Digital Transformation Imperative: Collaborate to Innovate

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Jo Morrison

Jo Morrison

Director of Digital Innovation & Research

Digital Insights

Uncertainty is touching every part of our lives – from the UK’s economic future, to how we experience art and culture, to how we design and manage our present and future urban environments. Indeed, our very notion of what the future might look like is more unsettled and contested than ever.

For us to operate in our shared new reality – the evolving ‘new normal’ – we must focus on new ways of thinking and doing that let us flex and adapt. Organisations that don’t have creativity, cooperation and agility at the core of their culture and processes, need to reshape. Fundamentally, to survive and thrive we should all embrace new ways of operating in these shifting business environments.

One key to success is collaboration — working as part of multidisciplinary teams to ensure that a wide knowledge base is employed to establish new ways of doing things, be they in digital placemaking or in supporting efficiencies in manufacturing production processes, and so forth.

Several studies have proven the efficacy of a collaborative approach, and describe how to achieve successful team relationships.

In the context of university-industry research initiatives, a study from Marianne Steinmo of the University of Nordland found that “both cognitive and relationship social capital at the individual, organizational and alliance levels” are crucial for collaboration to be successful and to mitigate challenges.

Another study from Katharina Jarmail at the University of Economics and Business in Vienna found that the collaboration between innovative businesses and experts, users, or other stakeholders rely on process preparation and facilitation, investment of time and effort for mutual understanding, and the willingness to implement changes.

Collaboration is key for project success at Calvium. Whether that’s within our team or between our team and our clients – we strive to work in productive partnerships. In this article, I draw upon collaborative experiences from several projects to reveal some key ingredients for successful digital innovation. My aim is to help you to plot your own digital transformation journey.

Transport: NavSta

Navigating Stations (NavSta) is our pioneering digital placemaking system designed for people with invisible impairments. The mobile wayfinding app enables users to navigate railway stations — often a scene of uncertainty and sensory overload for our user base — confidently and independently.

We started this project in 2019, in partnership with Transport for London (TfL), Open Inclusion, and Connected Places Catapult. Without every partner’s key domain expertise and willingness to share, NavSta would have been yet another well intentioned but poorly executed digital project.

Three screens from the NavSta wayfinding flows, showing photos and instructions available in text or audio, for navigating through a train station
Three screens from the NavSta wayfinding flows

The Collaboration Process

Our research approach played a huge role in building the bedrock for this project, as we needed to design a mobile service that would take into consideration the specific needs of our target users. 

The depth of user research would not be possible without Open Inclusion’s specialist panel of people with varying access needs. At the start of the project, Open surveyed 50 members with neurodiverse conditions, giving us a better idea of their attitudes towards travelling, their experience of public transport, their behaviour during and before travelling, and their thoughts on making it better.

I also visited several underground stations, interviewed TfL staff members and examined the physical, social and cultural aspects of our primary research site: Canada Water Station. This was key to shaping how we approached NavSta, and the type of terminology we adopted in the app interface. Naturally, without TfL’s participation and active support none of this would have been possible. 

Connected Places Catapult, meanwhile, opened much-needed doors in the railway sector, allowing us to get the word out to as many industry professionals as possible – and receive insights from them that influenced the project. Thus, we were able to quickly build momentum around NavSta and get it known, even during development.

Insight 1. Collaborative research: Adopt a collaborative approach to research in order to understand the real-world lived experience of your intended audience. This approach ensures that your innovation, be it a product or service or process, makes sense to its intended audience in its intended environment.

People in orange hi-vis jackets walk through a train station, seen from a level above, with their backs to the camera
NavSta user testing trials at Canada Water Station

Aerospace: Rolls-Royce

Rolls-Royce Defence partnered with us to create a first-of-its-kind app that will track foreign object debris (FOD), a common cause of engine damage that could potentially set back the US Marine Corp (USMC) billions of dollars.

Awarded by the United States Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and funded by the USMC, the app allows Marines to report FOD around their base by taking high-quality, location-tagged photos through their smartphones, then uploading them to a central database where the debris can be scheduled for clearing. 

The Collaboration Process

Aerospace projects come with their own set of challenges, especially since we’re dealing with highly-restricted areas and data. Working from a distance posed another layer of difficulty considering the time difference between the UK and the US. Implementing Agile methodology allowed us to circumvent these challenges, as we quickly identified risks at every stage of development and pivoted when needed.

