5G industry news Acceleration & Innovation

The Value of Engaging your End Users

  • 7 minute read
  • Published by Crispin Moller on 15 Sep 2022
  • Last modified 9 Sep 2022
Over the past six months, UK5G has spoken to projects about their experiences of participating in the 5G Testbed & Trials Programme, identifying pearls of wisdom that can simplify, speed up and de-stress other organisations and projects looking to trial or deploy 5G.

We’ve explored learnings from specific sectors such as transport and entertainment, as well as cross cutting issues such as skills and security.  One key lesson that has come through loud and clear, is the value of engaging your end users throughout any deployment programme.  In this article we delve into that insight in a little more detail, looking at both when and how to do so.

Defining the Challenge

Through the consultations UK5G has run with vertical sectors (creative industries, manufacturing, transport & logistics, and health & social care) and the suppliers to those sectors, there has been a clear sense that technology should never be your starting point.  This insight seems an obvious one but there can be a temptation to assume that 5G - or other new technologies - are the answer without first fully scoping out the question.

Careful consideration should be given upfront to the challenges you are facing: do you need to improve productivity, enable more agile manufacturing, reduce your carbon emissions or boost passenger confidence in public transport? Whatever your sector, there is usually no better source of insight into what’s really happening at the front line than your workers.  Facilitating group engagement, for example through deliberative workshops, can provide detailed and invaluable insights.  By engaging front line workers you can harness a far greater level of detail and gain a practical and pragmatic understanding, enabling you delve into not just what the headline challenges and corporate objectives are, but the reality of what’s been done before, why things may not have worked, and the reality of how tasks are - or aren’t - completed today.  Importantly, this can also help you to identify early on any potential concerns or issues that users may have, for instance around the safety of 5G or the size of equipment.  Early visibility of this may influence the type of solution you design, or it may help you to plan an effective outreach programme that proactively addresses and overcomes the issues raised.

The importance of user insights to help you define the challenge extends to technology suppliers too; it’s not enough to have developed a great solution, you also need to be sure that it meets a genuine need and that the sector you are targeting is set up to be able to meaningfully implement and extract value.  One project that has done a huge amount of work on this front is Liverpool who have developed an Adoption Readiness Level tool, designed to help organisations understand the barriers they might encounter in the uptake of their product, identify areas for further development, and how ready you really are to introduce their product to the world. The tool is a simple self-assessment which explores five Dimensions: Market, Human, Systems/Integration, Finance & Procurement, and Motivation, through 24 questions. And while the Liverpool project has focused primarily on health & social care, the tool can be deployed across any sector. Working with end users may help you to plug any gaps that the tool may identify.

Development & Testing

Through the problem definition stage it can be helpful to look out for people with a particular enthusiasm for the project aims, who you can continue to work with throughout the development and testing phase.

Regular interaction with your end users will keep you grounded and provide a constant barometer of how well you’re addressing the original challenge or problem identified.  It can also help to provide fresh perspectives and ideas when deployment difficulties are encountered.  

One project that has done this particularly well is 5G CAL who worked with truck drivers to develop their remote teleoperations rig.  In itself, this was a technology solution: how to set up a real-time feed to enable a remote operator to control a 40-tonne electric HGV.  But the real-world experience of the truck drivers provided a vital additional layer that helped to define further improvements to the solution, including the use of added haptic feedback to ‘feel’ as well as see and hear how the vehicle is performing. 

And of course, engaging with end users during the definition, development and testing phases should also make deployment and adoption much smoother.  If people have been involved in the creation of something, it is far more likely to meet their needs and they will already be invested in the project, ensuring a win, win all round.

Deployment & Adoption

One insight we’ve heard throughout our work with various sectors is that the telecoms industry can often seem to “speak a different language”.  A key finding from the West Mercia Rural 5G project therefore was to make sure you had the right people to deliver training.  Of course you’ll need technical experts to install equipment - and one thing various projects flagged was the importance of making sure that you have clearly defined whose responsibility it is to install any equipment.  We heard several cases of equipment being delivered to sites, such as care homes, with an assumption that end users can manage the install themselves.  In some instances, that might be an appropriate option but in most it is unlikely to be - even if the process is seemingly simple - so making sure that important step is well defined upfront can avoid project delays and end user discontent.  

Where end users can play a critical role however is in the training of how to use a solution.  If you’re deploying in a care home for instance, having training delivered by a care home worker or someone who has previous experience working in adult social services, can make a significant impact on how that training is received.  The same principle applies whether you’re deploying in a factory or at a port: deploy someone who can speak the same language as your users and credibly demonstrate an understanding of the challenges workers are facing.  This can be a critical step in terms of not only ensuring training is understood, but building confidence that the solution will make a positive and material impact to their working practices.

Identifying champions amongst your end user base can also be beneficial; ideally you want people who have both a passion for the endeavour and are sufficiently technically savvy to be able to act as an informal first line support for any immediate questions / challenges that other users may encounter.  Investing in providing these individuals with some more extensive training to ensure they can handle basic troubleshooting can also pay dividends, in terms of both minimising downtime and maximising user confidence.

Consideration should also be given to the broader context within which your project or deployment might be taking place.  An NHS Trust rapidly approaching the Winter peak for instance, is already likely to be under considerable strain and although your deployment may help to reduce that, it will still take investment of time and effort in the short term for users to familiarise themselves.  Wherever possible therefore, think about how training can be incorporated into users’ existing workflows, rather than taking them out of their daily role and away from their responsibilities.  Again, the champion model can be a good one here to provide ad hoc support and top-up training to individuals, recognising that there is likely to be variability in the digital skills of your front line workers.  

Whether you’re a place deploying 5G connectivity to a local community (we’ve written about community engagement here) or are rolling out a 5G project in your organisation, the value of engaging end users and taking them on a journey with you cannot be overstated.  Not only will it lead to greater acceptance and usage of your technology investment, but it can deliver a far superior solution that embraces the nuances and realities of life at the front line.

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