Design Thinking for Technology Modernization: Driving Value, Reducing Technology Debt

In the consumer products and retail sectors, the burdens of legacy systems and manual processes pose significant challenges for organizations across the value chain from store or online purchases to overall operations. Disconnected applications, error-prone tasks, technical debt and a lack of insight and intelligence can hinder efficiency and innovation. To address these pressing issues, a strategic approach to modernization is essential.

Design thinking has emerged as a powerful methodology to tackle the complexities of strategically modernizing legacy technology while driving business value and reducing risks. Design thinking is a human-centered approach to problem-solving and innovation that emphasizes collaboration, creativity and iterative prototyping to prioritize key workstreams. We have found great success in applying this methodology to our clients through design thinking workshops.

Our approach encompasses two distinct paths for our design thinking solutions: one focusing on building net new applications and the other on modernizing legacy systems. For new applications, the user experience is prioritized from the outset, ensuring that solutions are competitive, intelligent and engaging. Meanwhile, when modernizing legacy applications, we focus on the user experience as we do for new applications and work back to the legacy technology stack. Also, we can focus on strategically addressing technical debt, prioritizing critical technical challenges to enhance system performance and stability. This dual approach reflects how design thinking solutions are tailored to meet the specific needs of clients that are building both net new applications and application modernization projects.

Each workshop is structured to bring diverse stakeholders together to create a shared understanding of potential efforts and build a consensus-driven roadmap with actions organized by importance and complexity. By aligning stakeholders through common vocabulary and a group understanding of client stakeholder priorities, organizations can set off on their modernization journey with clarity and purpose. By including consensus building at the start, time is saved that would have otherwise been needed to align others with the roadmap. By focusing efforts on areas with the highest business impact, executive buy-in becomes easier to achieve.

We have found that clients are increasingly applying the design thinking approach to discuss how advances in artificial intelligence (AI) can benefit their business, and to identify and mitigate the associated risks. Many clients believe that integrating AI capabilities into operations is not only beneficial but necessary for maintaining competitiveness. The design thinking approach provides a robust structure for critical discussions about digital innovation, AI and technical debt that could be impeding progress towards business goals. This is particularly important in the fast-moving consumer products and retail space.

In our design thinking workshops for application modernization, meeting clients’ needs by integrating AI as a critical enhancement is prioritized. This becomes especially pertinent when clients express dissatisfaction with the precision and performance of their current analytics solutions, which directly impacts the effectiveness of their applications consistently meeting business requirements. By strategically incorporating AI into the vision and strategy, we ensure that solutions align closely with clients’ objectives, delivering the precision, performance and innovation necessary to address their specific challenges and drive success.

Utilizing design thinking workshops in our approach to application modernization ensures a continued focus on streamlining processes and enhancing agility. By actively addressing technical debt, integrating business applications, and developing AI capabilities, these workshops serve as a catalyst for maintaining a modernized application framework tailored to the unique needs of these industries, encompassing both store and operational applications. This framework not only facilitates ongoing advancements but also seamlessly connects applications across the value chain, enhancing efficiency, customer experience and overall competitiveness. Through collaborative engagement and iterative problem-solving, design thinking workshops empower organizations to navigate complexities with ease, ensuring that their digital transformation journey remains both focused and aligned with overarching strategic objectives, ultimately driving tangible value for consumer products and retail companies.

Transforming a consumer products and retail company’s modernization program

With overwhelmed teams, significant technical debt and escalating business demands for new features and functionality, one of our consumer products and retail clients found itself teetering between indecision and stagnation. The company faced the daunting task of modernizing its applications to stay competitive in a rapidly changing market while also balancing the need to continually provide new functionality for the business. The company’s IT leaders were feeling overwhelmed as they attempted to define, analyze and prioritize modernization initiatives to propose a roadmap to the business stakeholders.

After initial discussions with the client team, we conducted a discovery session to gain a deeper understanding of the company’s current state. Through collaborative discussions, the client identified what was working, what wasn’t and the vision for the future. Their vision encompassed the development of user-friendly store applications aimed at mitigating retail’s high turnover ratio, establishing a scalable framework for rapid integration of new features to meet evolving business needs, and constructing a robust cloud foundation to minimize cyber risks and enhance resilience, safeguarding against potential disruptions to their business operations. Their in-store users and the business were happy with the quality of the applications and tools provided. IT felt they were a respected partner of the business, but critical applications were running on aging servers which lacked documentation. Several applications were 10+ years out of date in their language and tool versions. With the information uncovered during the design thinking workshop, the client realized their priority needed to be reducing operational and cybersecurity risk while simultaneously ensuring high-quality releases and responsiveness to ad hoc needs of the business.

During the workshop, we first guided the client to create a comprehensive list of their current strengths, challenges and desires for the future. By using a collaborative voting process, we helped them to align and prioritize the 10 most important and impactful initiatives for the business. These included:

  • Updates to development languages and tools to reduce risk and provide better code functionality for scale and security.
  • Moving applications off aging on-premises servers into the cloud to improve resiliency.
  • Converting a monolithic app to a microservice architecture to build a scalable application foundation.

We then worked together to rank these initiatives into a matrix by business impact while also considering the level of difficulty involved in implementation. From a focus and impact perspective, the client went from 45 projects to 10 workstreams that aligned to their vision and business needs directly.

Because of the level of detail uncovered in the workshop, the resulting impact and effort matrix was easily converted into a three-phase application modernization roadmap of tactical and strategic initiatives spanning short, medium and longer time horizons. This roadmap defined the activities, benefits and considerations and outlined the team and timeline necessary to achieve the intended outcomes. While exciting AI initiatives were discussed, the client realized they needed to prioritize reducing technical debt to free up the team resources required for future AI initiatives.

With this new perspective on the challenges and opportunities ahead, the client felt confident enough to present the roadmap to the business for approval of the Phase 1 plan and budget. By leveraging a design thinking approach for strategic planning and collaboration, this consumer products and retail company embarked on a transformative journey towards application modernization, reducing their operational and cybersecurity risk by retiring four out-of-date on-premises servers after shifting eight applications to the cloud. After this tactical move, IT personnel were able to focus more on projects enabling future revenue growth and new offerings to their customers. Going forward, the focus will be on measuring success based on these four benefits of application modernization:

  • Risk reduction: Track frequency and severity of security incidents, compliance with industry standards, effectiveness of risk mitigation strategies and system resilience against cyber threats and operational disruptions.
  • Feature deployment: Monitor speed of feature deployment from weeks to days, user feedback and satisfaction, increase adoption rates of new features and impact on key performance indicators such as sales, customer satisfaction and operational efficiency.
  • Development agility: Assess the frequency of software releases, ability to respond quickly to market changes and overall agility of the development process in adapting and innovating to meet business needs.
  • Training efficiency: Measure the time taken for new hires to become proficient in store applications, reduction in onboarding time and improvement in employee retention rates.

Design thinking offers a pathway to transform challenges into opportunities in the consumer products and retail sector. By embracing design thinking principles and techniques to prioritize application modernization efforts, organizations can drive value, reduce risks and position themselves for success in an ever-evolving landscape.

To learn more about design thinking and our application innovation and modernization solutions, contact us.

Amanda Downs

Managing Director
Business Platform Transformation

Dave Laskowski

Business Platform Transformation

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