Business agility - don't get left behind

Barry Henning, director of Blakehead Limited and Institute of Directors Lancashire Committee member, urges local businesses to act now to take advantage of emerging technology trends.

Technology advances, like buses, tend to come in clusters, and we currently have a glut of them.

The explosive growth in sales of smartphones and tablets, social media developments, availability of cloud-based computer resources, “big data” and the on-going rollout of superfast broadband across the region are all examples that are set to transform the way we do business with each other and with consumers in the future.

However, to take full advantage of these so-called disruptive technologies requires a fundamental rethink in the way many companies are currently organised, the business processes they rely on and how they engage with their staff. In a nutshell, they will have to become more “agile”.

The term “business agility” has been around for a while and, like much new business terminology, is surrounded by hype, confusion and scepticism. However for once we have a buzz-phrase that has some substance and deserves a second look.

Business agility is about anticipating changes to market conditions, being able to capitalize rapidly on new business opportunities and technology advances, new distribution channels or supply chains, while in the process reducing costs and/or increasing revenue.

Few businesses are completely agile. However, the more successful agile firms share the following characteristics:

    • A cultural mind-set that recognizes continuous change as the norm and supports activities to turn it to advantage.
    • An overall business architecture that can quickly realign competitive assets including people, technology, products and services to changing conditions.
    • An organisation structure and management regime that spreads knowledge throughout the business and favours collaborative decision-making.
    • The ability to re-skill or up-skill key elements of the workforce quickly in response to shifting customer demands and new technology innovations.
    • Flexible working practices that focus on creating maximum value to the customer as a key business differentiator.
  For established firms, adapting to this new paradigm might not be easy. Traditional systems and processes, designed to make the operation run as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible, tend to lack the flexibility and responsiveness needed for rapid changes of direction.

Similarly, the way that people are deployed and the conventional command-and-control hierarchy in which they are managed, are potentially significant inhibitors to flexibility.

So, if you are a business leader that recognizes this situation and you want to make change happen, what can you do about it?

One way to start is by building a blueprint for change. Take a hard look at the current business, what’s good about it and what requires attention. Identify the barriers to change, whether cultural, financial, operational or organizational and understand what makes them a problem.

Then take time to understand the nature of the technology innovations happening around you today, how they are relevant to your business sector and what business opportunities exist to exploit them.

Armed with this basic information, you can then set about constructing a suite of action plans to transform your business into the nimble organization you want it to be. Of critical importance is the constant need to take a holistic view of the business. People, business processes and technology all have to work in tightly integrated harmony if business agility is to be achieved.

If there still any doubts about the need to become more agile, consider this: today your customers have unprecedented access to technology and data to underpin their buying decisions. They expect to do business at a time and place convenient to them, using one or more devices seamlessly, receive excellent customer service at all times and at a price that is attractive.

Meanwhile you can safely assume that your competitors are already thinking about how they can cut IT costs and improve service levels using cloud-based computing, how to tap into the unstructured data buried in emails, texts, Facebook and Twitter traffic to improve market intelligence, and how superfast broadband could transform the nature of holding meetings with long-distance suppliers using video-conferencing.

This time, doing nothing really isn’t an option. Barry Henning Director Blakehead Limited