Are agile people the key to delivering digital transformation?
5 mins read
AXELOS’s John Edmonds discusses the importance of the human element of transformation, alongside technology.
Digital technology, including artificial intelligence, automation, big data analytics and faster communication, is causing rapid change. Consumers want customised products, a seamless experience across all touchpoints and instant access to information.
As a result, organisations are finding they need to reinvent themselves to keep up with these new demands made by customers and employees.
And digital technology can also bring major disruption to established markets and organisations. New products and services, powered by new business models and agile development processes, emerge regularly and rapidly. Consumer expectations, driven by technology, are constantly changing.
The competitive nature of commerce has intensified. To keep ahead of the game, businesses need to transform themselves.
But transformation is never easy. And technology, while essential, is never a complete solution.
John Edmonds, PPM portfolio development manager at AXELOS Global Best Practice, says: “For successful transformation to occur, organisations need to address the human factors that run alongside technology, ensuring that organisational culture promotes change and that the end user’s experience of using technology enables them to work effectively and without frustrations.”
All too often though, these human factors are ignored.
An essential part of any organisation is the communication between people. Many organisations are hierarchical in how they communicate to staff. Information goes from the top down or from the bottom up. But it rarely goes sideways, from department to department, or team to team.
This means valuable insights about what is working well within an organisation are lost. Working practices stagnate. And when a sudden change in day-to-day routines is forced on employees, without justification, they are unreceptive. The ability of managers to locate and share knowledge to support change is crucial.
Agile working practices
Companies that disrupt industries, such as Amazon, Airbnb, Uber, Innocent Drinks and Netflix, are highly agile. They have seen how an emerging technology has created an opportunity in a market sector and have used that technology to create a point of difference. Larger, older, slower companies find that point of difference hard to challenge, especially when it involves a totally new way of doing business.
Agility is a critical element of commercial success. Many companies have some experience of agile working, but this knowledge is often locked away in isolated teams or departments who have used a specific agile delivery approach. Taking the knowledge of good practice about agility and sharing it across an organisation is essential.
Transformation through people
Communication, agility and the recognition that transformation only happens through people are the building blocks of a successful organisation. That is why companies that focus too heavily on technology are likely to fail to transform themselves.
“It’s people who have to work with technology and implement it,” John says. “It’s people who have to seek out information, such as the best way of bringing a product to market or the best way of automating a factory. It’s people who have to use the technology they are given at work.”
Last year, AXELOS created AgileSHIFT to encourage all areas of an organisation to be more agile and to create a culture of enterprise agility.
AgileSHIFT is a guide to help organisations adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing world. It is useful across all functions of an organisation, from finance and HR to operations, sales and marketing.
The framework helps organisations transform by addressing human factors and helps ensure everyone in an organisation has a baseline knowledge and skill set that helps them to work in an agile way.
There are a number of practices that AgileSHIFT suggests are encouraged to foster agile ways of working. These are:
Actively and continually engage with all stakeholders, so that everyone develops a sense of being part of a change, not a subject of it.
Build collaborative, cross-functional teams to create effective channels of communication and break down hierarchical silos.
Plan to be flexible – at the heart of agility is an adaptable mindset that recognises the need to change plans frequently according to changing context.
Deliver iteratively and incrementally by breaking work down into short bursts with frequent monitoring and feedback. By aiming to deliver something of value as early and as frequently as possible, an organisation becomes far more resistant to being disrupted.
Measure the value being delivered. Transformation is not an end in itself: companies change to deliver better value to their stakeholders. That value needs to be quantifiable to demonstrate the success of the transformation.
Any guidance designed to help organisations embrace change successfully must have a number of attributes. It must:
Guide its users towards a longer-term viewpoint of the market, from different perspectives including competitors, regulators and customers.
Enable employees to speak the same business language so they can approach problems in the same way. Achieving this will involve the sharing of best practice across departments and business units.
Be pragmatic – useful and easy-to-use, supporting innovation, giving people not just knowledge but the ability to share and discuss it, and to develop new ideas based on it.
Digital disruption is a threat to any organisation, large or small, says John. And the dangers of not defending against disruptors are major ones: loss of market share, the inability to maintain profit levels, a long-term slide in share price, and ultimately, commercial irrelevance.
"In contrast, organisations that embrace change by ensuring they support strong cultures of innovation, agile working practices and the ability to share and develop knowledge will not just survive: they will thrive in an age of rapid change."
Technology may be an enabler of commercial success, but it is people who will make visions of digital transformation come true.
First published by Axelos, Capita’s joint venture with the Cabinet Office, featured in the Business Reporter supplement The Future of Work distributed with The Sunday Telegraph.