Digital business agility transformation has been the catch cry of the business world throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as many organisations are forced to adopt new ways of working to survive. However, although most business leaders now realise how crucial digitisation is, this does not automatically pave the way to success. There are plenty of examples of businesses whose digital transformation efforts failed, despite having the leadership buy-in and cash to fund it. But while there is no guarantee of a fool proof digital transformation journey, there is one driver of success that has particularly come to the fore throughout the pandemic, and that is business agility.
What is digital business agility and how does it drive digital transformation?
Business agility describes an organisation’s rapid response to new market opportunities in a constantly evolving business landscape. In other words, it’s the level of adaptability that the business as a whole - employers, staff, systems - is able to display when faced with something new. Obviously this is a good skill for an organisation to have in general, but why does business agility specifically impact digital transformation?
The answer lies in the rapid advancement of digital technology. By 2019, 70 percent of businesses were using multiple cloud services - an increase of at least 60 percent from 2017. In 2020, 80 percent of companies are using artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots for customer service. And by 2022, experts are predicting that the average person’s smartphone will know more about their emotional state than their own family.
In the world of digital technology, there is always something new, so it should come as no surprise that a high level of digital business agility is a key driver of digital transformation success. And that has never been more so the case than in the midst of a global pandemic, when many organisations’ digital transformation projects have been curtailed to a matter of days and weeks, instead of months and years. Companies that have embraced a flexible and nimble approach to their operations, and adopted new digital technologies and ways of working overnight, are the ones that are thriving in the face of calamity. Theirs are the digital transformation success stories.
So what aspects of an agile business culture will help drive your organisation’s digital transformation project?
Test and learn
When working towards a more agile business model, most businesses will come up against a very traditional and embedded fear of failure. This well-established aversion to getting it wrong isn't a surprise when historically a failure was followed up with a firing.
But, in an agile environment, 'failing forward' or ‘test and learn’ is all part of the process. Being agile means testing something new, learning a lesson and moving forward - exactly the kind of approach that businesses need to take when adopting new technologies and ways of working as part of their digital transformation efforts. If it doesn’t work the first time, the lesson learned can still contribute to the growth of the company.
Stop, think and adapt
In organisations with poor agility, failure or unforeseen challenges are often when projects stall or people stubbornly continue with a solution that isn’t working because they’ve invested time and money in it. Agile organisations aren’t afraid to stop, think and adapt, and change direction if need be.
This is also a useful tool to evaluate your digital transformation plan at regular intervals to ensure that your goals are still relevant and appropriate for your situation. Your business may find it useful to build this into your project timeline to ensure different stages for testing, learning, exploring and adapting.
In today's world, a business will flounder by remaining too attached to the past and "how we've always done things". This is especially true for digital transformation, which is an ongoing process rather than a one-and-done project. An agile culture allows businesses the freedom to prioritise continuous growth and improvement, providing more opportunities to transform and evolve.
This is not just about process improvement, however, but also customer experience. If you’re continually thinking of new ways to use digital technology to create happy customers, and making those changes quickly and efficiently, then there’s little doubt that your digital transformation efforts will be successful.
Make it fast
A key tenet of business agility is efficiency. Unfortunately, for many large businesses, this is a rare capability, given cumbersome organisational complexity and metaphorical red tape. An organisation serious about building business agility will ask: what is required for the business's operations to be efficient and effective? And then figure out exactly which activities add value and which don't (hint: the ones that don't are up for elimination). Then it’s time to think of the technology that can support value. For example, an enterprise content management system might free up hours of your organisations’ time due to quick search functionality, enabling your team more time to focus on bigger and better things, rather than finding archived documents.
The benefit of this approach is that implementation of new technologies and processes is simplified. Digital transformation that once took months or years of back and forth between different parties, and evading dozens of roadblocks, is now implemented quickly and efficiently. For many businesses in COVID-19, this has been a key factor that has determined whether they survived the first wave and its economic impacts, or not.
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