Design Thinking for Enterprise Architects – A Conversation with Mayank Saxena

By The Open Group

The concept of Design Thinking is all the rage these days in certain circles—particularly in MBA programs and in the tech industry. But what is Design Thinking and why should businesses make it a consideration? And what does it have to do with Enterprise Architecture?

Mayank Saxena, Enterprise Architect at ABM AMRO Bank in The Netherlands, believes Enterprise Architects can learn a lot from the lessons of Design Thinking—lessons that could give Enterprise Architects greater influence and value within their organizations. We spoke with Mr. Saxena in advance of The Open Group Singapore 2019 to learn more about the concept of Design Thinking and how Enterprise Architects can benefit from it.

There’s been a lot of talk lately in the tech industry about Design Thinking. What is Design Thinking, and how do you define that term?

There are two aspects in the presentation I’m giving in Singapore, and that is talking about digital and talking about design thinking. The goal is to stitch them together and put an architectural overlay on them.

My premise is that, when we speak about digital, which has become a new fad word, we’re not doing something different. If I speak to one person, they’re talking about business transformation. If I speak to another, they’re talking about digital transformation. But underlying all these transformation efforts, we’re doing the same thing and that is providing value to the customer, as well as how that value is generated changes in wake of innovations available today.

There are two ways to provide this value. One being outside-in and other inside-out. Outside-in is about gathering outside experiences inside the organization like the brand experience, customer perception, etc. And inside-out is about when organizations typically go into reinventing their own processes to realize outside expectations.

1971 was the first year that an email was sent out, ever since then, we have been digital. Many organizations today are toying with the idea of how to exploit the current digital technologies and embed them in their landscape. I don’t think that’s the right way of looking at why an organization needs to be digital. Most organizations, whether they’re brick and mortar or online, product-based or offering services, have been digital in one form or the other. It’s more about how do we reinvent our own business and value proposition towards the clients we have? And then see if and how these new digital technologies will help us in achieving it.

What is Design Thinking? Design Thinking is empathizing with the customers, eliminating assumptions, ideating on the problem to come up with solutions and then doing rapid prototyping and testing. This process keeps repeating, giving us early findings and feedback.

Within that, for the empathize part we can use different frameworks that are out there or we can use internal efforts to look into the behaviors and desires of the customers. For defining the problem, we can look at inside-out and outside-in. Many tend to poorly define the problem, narrowly write what the customer wants, but don’t seek things behind it, so you’re eventually solving the wrong problems. Both qualitative and quantitative research is important in this area.

When we ideate around solutions, one key aspect we miss is the environment of the customer. Often customers will have aspirations but they have to be looked at together with the environment of the customers.

A good example is IKEA. Their business is to offer flat board furniture sent to your home, and you need to assemble it yourself. But in markets like APAC, people actually have cheaper services to do the assembly, so they have tied up with companies that provide these services. Basically, you’re going into the environment of that customer and providing solutions based on those intrinsic needs.

Prototyping and testing are done at many stages in the organization. But one key thing that goes amiss is that in order to prototype, we need to go back to our arts and crafts class rather than having to build or program something. A poster, a pen and paper, rubber bands and other stationaries are sufficient for doing prototyping and testing to see if something will work at a very early stage or not.

When I think of Design Thinking and Enterprise Architecture (EA) together, we have not yet realized the potential of EA skills at the very front, that is closer to the customer. The majority of Enterprise Architects focus on inside-out view rather than the outside-inview. We talk to our internal colleagues and not to the end customers. That is from where architecture should start. 

If I look at the ADM cycle in TOGAF®, a standard of The Open Groupit speaks about vision. Enterprise Architects would normally inherit the vision drafted somewhere else in the company. What we miss is co-creating the vision with our colleagues and customers. And Enterprise Architects should be participants in this exercise.  

How does Design Thinking contribute to business success?

Design Thinking helps in understanding the customer, identifying the right problem, and iterating with possible solutions. The pain or solution might not lie in what we assume but somewhere else, and Design Thinking helps in identifying it. I’ll give an example. I read in a case study that the past Mayor of Bogota, Colombia, as soon as he came into power, one of the challenges he faced was reducing the number of accidents on the roads. He could have mobilized the workforce of traffic agents and deployed them where the most accidents occurred. Instead, he had the frequent accident spots painted red, thereby immediately reducing the occurrence of accidents. He turned it around, rather than mobilizing a workforce, and he achieved his goal with a powerful impact and minimal cost.

In the context of an organization, we don’t need to really mobilize an entire workforce and create a program or project. We need to step into the place of the customer and see if there are other ways of sorting things out. Hence, identifying the right problems and solution match.

How is Design Thinking influencing companies these days? 

My previous organization was a shoe manufacturer and retailer. They have an innovation lab that constantly prototypes and experiments with ideas together with customers and suppliers. We would invite them on regular basis and experiment both with crazy and concrete ideas around heritage, brand, experience, sustainability, product characteristics, etc.

