Digital Thinking

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Digital is big. It is not only big in the size of the hype it created but also big in its breadth and impact. It has become the codename for anything mixing the latest in technology with dazzling customer experience. Wikipedia’s definition of digital transformation refers to it as the next chapter in technology literacy where technology amalgamates with creativity and innovation.

It is obvious that technology is a significant component to digital transformation but one should not make the mistake of deeming it as the most essential ingredient. In fact, in some business domains a successful digital transformation could be achieved through existing, legacy technologies by just re-thinking, re-focusing and re-visiting the customer experience. That points us to the must have ingredient of digital transformation: an obsession for providing the best customer experience. Surely, customer experience has a number of aspects. It is not just about creating beautiful mobile apps. In fact, a good customer experience should exist without any technology around. It must be ubiquitous, consistent and continuous.

Digital presents an opportunity to organisations to re-visit and digitise their businesses in the light of new trends and technologies. It is up to organisations to take this opportunity as a chance to create something better or something awesome. Are you just trying to automate your existing processes? Or just re-creating the same experience on different screens?

If you are truly set out for creating the awesome, the basic and lasting question for you to answer is: “what is the awesome experience?” How can you create the differentiating experience hitting the bullseye – not what you preconceived as the best – for your customers?

Here Design Thinking can provide you proven methods for tackling complex unknowns and finding appealing – and sometimes unexpected – new solutions.

Design Thinking has a number of definitions, here is the one from Tim Brown, whose name became synonymous with the concept:

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.

As Tim’s definition points out, design thinking is a reliable approach to innovation. Having its history going back to early 1990s and involving people like Hasso Platner, design thinking is not a prescriptive methodology. There are various design thinking implementation methods with similar process steps but with some nuances. Here is a great article describing these methods, similarities and differences.

I will take the approach defined by Stanford University’s Institute of Design (a.k.a. d.school) and try to explain how design thinking and digital transformation can go hand in hand to form Digital Thinking on the path for creating the awesome.

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Empathize

Putting customer into the centre of innovation is the primary principle of a digital organisation. This step in the design thinking process also emphasises the necessity of listening to end consumers and collecting enough data to be able to see things from their viewpoints, understand the real pain points and create the best-suited solutions. Digital teams can utilise the tools defined in the Empathize step to better understand their customers and design experiences from their perspectives.

They can even use technologies as real-time data analytics and event processing to embed empathy into their solutions (although that is not exactly the kind of empathy Empathize step is about).

Define

This step in the design thinking process is about framing the right problem in order to create the right solution. In this step, teams use the data they have collected in the previous step and outline the actual problem that is bothering the customers, or the solution which would delight them most. Defining the problem or the solution space correctly is also a key step in a digital transformation. As the objective is to put the customer into the centre of innovation, digital teams (or task forces, or squads) then can be built around these defined areas to create the experiences closer to customers’ hearts.

In fact, this step should be the genuine driver to agile architecture and design works instead of a huge pile of business requirements documents.

Ideate

Digital organisations must thrive to explore unprecedented and awe-inspiring ways to engage to customers using existing or new channels. This step in design thinking process allows teams to come up with the broadest ranges of ideas to solve the problem identified in the Define step. Digital can even further heat up the ideation process by its openness to try new technologies. Teams can build ideas around wearables, IoT, virtual reality, 3D printing, telematics, bots and many other modern technologies to enrich the channels of engagement and the experiences.

Prototype

Quickly prototyping the idea will allow you to test your solution early in the process. In this way, you will be able collect rapid feedback from the field and re-visit your solution as necessary for the next iteration. Design thinking suggests creating quick and cheap prototypes for the initial iterations and refine it further along the process. In a digital transformation case, the initial prototype can be a simple drawing of screens, an enactment of an experience using pseudo gadgets and systems. E.g. A wearable made of cardboard sending data to an imaginary system displaying reports on a screen drawn on paper. As the prototype gets closer to reality, digital teams can use cloud, open source technologies, public and commercial APIs, and the humongous range of Software as a Service offerings to create more interactive, cheap, disposable and easy-to-build versions of the prototypes.

Test

Testing your idea – using the prototypes you have created – is obviously a great way to test your solution. Is your solution intuitive, has your test group got excited with the experience? For a digital solution, in the infant stages of the prototype it might be easier to test and collect the feedback. As the prototype gets sophisticated, digital teams should also find the ways to embed

There are a good number of articles and stories out on the internet regarding design thinking. If you are also interested in applying design thinking into your digital transformation, a fun way to start is could be just watching this movie.

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