Episode 51: Configuration Services with Scott Tykoski and Charles Lentz

Episode 51: Configuration Services with Scott Tykoski and Charles Lentz

In this episode:

With the growing adoption of e-commerce services, organizations understand the importance of utilizing digital solutions to optimize the selling process of configurable products. Whether it’s enabling customers to design a room layout, customize a vehicle or create an augmented reality medical room, there are so many different opportunities for an interactive customer experience.

In this episode of Ten Thousand Feet, Scott Tykoski and Charles Lentz talk about all things configuration services. Plus, they share their excitement about injecting fun into what they do, what the future of this space holds, and why this work is so exciting. We even had some fun ourselves using the Microsoft HoloLens.

Enjoy the episode!

This podcast content was created prior to our rebrand and may contain references to our previous name (OST) and brand elements. Although our brand has changed, the information shared continues to be relevant and valuable.

Episode Transcript

Kiran Patel: Hello, welcome to today’s episode of Ten Thousand Feet: The OST podcast. I’m Kiran Patel, and I’m excited to be here today with Charles Lentz, architect with the configuration services practice and Scott Tykoski, senior configuration services developer. Charles and Scott, welcome to the show.

Charles Lentz: Thanks Kiran.

Scott Tykoski: Thanks for having us.

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Kiran: Perfect. So both of you are part of the configuration services practice, and I know we’re gonna get into some of the specialties that you work in every day, but I wanted to just start with a simple question and we’ll start with you, Charles. So how did you first get to OST and get started with the configuration services practice in particular?

Charles: Yeah. So back in 2016, when we were forming this department is when I joined OST and just been working in CET, some Unity projects, various things like that since then.

Kiran: Excellent. And what about you, Scott? When did you join us?

Scott: I’ve been with OST for about, I think eight months now, I was actually chatting with Charles on the side.

He had questions about Unity when OST was working on some of those projects. And I kind of dropped him the line and said, Hey, I really enjoy working in this ecosystem. Please let me know if any jobs pop up and sure enough OST is growing in that direction. And I’m excited to be along for the ride.

Kiran: That’s wonderful. So let’s back up a tiny second and talk about what’s a part of this practice and about this line of work. So, Scott, when someone hears configuration services, you know, CET, Unity, there’s a lot of terms. Tell us what encompasses that space and kind of, what’s a part of that.

Scott: Configuration services is basically the idea that it’s exciting to get your hands on a product and kind of put your thumbprint on it by either tweaking the colors or the shape or the accessories of whether it’s a room layout or whether it’s, you know, an office configuration, whether it’s a car or vehicular, there’s so many different opportunities for a consumer to actually be a part of the design process. And the excitement of, like I said, putting your thumbprint on a design and feeling like, oh, that, you know, I was a part of this process. I want that because I helped make it.

Kiran: That’s so fun. Charles, I know you specialize in Unity specifically. Can you tell me a little bit about that and how you got involved in that line of work, particularly?

Charles: Sure. Scott and I both worked in game development prior to OST and Unity started off as a game engine.

So there was some crossover work that we had done using it for projects back then. But there was a client recently that needed some stuff done, configuration work that we had done for them, and it was in Unity. And so I dusted off the skills and did some things for them. And as Scott alluded to, I asked him some questions cause he’s an expert in the field.

So Unity itself now is being used in many other areas besides gaming. And it’s just like been a natural fit as a tool in our arsenal of the different types of things that we can tap into for these client projects.

Kiran: Charles, could you take me through an example? So, how could a perspective business listening to this, work with this concept, what could it do for them and why is it something that they should be considering as they seek to get their brand out in front of customers?

Charles: Well, I think especially in the last two years, we’ve seen, you know, a shift of people that want to do things or need to, or have to do things even remotely.

And so having a solution that somebody can work on from home to configure something, think of something expensive, like a boat or an RV or a camper. You know, being able to customize something like that and fall in love with it. As you said, Scott, putting your thumbprint on something, there’s an attachment that happens.

And honestly, it makes the salesman’s job, you know, after the fact much, much simpler, I was talking to somebody before this meeting started and I said, I’ve actually configured a Jeep that way. Fell in love with the options, configured the color scheme and all the different add-ons that you can add and, you know, made the sale for the guy at the end of the day so much easier because I just walked in there and said, I’ve already fallen in love with this exact thing that I want.

