“There’s a shift under way in large organisations, one that puts design much closer to the centre of the enterprise. But the shift isn’t about aesthetics. It’s about applying the principles of design to the way people work.”
That was the Harvard Business Review in September 2015. It went on to explain that design — something we normally associate with physical objects, or perhaps the screens of an application — is being applied increasingly to complex, intangible issues, such as how a customer experiences a service.
Michael Buckley, managing director of Accenture Interactive Australia & New Zealand, argues Australian government agencies need to adopt this design-led approach to create a much better experience for citizens in their interactions with government. And, he says, the creation of the Digital Transformation Office is a clear indication that such an approach is expected of them.
This transition to a design-led organisation needs C-level leadership. “If you have a separate design team in a corner focussing on a web site or an app, you will get a great web site, but you are not getting a business that is design-led,” Buckley said. “It is not going to solve the big problems. For that you need the whole business to come on the journey.”
The Coalition published its Digital Transformation Agenda in the 2015 federal budget and on July 1 formed the Digital Transformation Office to lead the agenda “transforming how individuals and businesses interact with government”. In May this year it published its Digital Service Standard, to “establish a consistent digital-by-design approach to government service delivery”. It will apply to all government agencies and aims to make services simpler and easier to use.
“The Digital Transformation Office gives government agencies a mandate for adopting a new approach to how they develop online services,” Buckley said. “What’s needed is a design-centric approach, one based on a deep understanding of user needs and an ethos of shaping an organisation, service or product around that user.”
Analytics underpin design
Buckley says there is a very close link between a design-centric approach to services and data analytics. “For example,” he explained, “if we wanted tax to be invisible, so you would never have to put in a tax return again, the only way you could achieve that would be through data. You would have to be able to collect data at every single point where a person could be taxed, and that would have to all be rolled up under their name at the ATO.”
Accenture Digital uses a design-centric approach to help organisations re-imagine products and services. Buckley says more than 90% of the ideas that come from this design-led approach have a data analytics component.
“We use a methodology where we create an ‘as-is’ state of an organisation, both for employees and for the product or service that is to be rethought,” he said. “We then do a lot of research about the as-is state of the product or service and of the organisation. Then we hold a two-day ‘rumble’ that brings all the analysis and research together.”
He says the key to the success of this “rumble” is having all parts of the organisation involved, not only marketing and IT. “No one idea is a bad idea and even the most junior person has insights into the day-to-day problems of the organisation, so it is better to have them in the room than not,” he said.
“And by bringing in every department they feel they have had influence on whatever the outcome is.”
The power of prototyping
This process is likely to generate about 200 ideas. “We reduce those to about 10 over two weeks. We then build those into prototypes and test them,” Buckley explained.
Rapid prototyping to get real user data is a key component of this methodology. “It is very cost effective to create a prototype to re-imagine the future of your product. Within 12 weeks or less you can see a prototype come to life that a government agency can visualise very quickly and test through ethnographic research to decide if they want to take that prototype to market. That is really exciting,” he said.
“A great example of that is Gov.au. They launched it with three pages, taking a very iterative approach and an agile methodology to constantly update the site and build from within as opposed to launching the site with 25,000 pages.”
The benefits of design-centric approach are compelling, Buckley says. In addition, government bodies are likely to face pressures for change from within as digital natives make up a greater percentage of their workforces.
“Digital natives are changing the culture of government organisations, taking a design-led approach over a technology-led approach, and there are huge cost savings if government can provide a better experience for citizens,” he said.