Business Model Designer From Sticky Note To Screen Interaction

Chapter 1 Introduction

Business model innovation is getting more and more traction in today’s fast passed global economy. New methodologies arise to help invent, transform and identify these new business models, but unfortunately there are few computer based tools capable of assisting in this task. Working on paper or with whiteboards has certainly its benefits regarding creativity and freedom of action, nonetheless, at one point the captured idea has to be digitalized for it to be shared, edited or enhanced. Business models could always be recorded in a classical text based fashion, but as we know from other visualization domains, ’Visual representations are superior to verbal-sequential representations […] and the brain has a strong ability to identify patterns’[ Eppler and Burkhard, 2004]. Therefore, there is a need for a more specialized artifact which is aligned with the metaphors of the methodology it has to support. However, ’IT artifacts have to be conceived not as independent of people or the organizational and social contexts in which they are used but as interdependent and coequal with them in meeting business needs’[ Hevner etal., 2004, p83].

For this thesis the choice was to support a very intuitive and visual paper based methodology called Business Model Ontology (BMO) developed at HEC Lausanne[ Osterwalder, 2004]. The model has nine blocks which help describe a business. The power of the method originates from its visual positioning of the block and the relationship they have between each other. Simply adding, removing or changing sticky notes, containing a short title, to the blocks helps identifying existing business models, as well as new opportunities.

The challenge is to provide enough specialized functionality to enforce the rules of the methodology, without compromising the freedom of creativity. The application has to be extremely intuitive to use, not to interrupt the creative process each time a new item has to be added. Like with CAD tools, the risk is very real to infringe on the creative process, if too many presets or standardized actions are imposed on the user. ’CAD tools push designers towards producing conservative designs, by making it easy to use particular design elements in preference to others, standard choices and default parameter values, and to recycle previous design.’[ Stacey and Eckert, 1999, p5]. Or this is exactly what could limit creativity. The key is to find the right balance between supporting the model by enforcing its rules and still give the user enough degrees of freedom to allow him to follow his own path of creation. The application should be flexible enough to allow switching between actions without having to manage application specific interactions.

To illustrate theses two paradigms a good example is to compare the task of creating a new business model in a non guided process of a mind mapping applications, versus entering it in an ontology application like Protégé. Doing it in a mind mapping form is lightweight, ideas can directly be added to the blank canvas and then be regrouped and arranged to form the model’s pattern. The application specific actions are reduced to a minimum and focus is entirely on defining the right components of the business model. The drawbacks, however, are the lack of validation and the missing guidelines. Except for having a guideline document next to the user and manually checking it, there is no way to enforce the models constraints. Applying the manual control process in its turn will distract the user from concentrating on the main task of creating the new business model.

The Protégé example has the opposite problem. The models constraints are imposed by the application following the defined ontology. This lets the user, in theory, focus on the creative process, but in the case of Protégé too many applications specific interactions are deteriorating the user experience. There is for instance no global overview, so there cannot be any benefit of visual pattern recognition. To add or edit entries the user has to navigate into multiple sub menus making him interrupt his thought process or write it down on a piece of paper negating the purpose of the application.

Therefore, for the prototype of this thesis the objective is to reproduce the paper based experience and its ease of use, finding the right equilibrium to allow for validating model constraints without infringing on the creative process. To procure additional usefulness to the design, the idea is also to augment the model with new functionalities made possible by the fact that the sticky notes now are digital. Once the step of creating the model is complete, new data can be added without infringing onto the creativity, and provide additional value to the augment model.

Designing such an application will inevitably trigger new ideas and request for changes during its iterations. Therefore, we already know that it is an application which has to be able to evolve with its changing requirements. Fowler writes that ’one way to deal with changing requirements is to build flexibility into the design so that you can easily change it as the requirements change. However this requires insight into what kind of changes you expect.’[ Fowler, 2004]. This triggers the need to plan ahead and perhaps leave some doors open knowing they might be used in a future version, or to decide to abandon some features knowing, that they can only be added later at great expenses. Even if the main focus is set on supporting the BMO methodology, keeping an eye on the evolution requirements seems to be a good addition to utilize the knowledge gained by the creation of the artifact, not only for the business productivity provided by the design, but also for the more technical side of design.

This thesis is divided into seven chapters. The first chapter is the introduction to the specified problem domain and the proposed prototype. The second chapter is about the consolidation of different version of the BMO and an overview of some visual modeling tools. Chapter three describes the design process and iterations, from the brainstorming done to initiate the project through to the final prototype. Chapter four is a discussion about the technologies used for the prototypes and an overview of other possibilities. This part is for the more technical persons and does also cover comments about requirements of an application that evolves. Chapter five is about feedback from validation done on the final prototype. Following, chapter six is taking a look at what could be the next iteration. Finally, in chapter seven the conclusion of the experience is drawn. In the appendix there is a user guide for the final prototype and some additional schemas and business model examples, as well as some additional technical schemas to chapter four.

Chapter 2 Business Model Ontology Refinement and Visualization

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