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Should CIOs explore design-thinking techniques?

29 Apr 13

Human-centered design thinking and approaches are now gaining mainstream credence among private sector decision-makers focused on innovation.

Yet this concept seems to be unfamiliar in most CIO offices in the public sector, says global analyst firm Ovum.

In the latest opinion piece, three factors have been highlighted that set design thinking apart.

First, it is highly collaborative; second, it is well suited to helping create technology systems that are adaptable in uncertain environments; and third, 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," says Nishant Shah, Government Technology analyst, Ovum.

"These assumptions have time and again been proved 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 is 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,” Shah says.

According to Shah, 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 CIO’s 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 characterised 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," Shah concludes.

Should CIOs explore design-thinking techniques for complex ICT projects? Tell us your thoughts below