How to increase business agility in the digital age
Business agility is not new. One of the most famous examples is Nokia, a company we know today for its telecommunications solutions. But Nokia started life in 1865 as a paper mill. Over the years, it pivoted to manufacture cables, rubber boots, and tires, before becoming a telecommunications company in the 1990s. While this is an extreme example, enterprise companies looking to increase business agility can take inspiration from the knowledge that success takes many forms, especially if the right technology is embraced.
What is business agility?
Put simply, the digital age definition of business agility is the ability to compete and grow through quick responses to market changes and make the most of new opportunities by using digitally enabled solutions. The most innovative enterprises are the ones that will continue to succeed.
Boosting business agility has certainly become a bigger priority for many enterprises in recent years with two factors playing major roles: the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the pace of digital transformation across almost every industry sector.
To increase business agility, it is not enough to simply survive in this era of constant change. It is important to find ways to adapt in order to thrive. Technology and digital innovation will continue to play an essential role, but business agility needs to be about more than buzzwords.
Becoming agile in a pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic proved to be a sink-or-swim challenge for enterprise companies worldwide. Now, after almost two years of making adaptations, the most agile businesses are the ones that have shaken off the survival mindset and found ways to thrive.
At the start of the pandemic, many companies moved to remote working and had to make adjustments to ensure their teams were able to remain productive, communicate easily, and stay motivated. Strong, transformational leadership was essential from the time governments started introducing lockdowns in 2020—and it is the companies that still lead by example that have grown, innovated, and kept happy, productive employees on board.
It turned out that mastering the basics, such as video conferencing and remote access, was just the beginning. It soon became apparent that the world, especially businesses, were going to have to find ways to live with the challenges COVID-19 had created. As a result of this new way of thinking, the focus for enterprises truly committed to agility shifted to seeking out opportunities, engaging creatively with the marketplace, and finding new ways to stay competitive and relevant.
Now there are no excuses—the so-called “new normal” of flexible working has simply become normal.
But how have the companies that increased business agility over the past two years used technology to gain a competitive advantage?
Using technology to increase business agility
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The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the importance of technology for ensuring companies could remain productive even when entire companies had to work remotely or embrace a hybrid system of home and office work. But true agility means that companies have gone beyond basic technology upgrades—such as ensuring employees can access servers from home and use video conferencing platforms— leveraging the power of technology to transform entire operations.
Among the most popular technologies used for digital transformation are:
- Artificial intelligence
- Machine learning
- The Internet of Things (IoT)
- The cloud
- Digital twins
- Mobile technologies
Technology-driven innovation has become more important than ever for improved business agility. Digital transformation has genuinely improved performance across multiple industry sectors.
For example, pharmaceutical manufacturers have used digital transformation to improve vital record-keeping for batches of life-saving medicines—a task that was previously done via cumbersome paper-based systems. Easy-to-access information speeds up the manufacturing process without compromising on quality while ensuring the end-users—in this case, patients—receive the medication they need in a timely manner.
Innovators in the security sector are leveraging digital technology to improve agility and offer cost-effective solutions to markets that demand peak performance at all times. Fiber-optic cables can now be used to detect motion and vibrations that may indicate possible intruders or early signs of costly damage. This technology feeds data back to clients in real time, and facilitates fast decisions to protect valuable assets, such as wind farms, oil and gas installation, and airports.
These two powerful examples show how two very different sectors have been able to use technology to improve performance, modernize, boost efficiency, and even benefit society—all of which are important components of increased business agility.
Growing in the digital age: Technology and the human touch
Enterprises keen to increase business agility can look to the sectors that have grown in the past two years, despite the many challenges.
The obvious sectors that have grown are IT and technology, particularly those that have provided the innovations that supported businesses to stay productive in the pandemic. But it will be important for these sectors to consolidate, be creative in finding even better solutions for their customers, and maintain solid relationships to ensure they retain and win business in an industry worth an estimated $5.3 trillion.
Technology will be vital for agile businesses but, even in this age of virtual communications, engaging with customers and collaborators on a personal level is still essential. Focusing on technology while forgetting the human touch can cost enterprises dearly. We are all still human beings, and people genuinely do remember how businesses make them feel, so it is important that everyone in the ecosystem feels valued.
Healthcare and financial and professional services are also growth sectors that have emerged well from the pandemic. Again, these are sectors where it is essential to combine digital transformation with the human touch. For enterprise companies seeking to move into these areas, technical knowledge is essential. But without strong relationships, it will be hard to maintain the trust needed for clients to have the confidence to spend money.
However, it’s not just the prominent growth sectors that will benefit from increased business agility through technology. Every enterprise has the potential to increase business agility—provided the leadership is committed to seeking out the best technologies for their needs, is finding new ways to reach the marketplace, and is ensuring that people are not forgotten in this challenging but ultimately exciting process.
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