Cognos Analytics

From participants to Design Partners: Co-creation at IBM Business Analytics

By Lisa Chen posted Wed October 09, 2019 09:33 AM

Have you ever used a splash stick on your Starbucks lid? You know that clever little green stick that prevents unwelcome spills in your car or on your commute and makes team coffee runs possible?

Well, did you know that little invention was actually inspired by a Starbucks customer? Sourced through a website called, where customers can share, vent, vote, and discuss ideas to enhance the Starbucks experience. The site was meant to usher a spirit of transparency between the growing coffee giant and its many customers, creating an open forum to exchange ideas and provide feedback in an honest and collaborative way.

Intimate relationships between customers and the companies they interact with through the products and services they use daily are the norm.

It is now the norm for customers to form intimate relationships with the products and services they use daily. If you just enjoyed a delicious meal, you probably tagged the restaurant in your Instagram post. If you had a good dealer experience purchasing your new car, you probably suggested the salesperson to your family and friends. On the other hand, when the experience is less than pleasant, people aren’t shy about blasting brands on social media (some call these folks madvocates). These days, the customer feels empowered, more connected, more demanding, less passive, and even less patient.

After all, “The last best experience that anyone has anywhere, becomes the minimum expectation for the experience they want everywhere,” famously said by IBM’s GBS leader Bridget van Klingon.

The same holds true for software and here at IBM Business Analytics, our approach to co-creating with our customers is through the Design Partner Program (DPP). Open to all customers of Cognos Analytics and Planning Analytics, the DPP is a growing and diverse community of novice to advanced users, spanning across industries and geographies.

The DPP is an avenue for customers and business partners to provide feedback directly to the IBM Business Analytics design team. Design Partners are sponsor users — customers who help close the gap between our assumptions and reality by providing feedback, new ideas, and insight into how our products are being used every day.

The DPP focuses on our customers’ needs and wants — pro-actively identifying opportunities to not only meet but exceed them through an optimized user experience.

Participation in the DPP typically occurs through one of three forms:

  1. Interviews and contextual inquiry: Deep dive investigation into users, processes, and pain points. How are things being done today? Who does what? What solutions are needed?
  2. Design workshops: Exploration of topics through collaborative sessions, usually in person. Sketching potential solutions or new ways of doing things. Strategic prioritization of needs, features, or experiences. Mapping processes of specific use cases.
  3. Usability sessions and testing: More traditional design research, evaluation of concepts, solutions, and prototypes by users. Are we delivering a useful and usable experience? Are we providing value to end users? Where have we misinterpreted users’ needs?
The engagement cadence for participants is a monthly 1-on-1 meeting for about an hour, and a quarterly group retrospective call where the team plays back recent research, demos new designs, and shares any upcoming opportunities to engage. How much or how little they choose to participate depends on their availability, but what we’ve discovered is that most engage with us on a monthly basis and have even stayed in touch when they change roles or even move companies.

At the heart of the DPP is the relationships that we have with our customers. We are not looking to engage on one-off conversations or quick research studies. Instead, we aim to nurture long-term customer relationships with users of all levels of expertise and experience to help us build better products.

The DPP not only demonstrate our commitment to our customers, but it also enables co-creation with our designers, developers, and product management teams to continuously improve the user experience for IBM Business Analytics. As we strive to empower all users with smarter data discovery, advanced analytics, and the ability to infuse AI into their business, our relationships with our customers has never been more important.

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