Building the truly 'agile enterprise'–the time is now

Building the truly 'agile enterprise' – the time is now

It is said you should never waste a good crisis, but at the risk of sounding negative, I’m concerned many organizations are doing just that. They’re surviving—even thriving—amidst COVID-19 but also failing to undertake the wholesale transformations necessary for long-term success in our new, uncertain world.

In this world, agility is key, and that, at least, many leaders seem to understand. An IDC White Paper*, commissioned by ServiceNow, found that 72% of senior leaders and 90% of CEOs consider agility to be strategically important for the future success of their organization.

Yet at the same time, just 26% of organizations believe they have the technology infrastructure to fully sustain agility over the long term, and in my conversations with clients and industry experts, the urgency to build that infrastructure already appears to be lessening.

In fact, there’s a palpable sense of relief that the worst is over—at least when it comes to corporate upheaval—and as a result, that many of the corporate world’s major changes have already occurred.

However, if there’s one thing we should have learned, it’s that the time to prepare for the next crisis is now, before it’s even a dot on the horizon. Numerous studies have found, for instance, that the most successful companies during COVID-19 were those who had already invested in building a digital, agile business.   

So, the question remains: how willing are organizations to truly embrace agility as an operating principle? Or in other words, how many have learned the lessons of 2020?

Understanding what agility really means

This is not to dismiss what has been achieved over this past year, and it is remarkable how fast most businesses adapted. But having done all of that, many remain fragile, with ServiceNow’s The Work Survey finding that the vast majority would be unable to adapt within 30 days in the event of another disruption.

Meanwhile, the IDC White Paper*, which focused on the European market specifically, found that around 80% of organizations display low-to-medium agility, which is characterized by fixed strategy and budgets alongside siloed legacy systems. While other parts of the world will differ somewhat, it’s fair to say that many organizations lack true agility.

When it comes to building that agility, there are two key and interlinking factors.

First, there is a challenge for leadership. Whereas traditional leadership has focused on planning, directing, and controlling the organisation, truly agile leadership is more about envisioning, architecting, and coaching. In other words, they set a strategic north star and empower employees to reach it.

Aligned to this issue is technology. For many, agility begins and ends with remote working tools, but giving everyone laptops and collaboration tools isn’t the end. Rather, it’s just the beginning, and truly agile organizations are run on an integrated digital platform that provides transparency into the business and its operating environment.

Leadership and technology overlap is that technology must connect to the core business strategy. An agile digital platform supports the core business and allows organizations to concentrate on its core function and what drives the bottom line. It can then flex around those functions as circumstances change or when rapid response to a crisis is required.

Critically, this isn’t an ‘IT problem’—it’s a more fundamental challenge that goes beyond tools to culture, leadership, and mindset.

Putting creative thinking at the heart of agility

Consider postal services, for example, which have experienced huge changes this year as online shopping increases and delivery volumes skyrocket in turn.

What does that increase in scale do to their assumptions about what is possible? Do they try to do what they’ve always done but ‘more’? Or do they consider creative alternatives like partnering with other organizations for last mile delivery or outsourcing some areas entirely?

The answer could be anything, but the idea to re-evaluate what drives your business and what it is that you really do. This mindset allows a more creative approach to how resources can be flexed and deployed, and it is why technology is important, but mindset is essential.

Right now, however, most organizations lack both. That’s why preparing for the next disruption requires we learn the lessons of 2020 and develop our ability to respond, shift strategy and respond challenges in dynamic, creative ways.

IDC Business Agility Benchmark Survey

The IDC Organizational Agility Benchmark Survey (October 2020) conducted with 873 large European organizations looked at the link between organizational agility and key performance indicators. Learn more about the IDC Organizational Agility Evolution Framework, and the five key foundational dimensions of Agility in the IDC White Paper: Agility: The strategic imperative to survive and thrive in volatiles times*.

(*Source: IDC White Paper sponsored by ServiceNow, IDC #EUR146988320, “Agility: The strategic imperative to survive and thrive in volatiles times”, November 2020)

This article first appeared on Forbes Brand Voice.

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