Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Case Study: Nokia Sense Global Platform


This post is actually long due, but it is until now that I’m able to publish a retrospective article about one of the large-scale, global projects that I have lead and worked on for the last couple of years at R/GA, here in London: the Nokia Sense Platform.

Platform Brief

R/GA developed a global retail touch platform, Nokia Sense, which empowers customers to browse, compare, and customise Nokia phones, accessories and apps. Moreover, it encourages existing Nokia owners to get the most of their phone through new app and accessory suggestions.

Through one swipe, in-store staff can quickly give an overview of the range of devices and prices and then, easily filter phones based on customer needs.

The platform has been deployed on 15 different regions and 32 different languages, including Arabic and Chinese. Nokia has currently 850,000 point of sales across the globe.

Project Background

This was actually my first project working for R/GA, just a day after I arrived to London. I was responsible for taking over the technology lead role for the backend side of things, leading a middle size team in charge of developing the global content management platform, including web sites, web services, interconnectivity with client application, automation, infrastructure, maintenance and deployment.

I was also responsible for coordinating with other teams in charge of the production, strategy, creative, and frontend applications, along with other agencies in charge of content administration, translation and on-site administration. Just on our side, combined teams got to the 20+ people mark!

Platform Features

Bespoke content gives consumers an in-depth understanding of each device, expanding on the standard functionality to demonstrate benefits and services.

Customers are able to email themselves PDF brochures, comparison information as well as their customisation choices for future visits. Mobile apps can be sent directly to the user’s new phone so that they are ready to go immediately after purchase.

Stores can promote unique offers, campaigns, prices and recommended local tariffs through the touch-screen as well as highlight key devices. A key feature was the implementation of a local admin secret mode that store managers could use to alter content and prices as needed when store promotions or stock changed.

We also expanded the experience to help existing Nokia users get more out of their phone by providing them with an opportunity to get new apps, related accessories, and software upgrades directly from the touch-screen using the store’s Wi-Fi (particularly important in key markets like China and India). The touch-screen also gives existing owners recommendations for upgrades based on their current device.

On the backend platform side, the platform enables centralized global content creation and administration trough a friendly and easy to use web interface. The content administration tool also allows content administrators to publish content to specific regions, and automates the translation process interfacing with translation systems behind the scenes. Translated content is submitted and retrieved automatically providing a seamless and hassle-free experience for users.

The platform also automates the process of creating, distributing and installing the touch application and updated content to selected stores across the world, at the same time that provides visibility on the status and version information for each store, enabling administrators to know the state of each store across the global retail network.

Last but not least, the platform provided all the necessary service endpoints for the client applications to update software, content, send emails, dynamically generate and send PDF files and distribute admin and training content across the world.


The Nokia Sense touch application is built in flash and runs as an Adobe AIR 3 application. The flash team did extensive optimisation and testing to ensure a seamless and intuitive user experience. Content is loaded as and when it is required by the user and then cached for repeat use to ensure the speed of interactions is quick and not loaded down by heavy video.

Behind the front-end is a robust backend and a tailored CMS that enables content creation, publishing, translation, deployment and distribution to markets. The CMS features a 2-tiered admin system for global and regional users to ensure core information and assets are managed globally for consistency and brand language while other content can be tailored to local needs.

The backend system was built using the latest .NET technology stack, including ASP.NET MVC, WCF and RESTful services and MS SQL Databases, enforcing robust design patterns and industry coding best practices. The platform is also integrated with third party solutions to automate translations and deployment to individual screens.

Client Benefits

Here are some of the benefits that the platform was able to bring to the client.
  • Between 50% and 75% of customers visiting the store, used the touch screen experience.
  • Customers said that the experience was easy to use, personalised and quick to find the information they were looking for.
  • Stores with the touchscreen experience improved the time customers spent in the store by 32%.
  • 3 of 4 people shop without staff assistance, so digital tools are best for self-discovery.
  • Client’s investment on the platform was paid back in 6.5 months.
  • Average Sales Price went up by 25%


Here are some of the lessons learned from the experience running on the retail space.
  • Centralized solution with local management tools are better than distributed content management strategies, to keep a consistent message and brand across a global network.
  • Deployment and installation needs to be faster and simpler, where automated processes, user friendly and highly available tools make a big different.
  • Experiences work best when they can be pre-installed on the devices, so the correct functionality of the experience is not left to non-technical staff members in local stores.
  • Centralization of content creation, translation and localization is much better to ensure the consistency of the brand image.
  • Streamline workflows that make sense across the brand’s strategy.
  • Quick time to market.
  • Real time monitoring of the state of the apps across the stores.
  • Flexible design.
  • Easy to update.
Final Notes

It was a big undertaking, with really satisfying, on budget and on time deliveries, including Nokia World 2011 and Nokia World 2012 events. It is important to mention that we enforced continuous integration and agile methodologies practices, using TeamCity CI Server along with Windows Server 2008 and Agile/Scrum and Kanban practices for iterative development.

Being in charge of leading the team, enforcing best practices both in team management and code writing, coordinating with other teams, agencies and also the client, and on top of that, being responsible for managing the server infrastructure and deployment environments, plus also coding across the whole backed solution was not easy, it was a big challenge! However, I was able to take it through its delivery, and it was a rewarding experiences that though me a lot!

It has been a very good run for the platform, spanning the life of the platform over more than two years in the retail space, which is a lot to say if we take into account the current technology phase. We have completely moved to .NET platforms for creating digital experiences in the physical space, because it gives us a consistent platform that accelerates the development process, and enables us to increase the reusability of components and knowledge far more than in any other platform. This is incredibly relevant, since the spectrum of platforms where .NET applications can run is huge (mobile, tablet, desktop, screens, video signage, web, peripherals, sensors, cars, out-of home experiences, backend and frontend, etc.).

Nokia Sense platform was a big success in a moment where Nokia needed to help bust their sales and engage customers to self-discover the ride range of products they offer. While they might have a tough round ahead in the main markets to compete against iPhone and Android in the smartphone segment, they are still huge is other markets and in the non-smartphone segment, and Nokia Sense was a key digital tool in keeping it like that.

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