The collaboration process involved regular calls and screen sharing sessions for presenting updates and creating videos of development progress for stakeholder updates. We also created, discussed, and adapted usability testing plans for remote user testing. Regular feedback from end users were shared and ideas for mitigation were discussed between all parties.

For technical troubleshooting, Calvium was on-hand to provide out-of-hours support and bespoke diagnostic tools to IT teams. The investigation process for leveraging OSS that’s suitable for clients was made possible through collaboratively working on security documentation (e.g app specifications).

Insight 2. Process preparation and adoption: All the initial team excitement and good will in the world won’t deliver a successful innovation. A shared understanding of the project management process is critical, from the get go. All team members need to know how the project will be facilitated, the communication channels, the schedules and so forth – without that you’re heading for chaos. 

Arts and Cultural Heritage: The Lost Palace

The Lost Palace is an immersive Augmented Reality experience that lets users hear the stories of the palace of Whitehall, before it burned down 300 years ago; thanks to its brilliant combination of binaural 3D sound, haptic technology and bespoke handheld devices. The experience is all about looking up and around you, there’s not a screen in sight.

This award-winning app was the product of our collaboration with Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), theatre makers Uninvited Guests and interaction designers Chomko & Rosier.

The Lost Palace

The Collaboration Process

HRP wanted to elevate the experience of visiting a palace in Whitehall that was no longer there – in its place is the Ministry of Defence. It was, understandably, a sensory and logistical challenge. They wanted visitors to connect with the place and explore its footprint by walking around the area.

To say that this was a complex project is an understatement. We found that the answer lay in being closely involved from the start; planning, designing and testing iteratively, in close collaboration with our partners. The user feedback we gathered from each prototype testing—from the Winter of 2015 until its launch in 2016—shaped the final iteration and experience of the app.

Customer feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with 93% saying the experience was unique compared to other visitor attractions and 90% saying the experience made them feel more connected to the past.

The Lost Palace went on to win the Innovation category at the Museum + Heritage Awards as well as a number of prestigious European awards.

Insight 3. The right partners: Not only did each partner join the team because of their specialism, they also joined because of their positive attitude towards multi-agency teamwork. Working in a truly engaged and collaborative manner led to a smoother content production process, supported creative experimentation, and without doubt led to a richer and more engaging visitor experience. So, make sure that you gather the right partners, not just a group of suppliers.

Download the free ‘Lost Palace’ white paper:

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Urban Regeneration: Ideascape

As part of the redevelopment of Cardiff Bay’s waterfront, sustainable property developers Igloo commissioned Calvium to work on a 6-month Digital Placemaking R&D project called Ideascape which explored the potential of digital placemaking the Porth Teigr scheme. 

We held a series of multidisciplinary ideation workshops and a large interactive public showcase event with local stakeholders so they could explore how digital technology might enhance their experience of the Bay. 

Photo of three people looking at a bright yellow life-buoy on the sand - one of the prototypes for Ideascape: Porth Teigr
Ideascape at Porth Teigr

The Collaboration Process

Our research began by talking to key community stakeholders (e.g. council, residents, businesses) to give us a better idea of the socio-economic and cultural landscape of Porth Teigr. We also worked with creative arts organisation Studio Response to introduce us to local designers and artists.

Participation was at the heart of the project. One challenge was to find an engaging and welcoming way to encourage residents, architects, town planners, visitors and workers to join in. We decided to hold our showcase in an open public space to make it as inclusive and accessible as possible. Participants shared their ideas about digital placemaking for Porth Teigr freely and our team gathered their feedback through interviews, questionnaires and chalkboards. This project was an exemplar in how to conduct truly inclusive community engagement projects that can inform the development of a large scale regeneration scheme – for the betterment of everyone.

Insight 4. Community participation is key: When undertaking community engagement, then do so with a collaborative mindset. See the various people and communities who will be affected by the scheme as stakeholders and partners in its design and development. Do so using methods that open up possibilities and inspire engagement – collaborating with communities in ways that are authentic, creative and clear can reap dividends for all participants, not least the developers.

Download the Ideascape report here:

Download the Research Report

The Key Ingredients for Successful Collaboration

As I’ve discussed and evidenced, collaboration is crucial to enabling digital transformation. Collaboration is only possible by listening and being flexible. Are you willing to listen? Are you able to reshape your thinking? Your answers will spell the difference between a successful collaboration and not.

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