Director ISG
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Using digital agility to adapt to COVID-19

21st May 2020
Director ISG
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Less than 4 months ago, digital transformation was seen as a must do, BUT one which took time to overcome change and cost challenges.  COVID-19 forced many businesses into making difficult decisions that they may not have otherwise considered.

Half the planet was forced to work from home through mobile working and collaborative technologies which have become the new norm.  The lights may have dimmed but remained on in many cases so how can we justify going back to the old normal way of working?

COVID-19 has changed  the way we work and interact with customers, perhaps forever.

While a solid digital agility model has been a vital element to creating a positive customer experience for some time now, COVID-19 (and its associated lockdowns) have forced businesses to be flexible and respond to new conditions and associated consumer demands.

So how can businesses accelerate their journey to becoming a digitally agile company?  

What is digital agility?

An organisation is digitally agile when it has the tools, people and processes to enable it to respond rapidly to changing customer demands and technological trends. Digital agility is customer driven.

Great business leaders know that customers are their greatest source of learning. They know that losing a customer to a competitor is just a click away. So when the customer says there’s an issue, it needs fixing.

Many businesses have spent years doing everything they can to adapt their CRM systems to listen to what customers are saying. While that’s a great start, it’s still just focusing on the data, not the outcome.

To implement real change based on trends in customer feedback needs digital agility. And that takes skilled people to design digital agility models and ensure that these models are implemented across the enterprise.

For this, businesses need smart people who can see across departments, not work in silos. People who help each other play to their strengths. Who foster innovation and growth by trusting their teams, and by understanding that the business – and its people – need to fail fast to learn and to grow.

Digital agility has four main components:

  1. Technical and market insights delivered by specialists across the business. People who understand market trends and how technology can be applied to adapt the organisation’s products and services to improve customer experience in a cost-effective way adapting the organisation’s business model.
  2. Data-driven design. Real-time data will tell you what’s working and what isn’t. Using the information from step one shows the business what changes need to be made and allows them to start designing an operating model that can respond to changing demand. The organisation becomes more agile, moving away from silos and towards a business where departments continually work together and share insights.
  3. Technology supported design. The organisation needs technology partners that all work in harmony with each other and different parts of the organisation.
  4. Enterprise agility. How agile is the business internally? Is the business set up for agile transformation, or is there resistance? Agile organisations can deliver projects in weeks or months, while those that face internal resistance have to overcome issues that delay the competition of projects – sometimes by months or years.

But it’s people who are key to the success of digital agility.

Roles needed to support digital agility

Organisations need people who have a specialist understanding of the technology the business is using and have experience of deploying it. These are people who have learned, failed, and learned again.

It needs design thinkers. These people use data to understand what the customer wants. They know what the change has to look like for the customer to want it.

Data scientists, operational excellence experts and data analysts are also essential people to have onboard. As well as automation and cloud specialists.

Once the right people are in place, there are five steps business needs to take to create a digitally agile business.

Five steps to creating a digitally agile business

  1. Redesign the customer journey from the outside in. Put the customer experience first.
  2. Hire people who believe in what you do and who’re already invested in what digital agility can do, and educate current employees on its benefits.
  3. Put data at the centre of the customer experience. By using integrated data, companies see increased growth and efficacy for time and spend.
  4. Regularly review and optimise digital assets.
  5. Continue to innovate as technology changes (along with customer expectations). There will always be a disruptive competitor entering the market; the business needs to be ready to meet the challenge they present.

The impact of COVID-19

COVID-19 has changed business forever. We’ve gone from organisations saying that digital transformation is years away, to it being imperative for organisations to become digitally agile in a matter of weeks. The longer it takes your business to make the switch, the more you’re losing out to more flexible competitors.

Right now, we’re all still in the initial stages of adapting to the situation. Businesses should be looking at reducing costs through overbilled services and adapting their business practices to operating virtually.

I think organisations need a twelve-month plan, first to recover, then adapt and finally grow in the “new normal” of a post-COVID-19 world.

As we approach three months, this is the time to really address the impact that COVID-19 has had on the organisation, and identify areas or processes that have failed, and fix them.

At the six-month mark, businesses should be adapting by designing a digital operating model to reduce risk and by rethinking strategy to ensure continuity for customers.

By month nine, businesses may be in a position where they can plan for growth by creating new digital transformation programmes and deploying digitally agile business models.

Businesses must adapt their models for digital agility

COVID-19 has forced digital agility up the agenda. Now is the time to start hiring the right people who can get the business to a good place in nine to 12 months.  It might not feel like it – but it is only with the right skills and experience that you can transform business prospects for 2021, and be the organisation that people want to use not just now, but into the future.



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