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Lost in the litany of tech buzzwords like big-data, digital, cloud and AI is the human element. We often get caught up in technology for the sake of itself, forgetting that innovation must be relevant for something valuable that people care about. With these thoughts, Sam Yen, Chief Design Officer at SAP, (at right) kicked off his break-out session at the SAPPHIRE NOW & ASUG Conference, entitled, “Create More Empathy for Greater Innovation with Design Thinking.”

“Innovation is a combination of creativity and execution,” said Yen. “Most organizations are good at solving problems, but that alone doesn’t lead to breakthrough innovation. If execution is problem solving, creativity is problem finding, understanding that boundary conditions have shifted, and the problem that you’re trying to resolve might not be right problem anymore. The organization that takes a step back to identify the problem worth solving is on the path to breakthrough innovation.”

Meaningful digital transformation

According to Yen, what differentiates design thinking from “lean and agile” is its focus on finding problems. Lean and agile just provides more efficient ways of solving the same old problems. Design thinking helps companies identify the right problem to solve in the first place. Using SAP Leonardo as an example, Yen explained how organizations can use design thinking for digital transformation that’s meaningful to their customers.

“SAP Leonardo is a set of breakthrough technologies – machine learning, IoT, blockchain, analytics –  that customers can use to build their own solutions with our help,” said Yen. “SAP Leonardo services uses a design thinking engagement model with our customers to figure out the problem that’s worth solving and what digital transformation means for them, identifying the future vision for their end-customer and working our way backwards to what that digitally transformed state looks like, and how to gather the right stakeholders in the organization to achieve that.”

Yen explained how the National Center for Tumor Diseases used design thinking with SAP to help physicians figure out what digital transformation meant for medicine in the context of personalization through genomic information analysis.

“Big-data is huge, and personalized medicine is one of the trends. But if you only throw technology at a problem people can’t understand what they’re looking for,” he said. “Working directly with end-users, who were the doctors in this case, we mocked up if you have tons info, the best way to visualize information for personalized medicine. We explored the indicators you need to see to figure out specific treatments, and created a new application that won a Red Dot design award.”

Machines don’t replace humans

Like many of the experts I’ve been talking with, Yen said the point of technology innovation is not to make things efficient to the point where we don’t need people. Rather, the point of technology is to amplify human capabilities. “Our role is helping technology bring ways to augment human capabilities, whether at work or in our personal lives.”

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