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Digital transformation and becoming an agile business

14 Aug 2017

Logo for the IoD Digital Summit 2017 on 17 October at Grange St Pauls Hotel

Business is increasingly a level playing field and there are more start-ups getting investment to take a slice of 5-10% of your business, scale it and eat your lunch, than ever before.

It’s never been easier to start a business and keep it up without the massive upfront outlay of even 10 years ago. All the infrastructure is there for anyone and it’s going to get easier.

“In today’s era of volatility, there is no other way but to re-invent. The only sustainable advantage you can have over others is agility, that’s it. Because nothing else is sustainable, everything else you create, somebody else will replicate,” Jeff Bezos of Amazon.

Google taught us how to search. Amazon taught us how to shop. Social media enabled us to ask ‘everyone’ else. Mobile and Cloud enabled us to do anything, everywhere. Exponential changes to tech brings further adoption and disruption, and industry 4.0 will be faster and more disruptive than anything we’ve seen so far!

So what does that mean for you as a business leader? Let’s step back a bit...

What is Digital Transformation?

Wikipedia defines as: “Digital transformation is the change associated with the application of digital technology in all aspects of human society. The transformation stage means that digital usages inherently enable new types of innovation and creativity in a particular domain, rather than simply enhance and support the traditional methods.”

And it’s that last sentence that you should read again.

It’s actually most likely simpler than that… It’s mostly about moving data from one place to another to achieve a greater end. Whether it’s efficiency, agility, machines, or sensory, it’s whatever is affected or effected by data. This is not a nudge but a tidal shift! Re-orienting your business to fit in a "platform not pipeline world" (google that!).

So what is agility and why does it matter?

Agility is the ability to be able to move at pace, being able to rapidly adapt to changing customer, and therefore, business needs. Businesses are running closer to a ’sprint’ based mentality, where product or innovation projects are smaller and on a shorter time scale utilising smaller teams with the agility to deliver more quickly using lean methodologies.

Add to that, Digital transformation programmes which aren’t end-to-end, they’re cyclical and iterative which results in changes to business models and markets faster than before.

Becoming, or being, agile is not just a process, it’s a massive behavioural change required by the organisation and its employees and contractors.

Let’s take one aspect of Agility – workforce

A recent US study by Randstad highlighted that by 2025 most workers and employers agree that the majority of the workforce will be employed in an agile capacity, either as contractors, consultants, temporary or freelance. For some companies this is an easy transition, Microsoft for example has nearly two-thirds as many contractors as full-time employees, for others it’s an entirely new way of working.

There are great benefits to both businesses and employees in having an agile workforce:

For businesses

  • Reduce need for permanent headcount in specific roles
  • Reduce the need for redundancy and layoffs
  • Leverage and flex the availability of skills and expertise
  • Increase speed of getting stuff done
  • Challenge ‘corporate’ thinking and assumptions with outside ideas

For employees

  • Potentially better work / life balance.
  • More opportunity and flexibility
  • Potentially a better negotiating position (skill dependent)
  • More choice
  • Better career growth than working as a permanent employee.

But with that comes other issues, communication, behavioural, commercial, connectivity etc.

So what will you do about becoming more agile? And what about technology, business models, strategy, marketing? Where will you seek advice?

For more insights into building an agile business register to attend IoD’s upcoming Digital Summit 2017.

Peter Abraham is Co-founder | Co-author of Building the Agile Business (Digital Transformation) | Non Exec and Advisor to

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