‘Is my idea going to be successful?’ is the fundamental question that all businesses are challenged with. The more ambitious the idea, the higher the commitment to the unknown and the greater the risk of failure. There is pressure to prove the value of the idea as early and cheaply as possible, which is not as easy to achieve as it sounds.
Earlier this year we engaged at the start of a journey to define the proposition for a new digital platform ─ Open Borders Direct ─ to support importers and exporters. Open Borders Direct needed a partner to develop the digital proposition and engaged 6point6 to perform a Digital Discovery. The business proposition was explored and validated through user research where challenges were clearly identified for UK Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) when trading internationally.
It was the perfect time to get involved as we could develop the opportunity spotted by founder Mark Heath ─ where UK SMEs do not have access to key information and products required to trade internationally, with ease, speed and safety.
International Chamber of Commerce (ICC)’s rules governing international trade change once a decade. With the Incoterms@ 2020 announced earlier this month, the time is ripe for a new platform like Open Borders Direct to transform the trading experience.
To understand which direction the platform should take we conducted a discovery phase, starting out with secondary research. As international trade is a vital aspect of the UK’s economy there are many government and industry bodies conducting and openly publishing research. Conducting secondary research enabled us to determine market size, types of goods being traded and where trading partners are situated.
This information was useful when building a business case, but understanding how SMEs actually trade ─ crucial to developing a platform that would really work for its users ─ was more of a challenge as there was surprisingly little information and published research to call upon. To fill this knowledge gap it was clear that we needed to conduct some original research with SMEs, but with a tight time and budget we would need to be really smart in our approach.
The primary research aimed to better understand the pain points with the international trading experience and identify the services that would most benefit SMEs. This enabled us to gauge an appetite and collect feedback on a concept illustrating how the platform might work. We were particularly interested in learning how SMEs go about agreeing contracts, the tools, methods and processes they use, the terms they trade with, and barriers they face in accessing products that might de-risk trading.
With just a few weeks and a modest budget to conduct the research, we needed an approach that could yield actionable insights from a diverse group of SMEs ranging from 1 to 250+ employees, with turnovers from £20K to £25m, across all UK regions and industry sectors.
Participatory design, a qualitative research method allowed us to engage in depth with a range of different SMEs in moderated workshops, benefiting from the insights that can emerge when they can share and discuss relevant experiences and opinions on the concept for the platform.
We carefully designed the format for the workshops to achieve our goals. During the first half of the session participants mapped their import or export ‘journeys’ and highlighted areas of difficulty. Then each SME talked about how they went about trading, agreeing terms and managing risk. From the ensuing discussion it became clear which issues were commonly experienced and which were particularly relevant to different sectors.
To communicate the concept we walked the participants through a storyboard of a fictitious trading scenario of how the platform might be used. The scenario communicated how the platform would support users by identifying the best Incoterms® rule for trade, and how an agreement would be formed and signed.
The participants were then given time to reflect on the scenario and write down their thoughts on what worked and what they would change before discussing their comments as a group. This served to drive discussion around the services that would be most valuable in supporting trading. We learned that problems with goods, late shipments or delays due to missing documentation impact greatly on the bottom line of the business.
The research not only informed the design direction of the platform, it also steered the overall direction and development of the business idea. It has enabled Mark Heath, the founder to visualise a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and turned the business plan into reality.
With this insight, 6point6 brought together the vision for a new digital service by prototyping the experience, testing with users and selecting best fit technology. This highlights the importance of a digital discovery and placing the end customer at the centre of everything when digitising Incoterms® 2020. Ultimately, to deliver a programmed prototype to show the value of the proposition to key partners and investors – as well as developing and testing the experience with prospective users.
Check out this video for the amazing results of this Digital Discovery by engaging with 6point6.
Written by Gavin Edmonds, Experience Design Director