Scott: I was gonna say we had been doing research for online configurators and Charles sent me to the Polaris configurator. And so I was playing around with that. I think it was last summer. I was at the pool. I was on my phone and I was configuring this awesome four by four, like off-road. I had like the colors that I wanted and I had no intention, like 30 minutes before I had no intention on buying this vehicle. And then I’m playing around with it for work.

I’m like, man, I will want this so bad. You know, I’m talking– trying to talk my wife into it and it that’s the power of, you know, being able to customize and have fun with the– it’s not just shopping it’s like there’s a little bit of creativity that goes into it. It’s this amazing blend of like the client being able to, or the, the customer being able to be creative and imagine, oh, I could actually buy this. I could actually drive it.

Charles: And you’re not being steered like traditionally, if you’re at a dealership or something, and this is not always how it goes but, you know, traditionally you kind of get steered towards something that’s on the lot. You know, whereas if you can pick from every option available, configure it exactly how you want. I think there’s more of an attachment to making that purchase because it’s exactly what you want from the available options rather than, oh, well we have this, something, something, you know, that’s been configured already and we already have it on the lot. It’s close enough to what you said you wanted.

Scott: And it’s amazing. I keep thinking back to the Polaris configurator, they had options that I don’t think that they would even think about putting on a preconfigured model on a lot. I, they had options for like snow plows and there was snow plows there were – I’m thinking my parents have some property up north of Gaylord, where they do a lot of back acres forestry, and they had all kinds of attachments specifically for pole trimmers and for chainsaws and all this stuff that would be perfect for them. And so I’m pricing this out for them, thinking, look at how perfect this is for their situation. And that’s what another part of the customization aspect is that you can use these attachments and configuration dials to make something exactly for your needs.

And that’s, again, you don’t get that on the lot. When you have a bunch of options there that are preconfigured, you’re kind of at the mercy of luck. Whereas here, not only is it fun to customize, but it also, there’s a lot of utility in that.

Charles: A lot of ’em have like a live price update as well. So you might talk yourself out of an option cuz you see how much more of a, you know, an add on it is.

Scott: I go, oh, I guess I don’t need the tires–

Charles: or there’s no mysteries to it. You know, like sometimes when you’re working with a salesman and he’s having to–

Scott: Less haggle.

Charles: Give you your op– yeah. It feels like a haggling situation.

Kiran: Sure. And I know that people’s desire for experiences has only been heightened in the past couple years.

And I’m wondering if you can talk about that. So now there’s this desire to have something that you can experiment with and so someone might say, log on and interact online, and then they then have that experience as a part of their arsenal to make a decision with going forward. And I feel like that’s an important part of the purchasing process too.

Scott: Yes, certainly. And what’s great about Unity is the power of it as a development engine is that you can make it once and deploy it to multiple platforms. You can make a version that’s web-based. You can make a version that’s mobile, you know, that goes on the app store. The project that we’re working on is actually we deploy it both for desktop and for AR/VR. So you have those solutions that you can make use of, and it’s amazing the breadth of platform support that Unity has makes it a really powerful development tool for configurators.

Charles: Right. And being on all those different platforms, a customer potential customer could configure something, come back to it later. Play with it on their phone, you know, a month later, maybe they’re playing with it on their tablet, but it’s the same idea and then they can warm up to the idea of making that ultimate purchase, especially for these super pricey items that are highly configurable, like thinking of like an RV or something.

I think someone that’s trying to make that decision probably needs to mull it over for a while and having something like this that they can check back in with online without having to go and physically, you know, be pressured into making that purchase. Right. You know, from the very first time they’ve seen it is helpful.

Kiran: Yeah, that’s great. Scott, I wanted to give you a chance to talk a little bit about your background because you have a really fascinating career history before you joined OST. And I’m sure that you’ve been able to apply some of those practices in the work that you do now. So, so tell us a little bit about that.

Scott: Oh, for sure. So before I came to OST, I worked as a game developer for 22 years at a Michigan based company, we made primarily PC strategy games but what was kind of amazing is one of the games that we put out, one of the key features was actually a ship customization tool where players could go in I think the first release of this tool was about 20 years ago.

