We’ve seen a number of consulting and outsourcing firms making investments in design thinking over the last couple years. The most visible approach recently has been the roll of acquisitions of design-thinking boutiques. A few representative ones that are being covered in our current research for the Design Thinking in the As-a-Service Economy Blueprint include:
- Capgemini – Fahrehenit 212 (2016)
- Cognizant – Idea Couture (2016)
- Tech Mahindra –BIO Agency (2016)
- Wipro – Designit (2015)
- Accenture – Chaotic Moon (2015), Fjord (2013)
And while other outsourcing companies are not making acquisitions, they are partnering with design thinking firms (e.g., Sutherland with UXAlliance, Genpact with Elixir Design) and academic institutions that offer design-thinking curriculum (e.g., Infosys with Stanford d.school). Do their clients feel like it really makes a difference? From what I’m hearing in my interviews with operations executives, product managers, and finance transformation leaders to name a few… Yes, it does.
From designing to doing: Design thinking offers an approach for a diverse group of people to work together to identify and articulate a common problem, brainstorm ideas for addressing it, quickly prototype/wireframe/storyboard and test it, and continue to iterate on the idea as it takes shape into a proposed solution. While designers often operate within a “non-constrained world,” Consultants bring a healthy dose of a reality check into the process, shared one interviewee. For example, a market-based and analytical approach adds context to the process of testing the ideas and prototypes for how well they could work in the business and how relevant they are to the market. Another executive described it as an “innovation agency” partnering with a “solution provider.”
Industrialization of methods and tools: Consulting and outsourcing firms have a rich history of standardizing what they have seen work in multiple instances. Many of them have been known to go to the extreme of “this way or the highway.” Most design thinking firms take a more creative, empathetic, and flexible approach, but are typically not as strong in analyzing, identifying, and setting standards. There are design-thinking agencies that are known for strictly adhering to standardized approaches and toolsets – IDEO comes to mind – but it is not the norm in the industry. Likewise, there are pockets of creativity in consulting and outsourcing, but, again, not typical. These two groups are starting to find complements in one another. Clients are appreciating this emerging combination of creative, engaging, and simple (thanks, designers) and standardized, contextualized (thanks, consultants) approach.
Research depth: Design thinking can be a richer experience through thoughtful diversity – bringing together people at different levels (hierarchy) in a company, from different business units and functions, and from different professional backgrounds (e.g., ethnographers, CPAs, and programmers). Design thinking firms are rich in creative professionals; and consulting and outsourcing firms can tap into industry subject matter experts, technology gurus, and change management leaders, as well, because of the breadth and depth of their organizations. They can help address needs from market sizing to industry experts to rapid prototype development with new, emerging technologies because of internal experts or their own ecosystems.
A key theme we hear over and over in the outsourcing industry is the drive toward “recalibration.” Outsourcing firms that have been in business for years were built on the premise of providing lower cost, higher efficient processes using best practices: Lean six sigma, and ERP or now, increasingly, cloud-based/SaaS platforms. But to keep doing something basically the same way and expecting different results is insanity (a refrain often accredited to Einstein) – design thinking offers an approach to finding those new results.
Bottom line: A design thinking led approach moves the focus of the operations executive and service provider partner off the process itself, off the internal, “what’s wrong inside of what we do” to “what do we actually want to achieve” (the business outcome), and what do we want people to feel and do naturally that will lead to further engagement and new—and different—results.
After seeing the impact of the human-centered, flexible, creative, fast approach within “innovation centers,” “labs,” or “digital” business units, consulting and outsourcing firms are realizing that design thinking can help a company and its clients reimagine something that desperately needs a new way of working. Outsourcing and service delivery is an industry suffering from hitting thresholds on cost reduction, failing to meet expectations of innovation, and wondering how to use digital technology and overcome barriers in communication set up within and between clients and service providers. At the same time, though, there are key aspects of rigor, process orientation, and service inherent in the services industry that fit well into enabling design thinking to move into solutions and results such as increased customer and employee loyalty and new revenue streams.
About 18 months ago, we thought – wow, what an interesting idea, using design thinking in the services industry. And we launched the first Design Thinking in the As-a-Service Economy Blueprint to explore whether it not it was feasible – if there were any examples of how design thinking was changing the way consulting and outsourcing firms work, internally with or for their clients. There were a few. As we go through the current refresh, we are finding that design thinking is actually changing the way many clients and service providers work, that there is a real complement between designers, consultants, engineers, and service delivery; and we will continue to share examples over the next few months.
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