A high-tech workshop with space to think, tinker and create. How customers of the Innovation Center in Munich work with T-Systems and its industry and research partners to develop solutions, ideas and projects and translate them into prototypes.
Author: Thomas van Zütphen Photos: Dominik Gigler, T-Systems
Smart Logistics: “Bees“ in the Internet of Things
T-Systems and Roambee are joining forces to offer intelligent enterprise solutions – powered by the Internet of Things.
Where does innovation happen at Deutsche Telekom and T-Systems? You might point to the futuristic Design Gallery in Bonn, which showcases tomorrow’s communication technologies. Or the T-Labs in Berlin, which stays one step ahead of today’s business problems with its forwardlooking ICT research. But here? – On a remote street in Munich’s northern periphery? This drab, graceless-looking block with a nearly 200 meter long facade holds not only a data center, but also the premier innovation hub for business customers, or, to be more modest and precise: a center for the applied improvement of business processes using bleeding-edge ICT solutions.
One such solution is “low latency mixed reality”. This technology augments reality using multimedia content supplied by databases. There are many possible applications for it, but one particularly intriguing one is a maintenance process that requires technicians to follow specific steps. If a service technician in, say, the automotive or aviation industry trains the camera in his AR goggles onto a part, the display will highlight the part and surround it with 3D animations, videos, CAD data or text documents. In this way, the solution walks the technician through every step of the maintenance process, including what tool to use in each step. It can even automatically order missing parts if it is interfaced with a spare part ordering system.
From this germ of an idea, the Innovation Center created a functional prototype of a maintenance support system based on a cloud platform and a 5G network that uses network slicing to tailor data rates, latencies and capacities to each application’s needs. Applications can be executed quickly and efficiently while the underlying data is saved directly in the cloud. The platform readily integrates with the process environments of companies in any industry.
Innovation you can touch
To make innovations come alive, the Innovation Center translates solutions into easy-to-understand – and often playful – showcases. One example: repair instructions for a specific service situation in a Segway user manual. Novices to the world of these increasingly ubiquitous personal transportation vehicles can use an iPad camera to scan their Segway. An app highlights components such as the charger, height adjustment and cockpit that can be activated with a tap of the fi nger. Once activated, the functions are explained in the app through video, audio and text files and 3D animations.
This is only one example of the Innovation Center’s approach, intention and target group. “Many companies have plenty of good ideas, but tend to come up short on execution. There’s no such thing as a technical problem in PowerPoint, after all,” said Dr. Stephan Verclas, T-Systems’ Chief Innovation Officer and Head of the Innovation Center. “That’s the main reason why we built the Innovation Center in Munich. It’s a place where we develop innovations with our customers and partners using rapid prototyping, operate the innovations at our innovation data center and solicit feedback from customers in innovation workshops.” (see interview).
Even the approach taken by the center’s innovation scouts is prototypical: they always start out by asking, “What’s happening in the market?” To find out, these experts monitor trends across society in order to connect customers’ business needs with emerging technological tools. This bridge-building between technology and business is what defines the Innovation Center – in security, networks, the cloud and IoT.
Recently, Stephan Verclas’s team worked closely with T-Systems’ Digital Division to build the logistics solution that Roambee, a Silicon Valley-based start-up, developed in a blockchain demonstrator for an industrial production line at this year’s CeBIT. To show how blockchain can do more than just Bitcoin financial transactions, they expanded the solution to cover an entire supply chain – including a smart contract feature – just in time for the Hannover Messe industrial fair.
As disruptive as blockchain may be for the financial industry, the Roambee solution gives an idea of its potential for shaking up the entire manufacturing sector. Many manufacturers produce just-in-time, and so need rolling supply chains that are reliable and verifiable – two aspects that blockchain can enhance. No wonder companies from a broad range of industries have already asked T-Systems for trial installations.
Innovation is a team sport. That’s why the Innovation Center works closely with R&D units in and outside the Group such as Detecon, T-Labs, Multi Media Solutions and hub:raum. It also partners with analysts, industry and research partners, universities and start-ups and, above all, with customers and all T-Systems divisions (Digital Division, IT Division, TC Division, Security). Its mission is “to introduce design thinking as a method for solving problems and developing new ideas, and to leverage this method to find solutions that satisfy users and customers,” said Jens Paprotny, chief design thinker at the Innovation Center. When working with customers, the Innovation Center applies modern agile development methods such as scrum.
Some companies come to the Innovation Center looking to cut costs through innovative digitization solutions. Once the discussion turns to applying augmented reality for their maintenance work, however, they often see that process rationalization could be much more exciting and effective at solving their problems.
The possibilities seem overwhelming: from IoT, smart robotics and machine learning to software-defined anything. “Between the hype and market adaptation, technology discussions are so full of new trends and buzzwords that customers can’t immediately see how exactly digitization might help them and their business models,” said Thomas Habschied, who organizes and holds innovation workshops at the Innovation Center. “As a result, they can’t even define what their challenges are, no matter how hard they might try.”
Obstacles to innovation
The Innovation Center conducts up to 150 design and innovation workshops every year. The collaborative workshops aim to assess the impact of new social and technological developments on customers’ business cases and add more value by developing specific products.
Last year, the Innovation Center held 150 workshops for T-Systems and Deutsche Telekom customers. Each workshop was individually prepared by the innovation managers for the projects and included strategic coaching on managing in-house innovation departments. As Verclas put it, “Innovation has a large emotional component and often encounters resistance as it disrupts the status quo and threatens to do things differently.” As it turns out, tackling inertia is a big part of what the Innovation Center’s advisors do every day.
“Even in this role, the Innovation Center sees itself mainly as a service provider for the Group. That’s why we don’t expect anyone to just walk up to our Munich office and ring the doorbell. If customers want to discuss their desire for innovation, they’ll talk to our team at trade fairs like Hannove Messe or contact their T-Systems account manager or our service management team,” said Sylvia Streidl, who handles scheduling at the Innovation Center. “Obviously, as an innovation platform, we are a useful tool. But we’re also a standing invitation for customers to seek out new opportunities together.” And that’s fairly obvious.
T-Systems offers visitors to its Innovation Center Munich (ICM) a first-hand look at state-of-the-art information and communications technology (ICT) solutions in an environment that reflects real-world conditions.
New ideas and solutions are critical to lasting business success. This is especially true in the dynamic information and communications technology (ICT) environment. Thus, a coherent, end-to-end innovation management process is an absolute must.