We live in a world of unprecedented opportunity and possibilities. That’s good news. The catch, however, is that the same trends changing our world for the better also are dramatically increasing complexity, which may be the biggest challenge of our time. Untamed, complexity kills – slowing things down, adding unnecessary costs, wasting precious resources, and preventing people from seeing opportunities for game-changing innovation.
I believe the solution lies in design – and specifically, “design thinking.”
I’m not talking just about graphics and branding. Design and design thinking brings the focus back to the most essential elements in anything you do, whether it’s a new product, a new service, a process improvement, or more. The focus instead is on the features and functions that matter most and that have the biggest impact – which in the end becomes the epicenter of great brands, solutions, and organizations. This is what we mean at SAP when we now say “simplify everything so you can do anything.” It’s much more than a slogan – it’s a fundamental change in how to think and how to operate.
Take the technology industry as an example (and, admittedly, a primary culprit in increasing complexity.) For many years, the primary focus essentially has been on adding everything and anything we could – more power, more bandwidth, more latency, more memory, more functionality, and so on. But more is no longer the answer. Today, the innovators in technology increasingly are focusing on simplicity – hiding or even eliminating complexity – to uncover entirely new and better ways to work and manage daily life for everyone.
In early 2013, for example, SAP partnered with the Stanford School of Medicine and the National Center for Tumor Diseases in Heidelberg, Germany to design a simplified, easy-to-navigate digital experience to access and analyze patient data. The result of this collaboration is now the “Medical Research Insights” project, an application based on the SAP HANA and In-Memory Computing platform that provides end users (that is, medical researchers rather than just IT specialists) fast and easy access to critical patient data and comparison of patient profiles from various sources. The project was honored by the U.S. White House for “empowering the patient, curing diseases and saving lives.”
In other areas, organizations in almost every industry and geography are beginning look at design as a broad discipline aimed to create simpler, more meaningful, rewarding experiences for customers and employees. Consider Shell, with a workforce of more than 90,000 people around the globe. Shell’s Head of Global ERP Strategy Doug Webster has embarked on a major effort to revamp the company’s IT systems, to allow end users to get more done with fewer transactions and a much simpler and more efficient interface. For them, them key has been to recognize that placing a real focus on simplicity requires a real transformation, and that they must treat it as such. “It’s a very big change journey, and you must get your users on board from day one – get them excited for what’s coming” Doug says.
Bosch Siemens’ CIO Juergen Sturm offers another example, supporting collaborative creation of custom-designed software and a simple design practice. “Design thinking plays an important role,” he says. “By implementing it we can achieve not only better results, but also have less training efforts, less support, and also increased process excellence.” This is an extremely important point, and it’s not just for Siemens. Organizations today spend an incredible amount of time and resources on training, maintenance, service, customer research, and so on. The message on one level is that design in everyday work can solve business problems, making things run faster and simpler. Beyond that, however, it can also lead to bold ideas of how to re-structure the workplace and inspire the workforce, unleashing human potential and unlocking opportunities for innovation.
This, then, is a call-to-action for business leaders all around the globe: recognize this new era in design, and transform every product and service into something more rewarding, memorable, and valuable. Evaluate each element of a product, service or process and improve it, simplify it, step by step. Understand that design is not just a marketing tool, but a genuine source of competitive advantage, customer and employee satisfaction and, finally, higher profits.
Simple, isn’t it?