The early days of the Internet were a heady time of reimagining, rethinking, and, in effect, “e-enabling” a staggering range of business processes. Today, we stand on the cusp of an equally momentous paradigm shift driven by an explosion in connectivity—not just among devices, but also encompassing people, process, data, and “things.” This next-generation digital revolution will upend entrenched mind-sets and disrupt existing business strategies on a nearly unprecedented scale, transforming, yet again, the customer experience.
As I shared in Part 1 of my blog, the Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group projects that the Internet of Everything (IoE) economy will generate $14.4 trillion in Value at Stake for private-sector companies globally over the next decade. Nearly 26 percent of this total — $3.7 trillion — will be tied to IoE-driven customer experience advances.
But how do companies begin to tap the vast potential of the next-wave Internet? Since the Internet of Everything remains a work in progress, its uncharted waters and multidimensional scope will demand wholly new ways of thinking as organizations connect to a larger — much larger — universe. In order to meet IoE’s challenges effectively, your business will need a multidimensional toolkit — one that bridges marketing, design, engineering, economics, finance, or any other discipline required inside or outside your company.
The methodology that can enable these capabilities is design thinking. Drawing on methods used by design professionals, it combines empathy for the human context of the problem; creativity in the generation of insights and solutions; and rationality and feedback to analyze the solution within the customer context.
Design thinking is ideal for problem solving within highly complex situations. Which brings us to IoE. Its high level of complexity will demand that you rethink what you do for your customers, while redefining how issues can be addressed.
Knowing the customer is an age-old path to success. And at the heart of design thinking is a deeper understanding of the customer, citizen, or patient, pinpointing the human needs that fall between business objectives and the technology solutions. Employing user-centered qualitative research methods of observation, ideation, and prototyping, design thinking cuts to the essence of the human pain point and is centered on understanding the role you play in the lives of those whom you are serving. Defining and shaping the problem — in effect, determining the right question to ask — is key. Problem framing comes before problem solving and will be the foundation the creative insight in IoE innovation.
Unlike analytical thinking, which is based on a breakdown of ideas, design thinking concentrates on building up ideas with a broad focus, especially in the early stages of the problem-solving process. Once those early ideas are encouraged to develop, without judgment, they can spur creative thinking.
Here is an example of design thinking at work:
A retail client asked, “How do we increase sales conversions?” The client had the best merchandise selections, financing options, and competitive prices. Customers sang their praises in focus groups. Yet, they were converting only about 25 percent of shoppers. With a design-thinking approach, we were able to reframe the problem. Customers were attracted by the assortment, we realized, but they were overwhelmed by the choices. They were looking for guidance on the right solution. By reframing the problem (“How do we help customers make a personalized choice?”), we came up with great ideas that led to new services offerings. In the end, conversion increased significantly.
Design thinking is not a new tool—Procter & Gamble and GE are but two companies employing its concepts, and Stanford and Harvard both teach it. It isn’t a magical cure, either. But it could provide critical solutions within the complex scope of the IoE economy.
As in previous Internet eras, organizations that adapt and redesign the customer experience — essentially by knowing their consumers through empathy and innovative solutions — will thrive. IoE will reach its true potential only if it is seamlessly integrated into customers’ lives. And design thinking — with its emphasis on simplicity and empathy—could cut through the complexity of the coming IoE economy, while driving the creation of products and services that resonate with the way your customers live, work, and play.
After all, isn’t that the reason for creating those products and services in the first place?