CIOs should adopt design thinking to address “wicked problems”

By Nishant Shah

Three factors should be highlighted that set design thinking apart. The first being that it is highly collaborative; the second is it is well suited to helping create technology systems that are adaptable in uncertain environments; and thirdly it is mindful of both understood and hidden end-user needs.

Scaled back budgets have caused agencies to make a host of assumptions about user needs on ICT projects. These assumptions have time and again been proven wrong when the systems are implemented which only enhances cost from these failures. However, the strength of design thinking is that it revolves around empathy, defined as developing a nuanced understanding of user needs based on observation and not reliant on past analytical case studies which may be of limited availability.

Ovum believes design thinking in government ICT is particularly applicable in changing workflow for shared services, in co-creation initiatives, and in efforts dealing with open data that involve citizens and multiple agencies. It is also well suited for defense and intelligence technology operations, where end-user experience can mean life or death.

Radical collaboration is a key component of design thinking. This is useful not only as a tactic but also as an overall strategy to change culture in the CIOs office over time. Small pilots are good places to begin with design thinking: those that solve tough problems for smaller groups of people, where user needs can be more thoroughly understood.

Ovum recommends that agency CIOs begin to explore design thinking techniques and incorporate relevant elements into ICT projects characterized by “wicked problems” – those with significantly greater complexity and ambiguity than normal. Familiarity with a variety of methodologies can help leaders improve outcomes via a focus on end-user needs, collaboration and iteration as well as creativity.

About the author

Nishant Shah is Government Technology analyst at Ovum. Jointly awarded IIAR Global Analyst of the Year 2012, Ovum provides clients with independent and objective analysis that enables them to make better business and technology decisions. Its research draws upon over 400,000 interviews each year with business and technology, telecoms and sourcing decision-makers, giving Ovum and its clients unparalleled insight, not only into business requirements but also the technology that organizations must support. Ovum is an Informa business.

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