Corporate innovation is the latest buzzword for large enterprises today.
Seeking to take a leaf out of the playbook behind the rise of tech giants such as Apple and Microsoft, multinational companies (MNCs) are looking to embed lean startup methodologies into their businesses.
Besides the buzzwords of “agile”, “sprints” and “MVPs”, what actually goes on behind the scenes of how multinational companies approach corporate innovation?
e27 had the opportunity to visit the Thales Digital Factory in Singapore. Conceptualised in 2018 to accelerate innovation and digital transformation for the French transportation giant and its customers in Asia Pacific, the Singapore branch is one of three digital factories worldwide, with the other two situated in Paris and Montreal.
Based out of a WeWork co-working space and adorned with project whiteboards, I could have easily mistaken it for an early-stage startup if not for the logo on its entrance.
Welcomed by Simon Mussard, Head of Thales Digital Factory Singapore, we were introduced to the latest project that the team was working on. Termed DIVA (distributed intelligent video analytics), the solution leverages existing CCTV cameras to enable effective crowd management at train stations and onboard trains.
Passenger density is calculated in real time using video analytics, with this data being used to show the occupancy levels of approaching trains.
Meanwhile, heat maps of stations and trains can be used by station managers in the operations control centre to monitor passenger movements across the entire system.
Video analytics can also be used for many other transportation use cases, among them are the detection of unattended luggage and trespassing on platforms and whether there are still passengers on board when the train reaches the end of the line. The system is currently in trial with local transit provider SBS Transit.
We spoke to Mussard to learn more about the Digital Factory and its future projects.
Below are the edited excerpts of the interview:
What do you do at the Digital Factory? How is a typical day at the Digital Factory like?
The mission of the Digital Factory is to accelerate the digital transformation of Thales and our customers. To do so, we focus on four pillars:
- Build and operate the Thales Digital Platform, a cloud-based environment to host our digital products securely and efficiently.
- Develop new digital solutions following the MVP process. These solutions can be for internal purpose or can be new products for our customers.
- Collaborate with the startup ecosystem through incubation and acceleration programs.
- Set up a Digital Academy to support the skills and practices transformation of our colleagues.
Our employees work in small agile squads, gathering from five to eight profiles, with all the skills required to build and operate our digital products.
We build our culture upon the values of empowerment and transparency. Our squads are encouraged to define and improve their own agile ceremonies and techniques to deliver great solutions to our customers.
How many people are employed at Thales Digital Factory Singapore? What are the main roles?
Out of the 200 “Factorians” in our global digital factories network (with Paris and Montreal sites), 20 are based in Singapore. We bring together all the roles and skills needed to build and operate our products: user-experience designers, product owners, full-stack developers, DevOps engineers, scrum masters, data scientists and engineers.
How does Thales decide which projects are taken up by the Digital Factory? Are there some requisites/specific details that the company follows?
There are two main questions we consider when selecting a project for the Digital Factory: 1) is the Digital Factory the right organisation to develop this product, and 2) is this a product we should invest in as a group?
For the former, our Digital Factory organisation and skills are optimised to develop digital products based on cloud technology using an iterative and agile methodology. Our user-centric approach, combined with our scrum and agile practices, allow us to design, test and adopt a new solution based on feedback from our customers and observable results.
This approach may not be best fitted for upstream technology research or a situation where our customers have already defined a clear list of specifications.
With regards to whether we should invest in the project as a group, we have defined and deployed our own selection framework inspired by the lean startup and design thinking methodologies. To keep it simple, we want to develop solutions that are desirable, feasible and viable.
On average, how long does it take to conceive an MVP and bring it to the trial stage?
On average, our MVPs are in production (exposed to and usable by early adopters) after three to six months of development, depending on the complexity of their components. Once in production, we continue updating and enriching the solution based on the users and customers feedbacks.
Besides the DIVA system and collaboration with SBS, are there other solutions developed in the Singapore Digital Factory that are currently in the market?
Our Singapore Digital Factory team is collaborating with all Thales businesses in Singapore and in the region to develop digital solutions.
As an example, the team, in collaboration with our colleagues in the rail signalling business, developed a digital tool called COMPASS that leverages Machine Learning algorithms to facilitate the test and commissioning of new systems.
This product was designed and developed in Singapore, leveraging our local activity and teams to tailor the user experience and algorithms to the actual needs of signalling engineers and public transport operators.
After a few months of development and local validation of our model, we have deployed COMPASS to other projects and is now part of the global portfolio of Thales’s ground transportation business line.
Can you share the details of any new solutions that you are working for Singapore or the region?
For confidentiality reasons, we are not able to disclose information on specific solutions that are currently being worked on for the region.
While the examples provided so far have been related to the ground transportation sector, our Singapore Digital Factory is industry-agnostic and supports all Thales businesses in the region to develop new digital solutions. These include the security and defence industries, aerospace and air traffic management and digital identity and security.
Image Credit: Thales
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