What Design Thinking helps with is, when we interview customers, we’re not just looking at the traditional markers of an experience or product, we’re also looking for why the person has an attachment with your product or brand. For example, we developed an app and exposed it to a few customers keeping them engaged until the shoe was delivered. We engaged them by narrating that the product they ordered had been created and designed in Denmark, it was assembled and put together by say 16 different people in Indonesia and shipped to Portugal before being delivered to their doorstep. What we noticed was that even though the physical product was still the same, the person was more engaged with the brand when we brought the customer on our journey. We exposed the entire logistics chain but in a more humane and engaging way, eventually taking them through the story of our brand and heritage even before the shoe is used for walking.

How do you balance the need to focus on the customer but also be innovating technologies that are ahead of the curve and what the customer needs?

Let me take an example from banking. Providing loans is one of the areas where the banks make money from the customers. Say you want to buy a property and you need a loan, the bank will look into your credit score and sanction the loan to buy the house. However, the customer comes to you only at the point when they want a mortgage. But there are many other things that the customer needs in the journey to get the house and settle in. They need property agencies, notaries, redecorators, movers, and other parties to fulfill the purchase.

What banks are investigating is to look into the entire customer journey for the experience of buying the house. And to do this we need to ask ourselves what else a prospective customer needs in this journey. There are many steps and parties involved right from searching to settling in. One way is to partner with such parties to provide an end-to-end service to the customer. If reinvented, then the customer will land at a platform to buy a house where other parties of the journey will offer services to the customer. Thus the entire value chain of buying the house would be satisfied through one multi-partyecosystem. And the ecosystem can be a playground for innovative technologies.

This approach keeps the customer in focus while innovating with technologies or even the business model.

Why should Enterprise Architects be interested in Design Thinking?

I think EA can play an important role in defining the strategy of the business itself, rather than coming into the picture when the strategy has been written out at a corporate level and then look for the implications of that strategy for IT or technology, data or processes. Enterprise Architects by the nature of what they do have the capability to understand the customer’s point of view. So far, they’ve understood the challenges and needs of the internal stakeholders. If they take this skill outside the business, they’ll also be able to capture what the customer wants from an end-to-end journey point of view.

Once that is established, other elements like organization, process, data, and technology can facilitate realizing the goal. Enterprise Architects are good at connecting the dots. That’s why they should be interested in polishing Design Thinking skills and positioning themselves in discussions closer to the consumer.

How can Design Thinking help Enterprise Architects build better digital enterprises?

By focusing on the needs of the customer through the outside-in lens and capturing the needs, problems, aspirations, environment, etc. Once those have been identified, digital innovations can be introduced through inside-out lens by following the trends, solutions, new services and products etc. to meet the needs of the customer. At the end, it’s connecting the dots of both approaches and packaging them to create value for the customer.

This helps in keeping the purpose of the enterprise, decreasing the time to market, responding quickly to changes and staying relevant.

What you’re talking about is an expansion of the role of the Enterprise Architect since they primarily work internally. But what you’re describing also has one foot in customer experiences, which have usually been in the marketing realm, and one foot in Enterprise Architecture. How do you see that playing out for Enterprise Architects?

You’re right. Traditionally the role of understanding the customer lies mostly in the marketing domain and that should not change. They are skilled at understanding the customer perspective in light of what the customer expects from the product or service. But once we move from expectation to delivery that is a whole different ball game. It’s like a cone, where the tip is the tangible outcome but behind is an array of many building blocks to realize the desired outcome. And Enterprise Architects bring that knowledge to the table. The knowledge of identifying the existing building blocks or creating new ones. They can contribute towhat capabilities, processes, information, technology, etc. would be needed to accomplish the results. Sequencing them further will give the change roadmap.

So indeed, having one foot in customer experience and the other in EA, helps in steering the product, service strategy or any transformation, change effort.

So the Enterprise Architect would sit in on the customer experience meetings and then translate those needs into what is happening in the business?

Yes. That would be a great start. And if there are existing efforts by the organization in Innovation, that would also be the right place to partner.

Whatever organization we work for, it’s all about people. The people who work for that organization and the people these organizationsare here to serve. If the focus is toward people, we can Design Think the Digital Enterprise for Business Transformations – either today or for tomorrow.

@theopengroup   #ogSGP


  1. Very nice article. Glad to know that human beings still count amidst that AI and machine learning onslaught.

  2. Wonderful article! I think that traditional EA Architects, if such thing still exists, have a lot to offer to their clients once they introduce design thinking in their work… It helps you to built an EA that engage and sells… Moreover, it helps you to transform a business in the so-called digital transformation.

  3. Nice article from overall EA and design thinking perspective. However some thoughts are way too theoretical like bank loan examples. Instead of adding low cost and none value added services in customer journey, companies are thinking how to differentiate and innovative and EA has to play the key role in this.

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