And to this day, people are still customizing ships using this tool. And it’s, it kind of shows you the long tail, right, when it comes to, when people get excited about being able to customize and make their own thing a reality, it just, it gets them excited. It gets them coming back for more. And it, yeah, it heightens retention across the board.

Charles: I think that tool actually started off as part of the game. It was a separate mode of the game and because of its popularity we ended up breaking that off into a separate tool.

Scott: Yeah. And now they’ve updated that where now you can put out the ships as 3D models. Like you can actually send them to your 3D printer.

I mean, it’s just amazing what, how excited people get to make these tweaks and make their own thing, whatever it is.

Kiran: So Scott, you talked a little bit about this idea of incorporating fun into what you do and I’m sure you have a couple stories that would be exciting to share. So talk a little bit about that.

Scott: Yeah, absolutely. So what’s great about coming from a game design background is that with the game, it has to be fun. Players have this expectation about, I wanna be enjoying my time and when it comes to tools and software for – that’s more industrial. They want it to work like it needs to work, but fun isn’t really on the radar. And so at OST it’s been great because we can kind of take that background of wanting to interject a little bit of fun into our apps and into our products for the client. So we actually did a HoloLens tool. It was a space planning tool for operating rooms. And so I kind of look back on this VR game called job simulator.

And it doesn’t sound that exciting, but you’re basically simulating all these different jobs. and one of the great things is that you can go and you can move things and you can, you know, pull cupboards out. And the, this virtual world feels alive, even though it looks cartoony. And so I kind of took that idea of it being fun, to pull and grab and move things around.

And so in the operating room, I made sure that – so if there was a boom or a light overhead, you could reach up and grab it and move it around and articulate it in a way that felt natural. That felt real. And so having that, making sure that there was that parallel between movement in real life and movement in the virtual world, turned it into this fun thing where they would take it to trade shows and people would want to just play with this space planning tool.

It was like, it was just intended for laying out operating rooms. So you make sure that the booms and tools don’t bump into each other, but people are actually enjoying themselves while using the tool.

Charles: Yeah. They and added at a recent trade show and the, the feedback was phenomenal. People were saying it was so fun to play around with.

Scott: And yeah, it was kind of cool to know that we were able to delight the, not just the client, but the client’s clients with this software where they got to enjoy space planning. Like it’s, it could be boring, but we made sure that it was, we interjected that fun and made sure it was enjoyable.

Kiran: That’s great. Charles, can you talk a little bit about OST’s approach? So when we’re seeking opportunity in this space and we’re working with businesses, you know, how do we have those conversations? What kind of questions are we asking to set the stage for such opportunities?

Charles: Sure. Yeah. Well, generally we’re just trying to figure out what is their need and meet them where they are.

So we’ve got a lot of different technologists here at OST, aside from just our department of folks. So there’s a lot of different things that we could do for a potential client. And so, you know, the initial conversations are scoped around trying to fully understand the needs so that we can then bring in people to a second conversation that, you know, probably could speak, you know, more intelligently about those specific areas. If they need somebody in the cloud area, if they need somebody in web or IoT or what have you. But we, yeah, generally we try to scope it, you know, understand their situation and then steer it towards, you know, where they need it to go. So then those experts in the room would then offer that expertise and talk about different ways that we can approach things. We can do them as, you know, a staff aug situation where, you know, we’re just adding one or two people to an existing team or starting something from the ground up with completely an OST team or any combination thereof.

Kiran: Sure. And we’ve talked a lot about the benefits already, but are there other benefits to businesses to incorporating this technology?

Charles: Yeah, one thing we kind of touched on and I don’t know if it was really specific or not, but is this write it once and deploy it multiple ways. So, you know, from a client’s perspective, client of OST’s perspective, they’re not paying for each one of those deployments. So Unity allows us to do that. And then ultimately then when the project is written, you know, that they would experience benefits beyond that too, of, you know, maybe the shortening of a sales cycle.

Because like I said earlier, customer can sort of fall in love with this configuration privately. And then once there’s conversation happening with the salesperson, it’s become much shorter because the customers already sort of convinced themselves.

Scott: I know I have friends that work at Ford, where they have actually gone from using rendering systems to render marketing materials, to using unreal and Unity as real time rendering solutions for marketing assets. So you can imagine before you would set up this cool shot of this vehicle coming over a ridge, set the light up right, and then you press render and it normally took overnight. Whereas now these game engines look so great. Like the fidelity is so high that you can, you know, tweak the camera a little bit and press print screen, and you have your marketing asset, like the turnaround on market ready and marketable artistic assets is just one of those, you know, feathers in the cap for these platforms.

