them out. But still, the majority of retailers are not utilizing the potential of VR yet.”
Based on what we’ve heard, the technology seems to be developing so fast that what is still fresh and exciting today may be taken for granted by consumers in just a couple of years’ time. Tieto wants to be at the forefront of this development and make it all easier for its customers as well.
When investigating new business directions, Tieto relies both on its internal knowledge as well as its external ecosystem of partners to bring their vision to life and test it out. The company aims to take advantage of their broad experience in retail in order to create a platform for retailers and customers in virtual space.
“It will be a great way for retailers to boost the customer experience, which is currently limited to conventional physical stores and online sales,” Avetisova says.
We feel it’s practically carved in stone already that VR is becoming an important retail channel not to be overlooked. Avetisova agrees, referring to some of the current strengths of the technology.
“It can be utilized to visualize things that you might be considering to purchase. Just think about furniture: in VR you can just grab a sofa and place it directly into your own living room to see whether it fits. Moreover, experiencing things that are not yet even available in real life is one of the top values offered by VR.”
In Avetisova’s words, VR offers an engaging and immersive experience, one that has the power to create an intimate, emotional connection between the brand, the object, and the user. Being modest, she keeps emphasizing that VR is a potential direction towards which retail might be heading, but based on what we have experienced and learned today, there is no need for such modesty.
Hackathons Are the New Black
So as not to give you the wrong idea, we should emphasize that virtual and augmented reality are by no means the only things Ms Avetisova and her unit are working on.
On the contrary, they tend to choose a handful of exciting themes each year to experiment with. This year, we learn, these themes have included data privacy, occupational health, and of course alternative realities.
Not only does Tieto seek innovations for itself, it is also actively helping its customers identify new things with which to drive innovation as well as business renewal and growth. Recently, one of the most interesting ways of achieving this has been by means of hackathons.
Tieto sees hackathons as a tool for innovation, learning, and transforming the traditional ways of working. In Tieto’s approach, hackathons come in different formats, ranging from a strategic, internally facilitated way of solving issues to fully open public events where multiple partners and participants are involved.
Tieto organized its first hackathon in May 2015, and the company has organized four large-scale public hackathons and several private ones since.
A good example is the hackathon organized in October together with pension insurance company Elo. During the two-day event, the winning team came up with a mobile app that helps recognize whether a person is prone to depression. Thanks to the app, proactive measures could be taken against depression and the potential work disability that might follow.
Avetisova emphasizes that a hackathon is not the end-goal in itself, but rather serves as a catalyst for the transformation of old ways of working towards a more open and collaborative direction. Unsurprisingly, Tieto has over the years seen a rise in the interest towards hackathons across multiple industries.
“The key benefits of a hackathon include the speed with which innovative concepts can be created,” Avetisova says, “but also the learning that is gained during the process of collaboration between internal stakeholders and the external ecosystem. It’s such a marvellous way to find and test new ideas!”
Text and images by Industrial PRIME
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