For many years now, analysts and experts have been talking about technological convergence—the stuff that happens when the applications we use to communicate, shop, learn and entertain begin to fold into one another; when devices like computers, tablets, mobile phones, cameras, smart watches, television sets, and speakers become interchangeable; when things like elevators and light bulbs, power supply grids and emergency alarm systems, rockets and robots get connected. Technology and engineering have been connecting these seemingly disparate things at an increasingly faster pace, giving rise to new products, services, business models and customers. Today, no business can ignore the power of convergence. The convergence that brings together two or more sectors to share their knowledge and technology base (and even perhaps share their customer base) has become the elixir for innovation.
Convergence is what makes dramatic and disruptive new products like autonomous vehicles possible. The trend is forcing a vast variety of organizations—technology providers, government administrations, regulators, manufacturers, communication and network providers, sensor and application developers, etc.—to come together, brainstorm, collaborate and develop. If we were to hold a magnifying glass over the change, we’d notice that the big shift is from developing killer platforms to stitching together killer ecosystems. Digital wallets are an excellent example of piecing together an ecosystem of acquiring banks, issuing banks, card-on-file merchants, customers, transaction standards, digital infrastructure, communication networks and security systems to enable faster, cheaper and more reliable transactions.
For sure, convergence is producing enchanting results. But more than the wonders it is creating—such as digital wallets and self-driven vehicles—the convergence is helping create safer and stress-free societies, better adherence to laws, more efficiency, predictability, transparency, lowered costs and wider access to convenience. Did we mention convenience last? It should have come first. Because, ultimately, it is how the end consumer is impacted that will determine the outcome of convergence.
In our opinion, human-centered design and design thinking take on extraordinary importance in a world of rapid and tumultuous convergence. It is considerably easier to bring together disparate products or businesses – say a ride-sharing service, logistics, food delivery and a mobile payments platform – than it is to create something that customers will love. A hurried blend of technologies, platforms, service areas and products could translate into a risky investment, trapping partners in an irreversible spiral of enhancements, tweaks, and upgrades. In other words, bringing together two or more proven and successful ideas/processes/technologies/systems/products may not always result in greater success.
Just as convergence brings partners to share their knowledge and technology, it is human-centered design that helps connect the new products to customers. We must be able to design new products from the eyes of our customers, understand their motivations, address their latent needs and tie it in with the emotional experiences they desire. In other words, empathy is the glue between products and customers—it defines and shapes and customizes products.
There is an urgent need to step up the bold magic of convergence within organizations. It is equally important that organizations not get too caught up in developing elaborate technologies, platforms and extravagant product portfolios. Instead, the focus should be on partnerships and ecosystems bound together by human-centered design and design thinking to make a successful go of it.