Charles: That feedback cycle gets shortened because of that.

Scott: Exactly.

Charles: You don’t have to wait a full day to say, oh –

Scott: yeah, I wish I had this rim light right here. Oh, we gotta rerender it again. That’s another day. It’s like, oh, put a light in the scene. Is that good? You know? Oh no, I have to tweak it a little bit. Okay. That’s better. You’re good.

Charles: You can get 25 iterations a day instead of one.

Scott: Exactly. So that’s like a nice little, it’s not definitely the main thrust, but it’s certainly a nice, like I said, feather in the cap.

Kiran: Yeah. That’s really exciting. So as both of you are engaging in this space and brushing up on your own skills, of course, what is exciting you about the future?

What do you see as possible? You know, even, even a few years from now.

Scott: I’m super excited about AR VR. I have so many stories. Like I, one of the nice things about working in a game company is that we got a hold of dev kits for the vive headset. That was about eight years ago. And I remember, you know, my son put the headset on. He was six at the time. Put the headset on. He enjoyed it. We went home. About three weeks later he goes, dad, we should go back and, and play VR or we should go back and use the VR again. I go, yeah, it’s cool. You put the headset on and it feels like you’re there. And he looked at me right in the eyes. He goes, no, dad, you’re there.

And, and that’s the magic of the, this technology like it overrides your lizard brain or something where it feels real. And so the application, you know, we’re using it for space planning and configuration, but, you know, using it for education, using it for the future of work, where we have zoom calls now but imagine sitting in a virtual room where you can draw on the whiteboard, you can still collaborate in interesting ways, virtually it’s amazing tech that Facebook rebranded itself because they believe in this tech so much. Apple’s working on air glasses. Like this is definitely something that’s coming and OST is positioning themselves to help clients out as they need it.

Charles: Well, even like architectural previews being able to walk through a space before it’s ever built. You know, real estate could use it to tour places that are for sale places that could be built in the future. It’s exciting stuff to be around and it’s definitely, it’s definitely coming.

Scott: Yeah. AR is really cool because even on the mobile space, like you can, we – my son and I did a AR previs of the Ford lightning, where we downloaded an app and suddenly there was a Ford lightning in our living room. And so we’re walking around and we’re checking out the upholstery and we’re looking at the dashboard and you get to really engage with customers with potential customers on a level that just wasn’t available before.

Like I would have to — to get that up and close and personal with the Ford lightning, I would have to drive to a dealership. I would have to wave down —

Charles: auto show or something–

Scott: Yeah. Wave down somebody that lets me like, actually get in there in the nitty gritty, whereas we’re just in our living room, the, the power’s phenomenal.

Charles: Shopping for a couch, putting it in your actual space, seeing how it goes with the curtains.

Scott: Oh, that looks great.

Charles: Redoing your kitchen. I mean —

Scott: Click it. It’s bought two days later it’s there. I mean —

Charles: Absolutely.

Scott: That’s turnaround is —

Kiran: Possibilities.

Scott: The possibilities are, are endless.

Charles: There’s a million things that we could, we could use this software for. And it’s so exciting to, to be a part of it for sure.

Kiran: That is super cool. So I know some of these projects are under wraps and we can’t talk about them quite yet, but is there anything in particular, a particular skill that you’ve been able to deploy or a, a recent project that you’re most proud of that you’re able to talk about?

Scott: I mean, I, I just love that story from the trade shows the fact that they had a line of people, you know, wanting to try in this headset for this, this tool that was, that was meant for hospital shareholders to walk around, like you said, do a pre-visualization before they spend millions and millions of dollars on these build outs. And to be able to take a tool with that kind of draconian utility and turn into something that people are like, oh wow, I’m pushing around this cart. I’m moving around these booms. Like, it feels like I’m there. To put, to have that level of presence and enjoyment in one of our projected. It was awesome.

Charles: Yeah. The, the vibe coming out of that conference was phenomenal because they had people lining up to try this thing that really had no stake to ever use, you know, what we had built, but they just wanted to try it out, cause it was fun.

