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If it’s Just an Idea, it’s Not an Innovation: Inside EPAM’s Made Real Lab

Ken Gordon

Principal Communications Specialist, EPAM Continuum
Blog

Our clients’ ideas don’t just appear in the world. They are carefully designed, engineered and tested in a place specifically created for that purpose: The Made Real Lab (MRL).

Providing a place to prototype brand new concepts, the MRL enables clients and consumers to see, touch and experience them for the first time—and at scale. Richard Ciccarelli, Senior Director, Made Real Lab, says the MRL is a “convergence of technical research and experience-led, human-centered design.”

The power of combining integrated research and prototyping capabilities is that it makes us smarter and faster than we would otherwise be. The MRL is an intelligence accelerator. “Prototyping is how we learn,” says Ciccarelli. “We don’t assume our assumptions are correct. We test them. We learn from people.”

Starting in our Boston studio, the MRL is now combined with EPAM’s Garages, merging experiential prototyping and the Garages’ extensive proof-of-concept work and experiments with cutting-edge technologies to understand real-world applications for clients. Other MRLs will soon be rolling out in Minsk, Switzerland and beyond.

The MRL embodies our ethos to realize ideas in the market to grow and optimize our clients’ business. By showing rather than telling, the MRL creates a superb engagement model for clients and their customers.

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Novelty isn’t nearly enough when creating new products and services for the marketplace.

Physical, digital and theatrical prototypes enable our teams and clients to make the right decisions by validating concepts and substantiating business value early and often. Siarhei Boika, Director, Software Engineering, Head of Embedded and IoT Practice, says: “After the acquisition of Continuum, we were probably the happiest department at EPAM because it extended our capabilities into the physical prototyping world.”

The MRL is all about “de-risking ideas earlier,” says Bill Gastrock, Senior Director, Made Real Lab. Doing so builds client confidence—and saves them months of time and millions of dollars in identifying the right embodiment of a product or service.

The MRL makes prototypes to prove the desirability, feasibility and viability of the new. Embodying ideas through prototypes allows us to make the unknown seem less daunting to clients and rigorously explore feasibility. Testing how prototypes resonate with users helps us understand their desirability and viability in a market context.

With a deep understanding of the correct build fidelity based on where we are in the design process, the MRL allows us to practically approach questions we are trying answer—being deliberate about fidelity is what saves time and money. The fact is, many teams rush to overbuild ideas, without understanding if they’ll work at scale. The MRL brings new ideas to life in an intentionally minimal way, to prove their value quickly before further investment. “We are the center of excellence for prototyping with frameworks, a business model and knowledge base of past prototypes to help create efficiencies,” says Gastrock.

The MRL follows a framework that allows us to ask, “Where does value live?” and then, “Have we represented value well?” Here are some of the ways to go about answering these questions:

  1. Social and Technology Exploration. Exploring trends, new experiences and technologies to understand how they could be applied to deliver future customer experiences.
  2. Experiential Prototyping: Embodying envisioned experiences that are resonance tested with people to uncover insights related to viability and desirability.
  3. Technology Prototyping: Developing advanced human interfaces and complex systems that validate feasibility.
  4. Proofs of Concept: Combining our envisioned experience with our chosen technologies to validate an intended direction.
  5. Pilot Runs (MVP, Alpha/Beta, Live-Labs): Creating high-fidelity prototypes that validate feasibility in a lab or a mass-market setting.

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People in the MRL partner with internal and external innovators. “The Made Real Lab is a network of prototyping experts that understand how to design experiential prototypes that will get us the answers we need to experience an idea and evolve it rapidly,” says Ciccarelli, “It’s not only a group of experts, but it’s a network of people who understand the deployment process.”

Ciccarelli is emphatic on the point of people: “Without people, the Made Real Lab is just a space.”

Opportunities come from across EPAM, and our output is achieved by assembling project teams that span our capabilities. The MRL makes that assemblage nimble and effective. Ensuring that prototyping process is “centralized under the Made Real Lab umbrella” brings value, says Solution Architect Yury Bialykh. “Having a dedicated service team,” he says, can help expand EPAM’s on-demand prototyping but “still maintain the integrity of this particular service offering.”

“The Made Real Lab is not a standalone innovation group that’s separate from the organization,” says Ciccarelli. It is “highly integrated into the design process, and how we deliver our work.”

Pavel Veller, CTO, Digital Engagement Practice, notes our strong belief in continuous learning: “Software technologies change at an ever-increasing pace, and software engineers must keep up to stay relevant and keep growing as professionals.” Veller approves of the MRL’s real-world problem-solving function, adding: “Solving real-world problems is the key ingredient that makes Made Real Lab real.”

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Why is 2019 the year for the MRL?

“Now is a good time to do this,” says Bialykh of the MRL. “We can leverage EPAM Continuum’s experience in building prototypes because you guys have been doing it for quite some time.”

A good time to do this indeed: as the Internet of Things goes mainstream—and digital, product, and physical space design converge—the idea of integrated design and prototyping becomes paramount. Clients, says Boika, are “looking for partners who can provide those kind of end-to-end services in product and platform development.”

Turns out, in addition to all the essential things prototyping does for our twenty-first century clients and our innovation process, it is also, says Bialykh: “Fun. More of that would be good.”

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