Design approaches are attracting attention as a method to achieve innovation. What kinds of processes should be implemented to devise and commercialize ideas? This article traces how PARAMOUNT BED, a leading maker of medical and nursing care beds, developed the Smart Bed System™ in collaboration with Fujitsu.
[Fujitsu Insight 2017 AI/IoT Utilization Seminar Report]
Establishment of a System to Drive Innovation
Suzuki:PARAMOUNT BED is a company that manufactures medical and nursing care beds. We are committed to manufacturing, endeavoring to perfect the essential functions of beds--namely, helping users get up, sleep, and sit. Today, however, the aging population and declining birthrate have led us to conclude that beds will no longer be just for sleeping; other functions, such as measuring biological information, will be required, which caused us to launch the Smart Bed System™ project.
PARAMOUNT BED came into contact with Fujitsu after we completed clinical experiments and proceeded to commercialization. We commissioned Fujitsu to create a concept video to introduce the Smart Bed System™ both internally and externally.
The project was directly overseen by the president and led by the Vice Director-General of the Research and Technology Development Department. Personnel from medical/information systems, research and technology development, and the sales/marketing departments were also involved. Despite the tight schedule, project members had a great experience by communicating closely with the management layer, collaborating across departments, and engaging in the project on an equal footing.
I had an image of Fujitsu as a progressive company thanks to its promotion of the futuristic Smart City. When I visited netCommunity,* I consulted with Fujitsu about creating a concept video for the Smart Bed System™, which I thought could be part of the future city that Fujitsu envisions. Another reason behind this joint project was the fact that Fujitsu has the largest share of the medical information systems market, which was important because the Smart Bed System™ is intended for medical institutions.
- *A Fujitsu showroom that demonstrates an affluent society achieved through ICT-driven innovation
Creation of a Concept Video that Conveys a View of the World
Nakajima:In this project, PARAMOUNT BED and I made joint efforts to introduce the Smart Bed System™ in video format. The key was for us to focus on conveying a view of the world made possible by the product and service instead of simply making a video. What kind of world does PARAMOUNT BED want to realize, and what kinds of messages do they want to deliver with their new business plan? I put most of my efforts into devising this part.
There are three major steps to develop a new business with a design approach, namely the (1) vison creation process, (2) concept development process, and (3) concept-to-business conversion process. I will trace how the project followed these processes.
Process (1): Vision Creation
Nakajima:As the first step in the plan, PARAMOUNT BED and Fujitsu held a workshop to determine what the video should depict. The workshop started off by asking project members on PARAMOUNT BED's side which scenes they wanted to depict and what messages they wanted to deliver with the Smart Bed System™. These were listed on a whiteboard to visualize what they were picturing.
The point is to consider how the product should make its users feel, not what the product can do from a technological perspective. In this workshop, participants targeted nurses and caregivers, discussing what problems they have at work and what kinds of needs they have.
The participants uncovered keywords during the discussion, selected those words that they thought would be significant in the video, and thus gave direction to the project. After the process of devising a way and idea to realize their goal and make it concrete, they made efforts to create the overall composition and decide upon the core message.
Suzuki:Honestly, the bar was raised a bit when Fujitsu told us they wanted to hold a workshop to devise ideas. (Laughs.) It is difficult to coordinate gathering members from inside the company. In the end, we brought together members from different departments. Fujitsu asked us which kinds of messages they wanted to deliver and to whom. This helped reduce the perception gaps among members and determine the direction for commercialization. It also helped organize information and concepts. Without this process, I feel we could not have clarified the goal or successfully completed the video.
Process (2): Concept Development
Nakajima:After the vison creation process, I worked to determine from among all the ideas devised in the workshop, which to focus on to weave together a story in the end.
Naturally the users' perspective is the crucial point here. In this process, I decided to emphasize medical and nursing care scenes; created stories that mainly follow patients, medical personnel, and caregivers; and allotted six parts for usage scenes. I finished the process by developing the details, such as characters and usage scenes, and completing the video as a single story, with bedside care (providing necessary aid to patients at their bedsides) as the core message.
One key characteristic of videos is that they can be understood intuitively and easily. I consciously decided to make the product and service value conveyed in the video resonate with viewers through a story that depicts various usage scenes in which the characters play leading roles instead of using an explanatory narrative. In the story-making process, many possibilities must be sought out when devising ideas, and those elements must be merged into a single concept to convey them. I think that involving designers in this process helps find and visualize solutions, thereby contributing to new business promotion.
Suzuki:PARAMOUNT BED unveiled the finished video at the International Modern Hospital Show 2015; as expected, it attracted attention from every quarter. The impact was so big that some medical institutions that watched the video at the venue told us that they wanted to introduce the system immediately. Since the exhibition, we now play the video when starting briefings for internal members and meetings with clients.
Process (3): Conversion of the Concept to a Business
Nakajima:It took a year and a half for PARAMOUNT BED to launch the product after completing the concept for the Smart Bed System™. What kinds of problems did you encounter in commercialization?
Suzuki:There were two major problems. One was that PARAMOUNT BED had not developed many information systems before because we are a manufacturer. There were a multitude of new things to learn, including fundamental knowledge. Shaping the concept into a concrete form was very difficult.
The other problem was to obtain orders to ensure the business's success. When I explained the Smart Bed System™ to customers, they often responded very favorably to the concept. However, getting them to sign a contract is more difficult. To win contracts, one must steadily collect and solve minor problems and requests. We will continue this process and keep developing the product.
Entering the Super-aged Society
Nakajima:What is PARAMOUNT BED's outlook on the development of the Smart Bed System™ as a business?
Suzuki:We recently introduced the system to a fourth medical institution, and we have also introduced it to a nursing home. Going forward, PARAMOUNT BED will continue to think about the future of Japan's super-aged society with the aim of achieving remote support for home medical care; we are committed to helping society with our Smart Bed System™.
Chief Manager, Public Relations Dept.
PARAMOUNT BED CO., LTD.
Strategic Design Group
FUJITSU DESIGN LIMITED