And to see the smile on the face of the client that we worked with for that project. And just to hear that feedback, you know, we spend a lot of time on that a lot of long hours they’re so pleased with it.

Scott: And they had a previous version that, unfortunately it had a lot of setup time, I guess it was like a 45-minute setup time. And we were able to work with them and get that setup time down to like two minutes. So they were just able to deploy it quickly. They were able to get people in and out quickly, you know, they didn’t have the issues that the old version had so that’s my point of pride. It was a fun project to work on. We’re still developing it, but yeah, it’s, it’s a lot of fun to work in that space.

Charles: Yeah.

Kiran: Awesome. Is there anything, either one of you have read or, or even watched recently that has stuck with you or inspired you at all?

Charles: I think just in general, now that we’re paying attention more to the space. It’s kind of like if your friend buys a new car you start seeing it more often on the road. Right? So now that we’re paying attention to the space more, we’re just, we see headlines in every day, different companies getting into the space, doing things, people using it for various reasons. And I mean, there’s just so many of ’em out there.

Scott: There’s endless applications. And it’s just funny that this all stemmed from these game development platforms. I mean, these are tools that got — Unity was used to make Pokémon go and countless other award-winning games and to see it now being used for, you know, AR development for these industry leaders.

So one of the stories that I like is this isn’t Unity, but unreal. If anybody’s seen the Mandalorian, you can watch the behind-the-scenes content for that show. And they actually set up an entire sound stage that was completely surrounded by LED screens. And so instead of having to set up a valley with all these rocks or set up this alien space port, they do it all in 3D. They do it all in real-time using these game engines. And if you watch that show, you would never know. It’s seamless. And to be able to take that processing power, that graphical fidelity and put it in our client’s hands. It’s it’s unheard of.

Charles: Yeah. That’s awesome. And there’s so many stories like that. Like even just like going back to some like utility uses of it, I, I forget it was a home improvement store that had come up with some AR thing for measuring how much flooring you would need to like, you know, redo your tile floor or your, your wooden floor. And, you know, you basically scan the room with this AR app and it, you know, it’s using some technology that can measure. You know, and it tells you how much product you need to buy. That’s more of a utility use, but it’s super, super cool use of the tech. It’s not, you know, when AR and VR first came out, it was a lot more gimmicky, you know, and we’re seeing — that stuff still exists out there of course, but it’s a lot less gimmicky now.

Scott: What practical application can we use this for? You’re saying a lot of AR health-related apps where it’s like, oh, it’s fun to do the, you know, it’s fun to move to this music. So how can we incorporate that into a healthy lifestyle situation or —

Charles: Or yeah. Even training surgeons, you know, there’s, there’s VR apps out there now that you can come along for the ride with the person that’s actually performing the surgery as a student and, and see how they perform the operation learning without having to, you know, physically work on something.

Scott: Or VR headsets for training, you know how to use a crane. Imagine these jobs where the slightest mistake results in, you know, millions of dollars of lost time, lost product. And the fact that you can now set up these, you know, these simulations where you get pretty much hands on training without any of the risk. And that comes from using, just using these AR/VR headsets.

Charles: Yeah. Maybe you’re having to learn that super technical job from somebody that’s, you know, in Germany and you’re in the United States and you guys can have that virtual training session. Cause you’ve both got the goggles on in a– you don’t have to be there in person.

Scott: Toyota’s using it where they use the HoloLens to where they’ll do a step-by-step virtual process where here’s the door here are the five bolts remove these five bolts. Okay. Next step. Remove this. So instead of having to look down at a diagram, it’s literally showing you virtually using AR tech.

Charles: Yeah. There was an example from, I think it was Microsoft HoloLens, where it was similar such type of situation where they had panel that needed to have so many rivets and they had to be spaced so far apart. So because of the fact that you’ve got these goggles on. They can really just overlay where all the rivets need to be, and you’re not having to mark it in any way. You can see where they all need to be. And it cuts down on the installation time, the labor, because of the technology.

Scott: Again, and again, it’s not like a flashy use of the technology, but it’s super applicable.

Kiran: Fantastic. This is, this has been excellent. So thank you both for your time and insight.

Charles: All right. Thanks a lot.

Scott: Thank you so much.

Kiran: OST. Changing how the world connects together. For more information, go to ostusa.com.

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