Design Thinking And The Intelligent Enterprise (Part 1)

Frederik Verhoef and Jason Muehleck

Part 1 in the “Design Thinking” series that chronicles research on the effectiveness of design-thinking workshops. Read Part 2.

Recent years have seen a rapid change in the evolution of technology, and this has made applications possible now that we used to dream of as science fiction. The Internet of Things lets us connect all kinds of devices to the Internet and makes the enterprise value chain, from design to production, much more efficient and transparent. These devices are also able to collect large amounts of data, which we can store and leverage with today’s Big Data technology. This data is essential to the training and improvement of machine learning or artificial intelligence algorithms.

Also, the blockchain offers the possibility of recording transactions on a distributed, cryptographically secure ledger, which can massively improve multi-party, collaborative business processes. All these novel technologies, as well as the advances in cloud computing, computing power, and storage, have enabled the vision of the intelligent enterprise: Deliver an intelligent “event-driven” business that automates the manual/routine tasks with machine intelligence, freeing up employees to drive more value for customers.

It sounds like the future is bright and the plan towards an intelligence-fueled future is clear. But in a world where the technological opportunities seem limitless, how do we know what to build? How do we know what is valuable to our customers?

Here, design thinking comes into play to help us address these questions. Using design thinking, we try to come up with creative solutions to our customers’ business problems after clearly and deeply understanding their needs and desires. Especially today, where technology is ubiquitous and the resulting opportunities can be hard to grasp, it is important to have clear guidelines for building software and improving processes to help our customers run at their best.

What exactly is design thinking?

According to the Hasso-Plattner-Institute Potsdam:

Design thinking is a systematic, human-centered approach to solving complex problems within all aspects of life. The approach goes far beyond traditional concerns such as shape and layout. And unlike traditional scientific and engineering approaches, which address a task from the view of technical solvability, user needs and requirements as well as user-oriented invention are central to the process.

This approach calls for continuous feedback between the developer of a solution and the target users. Design thinkers step into the end users’ shoes – not only interviewing them, but also carefully observing their behaviors. Solutions and ideas are concretized and communicated in the form of prototypes as early as possible, so that potential users can test them and provide feedback – long before the completion or launch. In this way, design thinking generates practical results.

Our approach

At SAP, design thinking has been in use since 2008, and several approaches are in use. For us in the Business Transformation Services group, the approach comprises three phases (discover, design, and deliver). Underpinning those phases are nine “spaces” or sub-phases (scoping, research, synthesis, ideation, prototyping, validation, development, testing, and implementation).

As part of every sub-phase, certain methods and energizers can be used. Methods are structured, step-by-step sequences of activities that facilitate the creative process. Energizers, in the form of group tasks, games, movement exercises, and so on) aim to inspire and prepare the team in the creative process. Based on experience from internal and external sources, a standard list of methods and energizers are available to design-thinking practitioners.

Selecting use cases and setting goals

The Business Transformation Services group recently conducted a study to research recent design-thinking workshop cases for use in employee training. This initiative stemmed from frequent requests for practical examples of how design thinking is used, in addition to the theoretical material they are provided during the training. As we collected these cases and recognized the diverse situations in which design thinking is applied, as well as the range of different facilitation techniques the coaches used, we were inspired to extend the study and present our findings in this blog series.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in the  “Design Thinking” series, which will explore different types of design-thinking workshops.


Frederik Verhoef

About Frederik Verhoef

Frederik Verhoef leads the CXO Advisory Practice for the Business Transformation Services group at SAP. CXO Advisory supports SAP customers on their journey towards the intelligent enterprise in the experience economy through delivering business innovation, business architecture, and transformation programs based on SAP's digital portfolio. He has more than 20 years of international business consulting experience backed by a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering and a Master’s degree in Business Leadership. His expertise includes architecture roadmaps, design thinking, and business transformation management.

Jason Muehleck

About Jason Muehleck

Jason Mühleck is professionally active in the startup and venture capital space and has first-hand experience in technology startups, enterprise software, and venture capital. He holds a Bachelors degree in Economic Sciences and a Masters in Management with a focus on innovation and entrepreneurship. His current topics of interest and research include blockchain applications in the enterprise, AI, and machine learning, as well as the future of manufacturing.