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Novabase

Country
Portugal
Business type
IT consultancy
Investment
€2M
Time
5 years (ongoing)
Design support
Stanford d.school

Background

Based in Lisbon, Novabase is Portugal’s largest IT consultancy with an annual turnover of €220M and more than 2,400 employees worldwide.

In the late 2000s Novabase was struggling to expand its IT services business internationally, and also found its domestic market shrinking in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2007-8. The company was still growing steadily, but its international expansion was slow and focused on unstable African markets, mostly in Angola, Mozambique and Kenya. In Europe, its German office was sold and the Spanish office was fighting for business in a crowded and competitive environment.

Internal strategy discussions identified a key problem. The company’s services were competitive, but they were not organised and presented to the customers as a compelling product range, and this had become a real barrier to growing the business abroad. Stagnant growth or even decline seemed the likely outcomes of business as usual.

New CEO Luís Salvado wanted to set the company on a different course, and began with the corporate vision: “We make life simpler and happier for people and businesses!”. A simple, but ambitious statement. Within it is the recognition that the experience of IT projects nowadays is often anything but simple, and that this presented an opportunity to carve out a competitive advantage for the company.

The ambition was to become a company that made IT projects more human and more understandable to better serve the needs of users. This desire for a human-centred approach presented a clear opportunity for design to make a difference.

How design helped

Novabase applied design thinking methods in four distinct business contexts.

This began with corporate culture, making it more supportive of innovation, risk-taking, prototyping and field research. These changes required a multitude of small initiatives to build a shared understanding of design principles amongst employees. This often took the form of training (over 1200 people – nearly 50% of the company – were trained in 2-day bootcamps) as well as design talks and sponsored innovation initiatives.

Massive-scale storytelling training for Novabase employees

The second focus area was on transforming Novabase’s commercial offer into what the company calls productised services. This meant a move away from complex bespoke arrangements with clients and towards a portfolio of ready-made services that were much easier to export. A major service design project was necessary to develop these productised services with the goal of reducing risk, time and cost when selling abroad. By rethinking their services in this way Novabase was able to create strong market differentiation.

The third area where the company applied design thinking was in the sales process. This was fundamentally transformed using insights drawn from client research. New sales processes now include co-creation with clients, fast prototyping and new communication tools.

Last, even the delivery of IT projects was transformed. This now incorporates more user experience design, and as with the sales process, project methodologies were changed to include detailed field research on the client’s situation and needs. By using service design, the company were able to rethink many traditional IT business processes. For example, rapid prototyping is now used at a very early stage with clients to test out prospective solutions.

Redesigned co-creation meeting space

All this necessitated changes to the Novabase office spaces – meeting rooms and communal areas were transformed to facilitate co-creation meetings and workshops.

Novabase are open about the fact that, given the scale of the change they undertook, the process was often difficult.

This was in many ways a painful transformation, but serious change processes are, and a new company is emerging out of it.

Pedro Janeiro
Head of Business Design, Novabase

Unusually most of the transformation was done with internal resources, with several limited interventions from design agencies.

Outcome

  • 3X growth in international sales over four years
  • 1200 people trained in design thinking (50% of headcount)
  • 20+ new business services designed

A change in corporate culture allowed for a lot more of risk-taking, prototyping and ultimately a solid portfolio of ready-made services. These productised services became the basis for a significant growth in international sales, especially when combined with the adoption of co-creation with clients.

Sales translated into projects where the new design-based methods were used to deliver those projects creating a better client experience. The accumulation of these positive client experiences turned into recurring sales providing additional support for the whole business.

Collaborative working with clients in Ghana

In 2012 the company was trialling these new design methods with customers, when one of their largest clients said: “We will confirm the new project only if you use these new methods and do not return to the old ways”. Reactions like these made it clear to them that they were on the right path.

Continuous investment in design has become part of company culture, something unthinkable back in 2011. Today, design is seen as the company’s main competitive advantage.

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