If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the future is truly unpredictable and can arrive at breakneck speed. The world today is very different to what the pundits had been predicting at the start of 2020. No one had anticipated what’s now grudgingly referred to as the “new normal” of remote working, international lockdowns, and what is likely to be a long and difficult global economic downturn.
What is probably even more disconcerting is that no one knows how long the current situation will last or what the world will look like at the end of it.
So, what can you do now to prepare your business for this uncertain future?
According to FlowCentric Technologies CIO Denis Bensch, there is no way to completely prepare, but there are some basic steps you can take:
- Stay up to date on current trends, and forge quality relationships with your customers, partners and suppliers.
- Pay particular attention to, and develop a deep understanding of, your upstream and downstream supply chain.
- If you haven’t already done so, implement a secure “work-from-anywhere” framework so that your employees can continue to work remotely – and adapt your business to the “buy-from-anywhere” mindset that is emerging among your current and potential future customers.
- Look for and adopt technologies and technological solutions that will enable you to keep operating effectively through pandemics, natural disasters, IT service interruptions and other worst-case scenarios.
“Technology can play an important role in helping you to survive the difficult times ahead. Even companies that are not traditionally reliant on technology are adopting technological solutions to get their goods out to their customers despite lockdown and pandemic-related challenges. A simple example: more and more restaurants now use technology-reliant delivery services, like Uber Eats, to connect their products with their consumers,” Bensch explains.
However, new technologies and technological solutions are being developed all the time. Trying to predict which to adopt, or which will revolutionise your industry sector, can be an exercise in futility. Some technologies that show huge promise will emerge in a blaze of glory and publicity will fade into obscurity just as quickly; while others – like the Internet – will be adopted incrementally until they become so much part of the everyday environment that no one can imagine a time when they weren’t around.
Who could have predicted that MIT computer scientist JCR Licklider’s idea for a global computer network in the early 1960s would result in the development by Tim Berners-Lee’s first incarnation of the World Wide Web 30 years later? Who could have foreseen that these developments would lead, in 1995, to the launch of Microsoft Windows 95 and Internet Explorer, Java, and companies like Amazon, Yahoo, and eBay? And could anyone have predicted that another 25 years later, all these developments would underpin a “new normal” wrought by the spread to a viscous, global pandemic? After all, that “new normal” was not on anyone’s radar just eight months ago.
Along the way, however, many promising technologies – some undoubtedly hailed as “revolutionary” at their unveiling – have fallen by the wayside.
How then can a business choose which technology, new or established, to embrace?
The answer, Bensch believes, lies less in identifying a “silver bullet” technology and more in adopting an agile mindset and culture.
“Agility is probably the only way that companies will stay in business as the world changes and technology evolves the way that businesses operate and customers engage,” he says.
“For a company to be agile, it must have a culture that encourages adaptability and nimbleness. If employees or managers resist change, it will be very difficult for the company to remain agile. When people see challenges and change as opportunities instead of obstacles, you know you have the right culture in place.”
Bensch warns, however, that agility itself has its own potential pitfalls. If companies are too agile in their mindset, they risk flip-flopping between ideas and strategies to pursue a number of different opportunities. This could result not only in a loss of their primary focus, but also the loyalty of their existing customer base.
According to Bensch, becoming agile is not a one-time, once-off project. Nor is it something that can be achieved overnight.
“Complete transformation takes time to manifest,” he says. “Becoming agile demands consistency and consistency is achieved through well thought out, documented processes that are executed reliability with minimal human supervision required. Micromanaging employees, for example, does not lend itself to efficiency or agility, and leaves little time for innovation on the part of managers.”
Companies, he continues, must also continuously update their knowledge of agile approaches and new technologies in order to evolve. Most importantly, the company’s leadership must themselves understand and advocate the importance of agility and so set the tone for any agile business model.
However, you have to start somewhere.
Bensch suggests the best place to begin the transformation to agile is to define your business goals. Then analyse and define your business processes; and evaluate areas that can be made more agile.
Next, identify the technology or technologies that will enable this vision – in the current climate, technologies that don’t require face-to-face contact to add benefit or which dissuade personal contact are probably a good place to start.
“And then, having completed the process, analyse, identify and keep improving,” he concludes.