The term design thinking conjures thoughts of Sir Norman Foster and fellow architects hand drawing the designs for a structure of beauty like the Millau Viaduct or Jony Ive developing the Apple iPhone. Ive was responsible for both the exterior design and the software interface. In truth, design thinking is about the end-to-end user experience. Therefore, design thinking is about people, customers and what we clumsily call users in the technology sector.

In tandem with Agile working methods, design thinking has created a completely new technological culture. A culture that studies and seeks to constantly understand those using technologies and shapes the service to ensure the outcomes meet the user’s demands. That outcome could be a financial transaction, a civic service from a government department or a business process. As a people-centric ethos, design thinking reduces friction – which is the core value technology should always bring to an organisation.

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Design Thinking Process

So what is design thinking, and why should CIOs and technology teams be adopting the method? “The methodology is ideally suited for IT teams looking to transform and take a leadership role in driving innovation in products, services, processes, or business models,” says Chris Goodhue, VP, CIO Strategy and Executive Advisory Services at IDC, a technology analyst house. IDC adds: Design thinking focuses heavily on why people would want and use a product or service — their motivation — and what they expect to gain from that use — their reward. The goal of design thinking is typically the conceptualisation or improvement of a product, process, experience, or outcome. Fellow technology analysts Gartner agree and describe design thinking as a problem-solving process.

At the heart of the problem-solving ethos of design thinking is to always be considering people, whether citizens, customers or colleagues. Technologists using design thinking invest time and energy into observation and analysis of user behaviour. They take this insight to create services that are tailored to the customer or user’s needs.

In today’s digital economy, organisations, particularly those in retail, financial services and the public sector, need to prioritise customer-focused design thinking. Many of the market challengers that have disrupted retail and financial services have used design thinking to win customers. Coupled with decreasing barriers to entry afforded by enterprise cloud computing infrastructure, design thinking provides market challengers with a major advantage in securing customers. Whilst in the public sector, citizens, are increasingly losing trust in traditional pillars of society; one of the main reasons for this is that they feel that civic bodies do not understand them. Public services that use design thinking demonstrate that they understand the citizen and their situation. This was seen to great effect in the UK during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic; Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) developed a trio of technology solutions to support furloughed workers and the self-employed. HMRC used design thinking for the usability of these technologies, which protected families and reduced the impact of the pandemic on the economy.

“It’s about finding out peoples’ behaviour, motivations and needs and coming up with solutions and services to match,” Gartner analyst Marcus Blosch told CIO magazine recently.

Cut the friction

With an understanding of motivations, needs and behaviours, design thinking will reduce friction in technology services to the customer, citizen or end-user. Friction ultimately reduces the quality of service to everyone. If the customer experiences problems online, they can easily move to another provider. A citizen cannot change public sector suppliers but may stop dealing with a department and miss out on opportunities, which ultimately reduces the purpose of that department.

If employees experience technological obstacles, they can deploy shadow IT, whose work arounds may meet the needs of a customer or citizen today, but ultimately open the organisation up to disjointed data, additional technology operating costs and security risks.

Design thinking was utilised by esynergy to evaluate 10 business cases and the impact of automation, new integrations and an increase in scale of the e-commerce platform, an outbound citation application that manages sold stock, and the warehouse management applications at an international e-commerce retailer. The three technologies were increasing in scale, cost and complexity for the online retailer.

Combining Agile discovery methods with design thinking enabled esynergy to merge elements of these operational domains and understand the potential value and risks of having tighter integration and automation across user journeys. This has led to productivity and efficiency improvements and new opportunities to deliver the perfect order at scale.

Design thinking is now being used to incrementally deliver a new architecture with improved end-to-end user journey integration and cost reduction for exception management at the online retailer.

Whether retailers, financial services providers, or public sector bodies, customers and team members have high technology expectations. Design thinking allows technology teams to change their culture, move up the business value chain and delight customers and colleagues; design thinking does, after all, build bridges.

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