Today, advancement in digital and automation technology is driving an unprecedented pace of change in the world. Organizations continue to invest in these disruptive technologies to get ahead of the competition. They adapt their business models to meet ever-increasing customer expectations - redefining the way people and business systems interact. This means that today’s managers must be empowered to assess and continually react to new opportunities and challenges. They need to implement strategies rapidly and refocus efforts when circumstances change.
When a manager needs to explore different options available and make a choice, agility enables the manager to move quickly and responsively. By adopting agile ways of working that focus on facilitating mental agility, effective prioritization and devolving decision-making, managers can embrace constant change as an opportunity for growth, whilst fostering an environment of constant learning and innovation.
In this article, I am going to provide some context on how Digital Operations can help managers refocus on agility - the key to embracing constant change in the business.
What does agility mean for a business?
Organizational agility goes far beyond building a team that can deliver projects using an agile framework to encompassing several different levels of the business;
- At the strategic level, the executive team is thinking about gaining capabilities by focusing on smaller initiatives that can be done in less than a quarter. The initiatives are funded based on their potential to take advantage of market opportunities, meet regulatory needs, improve quality and productivity.
- At the tactical level, managers focus on selecting the right technology, people and process required to deliver the initiatives and also building agile road maps that encourage cross-departmental collaboration.
- At the operational level, managers ensure that the right tools, individuals, teams, and processes are made available at the right time for iterative delivery of the initiatives, and also ensuring that the quality and efficiency of service delivery is maintained.
Digital technologies can be leveraged at any level described above to help an organization become more agile when meeting the needs of the business and customer. These technologies can help businesses overcome some of the fundamental barriers to agility such as a lack of clarity about shared purpose and priorities; lack of shared understanding of customer needs; and a risk-averse culture.
In other to create an agile culture that encourages people within an organisation to move quickly and with confidence, it is important to ensure that;
- there is clarity in the shared purpose and the priorities of the organisation, which means that employees can be free to act in an agile manner, knowing that their knowledge and actions are aligned to the organisations intended outcomes. When employees fail to see the purpose and priorities of the organisation, they lose focus and perspective.
- there is a shared understanding of the customer's needs. Customers tend to expect a seamless experience when working with different parts of an organisation, but internal barriers and poor inter-departmental collaboration can prevent this. The fundamental principle of agile working is to stay close to the customer, to understand their needs, test ideas or solution with them, and to get regular feedback. Providing employees closest to the customer with accurate and timely information about the customer and the business using the power of analytics can empower them to resolve issues quickly and intelligently and make decisions within agreed parameters.
- there should also be a strong focus on the encouragement of experimentation and constant feedback so that the fear of failure can be eliminated. Lessons learned from experimentation via prototypes should be valued highly and shared across the business.
The key technology encouraging agility in the workplace
The most innovative companies today are building an agile working environment that encourages managers and employees to act quickly and with confidence. This agile working environment relies on people who have clarity of purpose, a good understanding of the customers need and have the technical capability to experiment and quickly come up with innovative solutions.
There are now a number of cloud-based solutions that exist today that companies can quickly deploy and start building a digital operation that will encourage agility. One key solution is a “fast data application” – fast data, a derivative of big data, is providing new opportunity to better manage the increasing speed and amount of real-time event data generated (i.e. occurring thousands to tens of thousands of times per second) from mobile applications, field sensors, and video images. Applications developed with this new technology are currently being referred to as fast data application or IOT applications.
Fast data applications take many forms, from streaming ETL (extract, transform, and load) workloads, to crunching data for online dashboards, to estimating the likelihood of an equipment failure in a machine learning–driven predictive maintenance. In short, these Fast data applications can take the never-ending streams of data from peoples interactions with devices and process them in real time to make better decisions and enhance user experience. This technology when deployed into a business can empower employees to build solutions that improve the decision making agility of a business, by devolving decision making towards employees or systems that are closest to the customer.
Acting on data as it arrives has been thought of as costly and impractical if not impossible, especially on commodity hardware. The value in fast-flowing data is being unlocked with the re-imagined implementation of data streaming, processing and storage systems all on a single platform. This makes it easy to prototype and build applications - with shorter development cycles, and faster time-to-value - that analyze and act on real-time streaming data.
Digital Operations Case Study
A manufacturing manager planning to equip his team with the skills and tools to accelerate delivery of process improvement and optimization initiatives faced a significant obstacle. The obstacle was that the company had information silos and legacy systems that were not keeping up to the pace of change of modern analytics. The situation was causing slowed decision-making and a limited view into operations. Bottlenecks and variability of processes and production outcomes were hindering cost optimization. The manager needed tools that would help his team optimize processes and become more agile when delivering on customer needs.
The company turned to fast data application to address the managers challenges. By deploying a fast data application that provided integrations between its ERP system and the manufacturing plant, the company was able to empower his team with the skills and tools to accelerate the delivery of initiatives, whilst also providing employees closest to the customer with better transparency into day-to-day operation resulting in faster decision-making capability, when addressing customer needs.
With the capability to process large amounts of event data in real-time the manager was empowered to put together an impressive cost savings portfolio of business improvement opportunities.
Advancement in digital technology is changing the way that business systems interact with managers, employees, and customers. Today managers need to be empowered to work in an agile manner allowing them to effectively prioritise and push decision making further towards employees that are closest to the customer.
The fundamental barriers to agility identified in this article are; lack of clarity about shared purpose and priorities of an organisation; lack of shared understanding of customer needs; and a risk-averse culture. These barriers can be overcome by deploying solutions that provide better transparency into the business process and ones that make it easier for managers and employees to prototype and build applications that analyze and act on real-time data making them more agile when attending to the needs of the business and customer.
The concept of Digital Operation means that managers and employees can be empowered to build applications that they’ll not only love to use but one that will encourage agility in the workplace and drive the business forward. An empowerment culture is at the heart of this transformation, which needs to be based on robust processes and creating an environment of trust.
Data Engineering is a digital operation solutions provider that combines design-thinking practices, agile delivery model and domain knowledge of business operations to rapidly prototype real-time analytics solutions, resulting in quick insights into the size of a return on investment opportunity.