by Divina Paredes

CIO100 2018 #31-100: Atta Elayyan, LWA Solutions

Mar 28, 2018
Augmented RealityCEOCloud Computing

Atta Elayyan, CEO and co-founder of LWA Solutions, says since founding the company seven years ago, he has “pivoted” the business at least five times.

“I had several failed attempts at offering services targeting various emerging technologies.”

But for him, this is the way to go with the breakneck pace of technology.

“It is this constant state of influx which taught me my biggest lesson and that is, to ‘Recognise and embrace your team’s core strength and in turn, know when to pass.’”

He says through the years he has invested in several emerging technologies which he pushed his team to pick up. These include cloud migration, IoT, machine learning and big data.

“None of these attempts were successful and I recognised this was because our core strength was in UX and none of the above technologies even had an interface associated with them!”

He says that since coming to this seemingly obvious realisation, he put a strategy in place to ensure the business had very strong partnerships.

“We can rely on them to help us deliver on areas outside of our core strength while tackling emerging technologies that compliment us head on.”

For instance, he says LWA is not investing in AI but is full-steam ahead with AR/VR.

He explains LWA was among the first companies in New Zealand to use VR to deliver tangible, training solutions for the enterprise space.

Twin approaches to innovation

“We have two key approaches to innovation,” he says.

“Firstly, we heavily invest in purchasing new and exciting hardware we believe could be relevant to our services and make it accessible to all members of our team to tinker with.”

He says this has led to key partnerships with hardware providers such as Microsoft, Honeywell and Panasonic which gave them early access to the latest devices.

Secondly, we heavily invest in students via our summer internship and tertiary education sponsorship programmes through our close relationship with the University of Canterbury, ARA Institute of Canterbury and most recently, Yoobee School of Design, he says.

Every year, LWA takes on up to five students to work on various RD projects.

He says the introduction of VR/AR at LWA came about after they purchased an HTC Vive as soon as it was available in New Zealand and making it available to the team members to tinker with.

They also gained early access to Microsoft’s ‘Mixed Reality’ hardware such as the HoloLens (AR headset) and the Dell Visor (VR headset). They “seeded” these into the R and D projects of the student interns.

“One of the biggest challenges we faced early on when attempting to deliver VR/AR projects was our limited ability to deliver custom solutions that were visually immersive and realistic,” he says.

We had to vastly expand the skill sets within our team to include 3D modelling, texturing, animation and sound effects, he says.

“Essentially, our team had to look more like one found in a game development studio. To achieve this, I began partnering with local design and animation schools and including their students within our internship programme,” he says.

“It was this initiative that enabled us to build a diverse team which was able to deliver the outstanding results we have achieved to date.”

Elayyan says LWA has successfully delivered several business transformation projects in the past year, but the most significant was the Ports of Auckland’s Electronic ‘Master Pilot Exchange’ (MPX) app.

He explains one of the goals of POAL is to reinvent their outdated MPX business process which primarily relied on static excel spreadsheet calculations and paper printouts that were manually drawn on to communicate to ship captains how POAL pilots intended to bring their ship in to port. There were no digital records of this process which could be accessed and reviewed in case of an accident.

To address these challenges, POAL looked at leveraging the port’s already investment in Panasonic rugged tablets (Portable Piloting Units) and build an app that would fully digitise and streamline this process.

One of the primary challenges facing the project was that it was going to reinvent an existing business process that had been relatively unchanged for decades, he says.

“No matter how advanced the solution is, it would be a failure if pilots were unwilling to adopt it,” says Elayyan.

“To mitigate this issue, we leveraged an agile, design lead development approach with a laser focus on UX. Our design team conducted several actual Pilot runs to observe the existing business process first-hand and get real insight into the challenges they are facing.

“By delivering a solution which was intuitive and addressed their key pain points we were able to gain their trust and successfully deliver a fully digital solution for the Master Pilot Exchange process which was the first of its kind in Australasia.”

He says the solution has gone live and completely transformed POAL’s piloting process.

“Ship captains coming in to POAL can get updates on how pilots will be maneuvering their ship days or weeks in advance, helping giving them confidence in the process and streamline the communication between captain and pilot.”