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< Contents ERCIM News No. 54, July 2003
SPECIAL THEME: Applications and Service Platforms for the Mobile User

Introducing New Mobile Services Faster

by Timber Haaker and Oscar Rietkerk

The Business Blueprint gives a broader look at service development, integrating the technical perspective with the end-user, organizational and financial perspective. This method was developed within the Freeband B4U project that aims at accelerating the introduction of new mobile services. The project is a cooperative effort of the Telematica Instituut, TNO Telecom and Delft University of Technology, supported by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Jenny works at 'Care4U', a homecare organisation with about 1100 employees. In order to control costs and boost productivity Care4U has provided every employee with a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) that has a wireless connection (GPRS= General Packet Radio Service) to the central server. Jenny registers most of her activities on the PDA. The data is used for hour logging as well as updating the medical records of the patients. Jenny trusts the automated system better than the paper predecessors. It saves her time and reduces mistakes as compared to the previous paper forms.

Figure 1: Jenny registers her activities on her PDA.
Figure 1: Jenny registers her activities on her PDA.

Such a scenario sounds easy enough but it is far from that. Before it can be realised, a number of technical and organisational problems have to be solved. Medical data is privacy sensitive and needs to be highly accurate. In the Care4U scenario, data is entered and stored on the PDA. Then it is sent to the central database of Care4U in real time to avoid synchronisation conflicts. A back office application processes the data to fit the administrative system and update the medical records of Care4U. The medical records in the ownership of the patients themselves are updated as well. These records are stored and managed by an intermediary organisation acting on behalf of the patients Data integrity starts at the source, so the PDA application should be carefully designed to avoid mistakes (remember the presidential elections in the US of 2000). The PDA application should check if the data is correct (is the number within the logical range of this data type?). Security starts at the source as well, so in order to be able to register, the user should be identified. The connection between PDA and the central database of Care4U, and between Care4U and the intermediary organisation handling the patients’ medical record, should be secure. Care4U should be authorised to update the personal medical records, and the data types and information structure of both databases should match.

Solving these mostly technical problems within the Care4U organisation is relatively easy. In most cases, standard business applications can be adapted to the specific situation and habits of Care4U. The problem becomes much more difficult if integrated healthcare has to be supported using this kind of applications across several institutes.

Without underestimating the technical problems to get these systems to work, this is only part of the problem if you want to bring new mobile services to the market. The Freeband - B4U project has the ambition to accelerate the market introduction of new mobile services and therefore has designed a method to develop business blueprints for such services. This method approaches a business idea from four different perspectives.

Figure 2: The four perspectives for fast and successful development of new mobile services.
Figure 2: The four perspectives for fast and successful development of new mobile services.

To accelerate market introduction of services and service development you need to look not only from a technical perspective. You also need a clear view on:

  • The end user perspective: The value proposition describes the service offered to specific customers in a particular market segment. Most important is the assumed customer value of the service concept, ie, what is the added value of the service as compared to existing alternatives? To what customer needs does the service appeal? In the homecare example both the care worker and the care institute have to be taken into account when defining the value proposition. What you functionally want to offer determines what you technically need.
  • The organizational perspective: The value network is the configuration of actors that possess complementary resources and capabilities, which together perform activities to realise the service. Due to financial considerations, increased specialisation in the wireless industry and increased involvement of other sectors like media and IT, it is no longer possible for a single company to develop a mobile service all alone. For example in the Care 4U scenario you need at least a mobile network operator, a device manufacturer and a system integrator. Each actor in the network has some resources, among which technical ones, which need to be compatible and connected. Responsibilities have to be clearly defined. In the Care4U case the situation is complicated due to the existing legacy systems at the care institute. Integration is hard to realise.
  • The financial perspective: The revenues generated from the service will depend on the price and the tariff structure. Whether customers like Care4U are willing to pay the price depends on the value they perceive. For Care4U that means the cost reduction and productivity boost they may realise plus the advantages they perceive for Jenny. For a sustainable cooperation in the value network the financial arrangements are critical. Only if a fair distribution of benefits, investments, costs and risks can be arranged a sustainable value network can be realised. Costs strongly depend on the chosen technical implementation. Some of the risks are directly related to the technical choices: proven technology, future proof concept and scalability.

Finally, the necessary co-operation between parties and the interdependencies between the perspectives is a complex process to direct through all the stages of service development. That is why the Business Blueprint method was developed to manage this process more easily.

It is a structural approach to simultaneously design the four perspectives and develop an integral business design. The blueprint may be applied:

  • explorative: to assess a business opportunity of an organization within the value network
  • creative: to develop a business opportunity with partners
  • evaluative: to evaluate the strong and weak points of a particular business design.

The Business Blueprint method has been successfully applied to several business ventures, other Freeband projects and prototypes developed within B4U. The Business Blueprint comes in a variety of forms: consultancy, workshops, checklists and a business game. It gives a broader look at service development, integrating the technical perspective with the end-user, organizational and financial perspective. It speeds up the process and increases the success rate of service development while maintaining grip on complexity.

TNO Telecom:

Please contact:
Timber Haaker, Oscar Rietkerk, TNO Telecom, The Netherlands