The Quest for Agility

How technology priorities are shifting in the wake of the pandemic disruptions

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The widespread disruptions caused by Covid-19 are redefining business agility. It’s no longer just about pursuing new opportunities, building code quickly, or ensuring disaster recovery. With millions of workers booted out of their offices and reliant on home Internet connections to stay connected and productive, the very nature of agility has taken on new dimensions as people and organizations discovered how well, or not, they were able to respond to unanticipated challenges.

That has a lot of people thinking, as was evident by the large turnout for a July 24 IDG TechTALK sponsored by Comcast Business, where participants engaged in a lively discussion on how the quest for business agility has accelerated and what technologies, tools, and processes will better prepare us for what the future holds. Recent research conducted by IDG supports the notion that IT decision makers are rethinking their digital transformation priorities in order to up their agility.

We’ve gathered some of the most interesting comments (lightly edited for spelling where TechTalkers’ thoughts overtook their keyboarding).

If you’re not resilient, can you be agile?

Before offering up suggestions on how the need for business agility is influencing technology investments over the next six months, some participants dealt with the issue of what agility really means :

It depends what you define as “agility”. Keeping the lights on might (not) be agility. Responding to ever changing business needs would count as agility depending how fast you respond. #idgtechtalk Arsalan Khan@ArsalanAKhan

Business #Agility has taken on a whole new meaning in the aftermath of #Covid. It used to be about changing market conditions for my biz but now it’s about changing employee conditions in my biz. So the focus has shifted greatly. #IDGTECHtalk Jack Gold@jckgld

If I might agitate slightly: it’s not #agility that businesses are seeking but #resilience right now.  #agility is a key element of how they establish it.  Right now economy and demand are drivers - does the biz have 1) data 2) instrumentation to scale up/down? #IDGTechTalk Wayne Anderson@DigitalSecArch

Part of the issue is that these terms are often used interchangeably. And even then, people have their own  ideas and definitions of what these things mean. So agility is from Venus, #resiliency is from Mars? #IDGTECHtalk Ben Rothke@benrothke

Well, first it’s a lexicon discussion… make sure everybody knows what “agile” means in context, it’s not just speed, but flexibility and adaptability. Knowing that you can and will change due to stimulus and challenges - don’t lock in one way of thinking. Amélie E. Koran@webjedi

I define agility as being able to respond and adapt swiftly AND effectively. Speed ≠ effectiveness. It depends on the situation. It’s important because effective agility is crucial (esp. in detection or prevention) #idgtechtalk Tricia A. Howard 🖤 Black Lives Matter@TriciaKicksSaaS

Uncertainty over what the future holds was a consistent theme throughout the discussion.

Agility comes into play in a huge way in the coming months as it has since the #COVID19 pandemic began, it is critical to evolve or we will fall by the wayside, unique times call for agile approach #IDGTECHtalk Debra Ruh@debraruh

We are in state of flux now more than ever.  It is necessary to remain agile and flexible to provide incredibly resilient solutions to drive business outcomes during these uncertain times. Adam Martin@colttrickle

Since nobody knows what the next year--or the next week--will bring, #Agility is more important than ever. Traditional #IT mindset focused on EFFICIENCY, but such a goal is often at odds with creating Agile processes/tools.
Wayne Sadin@waynesadin

Good point - we don't know what is going to happen. It looked like we were opening things up here in the UK, then we had to put some new restrictions in. We have to be able to respond to the changing situations #IDGTECHtalk Larry Larmeu@LarryLarmeu

Overall uncertainty, market demands, and literally the speed of new capabilities are one side of the driver. On the other side, changing user and consumer demands are requiring more frequent re-evaluation of budget and strategy for orgs…. pour in a liberal helping of novel security issues (and some legacy ones) and it’s literally a “Keeping up with the Jones’” situation, because if you aren’t moving somebody else will. Amélie E. Koran@webjedi

Don’t hold back on investment!

TechTalkers had plenty of opinions on where businesses should boost their technology spending.

Accelerating #DigitalTransformation initiatives in Manufacturing, which in turn is increasing spending in #edge, #cloud, #AI to support #IIoT
Joanne Friedman@joannefriedman

Gotta bring the technical capabilities to deliver business impact around #CX and #EX, then show how data/analytics/ai drives competitiveness #IdgTechTalk
Isaac Sacolick@nyike

Right, measurable ROI for investments also matters for #CX and #EX. Also shortened trial/implementations is what my clients are seeing #IDGTECHtalk
Adam Stein@apstein2

My clients are accelerating cloud (especially #SaaS) use; training end-users on #BI tools like #PowerBI; starting to use #CitizenDevelopers (instead of fighting against #ShadowIT); rethinking processes for Effectiveness. Wayne Sadin@waynesadin

It is a hard time for businesses to #invest at the moment, but many see that their #investment in #technology will be key to their survival & success
Nige Willson@nigewillson

Businesses must have agility now and for the next 6 months and on as we’re seeing a tremendous shift in the way work is done. #futureofwork  “Futuristic ways of doing things” but it’s time to act. Thanks so much! #idgtechtalk
Casey Lucas@CaseyCRL

TechTalkers also didn’t hold back on acknowledging the need for IT leaders to reevaluate some core assumptions.

#CIOs are waking up and recognizing that just because some teams are practicing scrum, building microservices, on the pubic cloud, and automating with DevOps, it doesn't guarantee business agility #IDGTECHtalk Isaac Sacolick@nyike

That's right, there are several things that you should do to "guarantee" agility:
- Let teams vary scope
- Capture customer feedback often + use it
- Learn from each mistake
- Deliver rapid increments/iterations of change/improvement
Dion Hinchcliffe@dhinchcliffe

"Let teams vary scope" - that's a culture shock for biz leaders and stakeholders. Many are still stuck in, "Give me what I want and when, and only I can change my mind/direction." Classic #DigitalTransformation fail #IDGTECHtalk
Isaac Sacolick@nyike

IT and business joined at the hip?

We’ve talked about alignment of IT and business for years, but with the momentum behind digital transformation, and the need to adjust to the new workforce dynamics, it is more urgent than ever that this alignment take place.

A ways back I surveyed top CIOs and 94% reported they are being push hard or "very hard" to go faster in #IT.
Top reasons (also the drivers) are:
- Complexity
- Too many priorities
- Mindset
- Business/IT divide
Now add #pandemic #disruption. Dion Hinchcliffe@dhinchcliffe

CIOs are beginning to understand how to be more agile with their budgets. CFOs, not so much. #IDGTECHtalk Isaac Sacolick@nyike

If this year has shown us anything it’s that outside influences can drive drastic and rapid changes - many of which were never planned/budgeted for. #idgtechtalk Tricia A. Howard 🖤 Black Lives Matter@TriciaKicksSaaS

Agile budgeting, it's required! All those FY20 budget plans went out the window this spring. #IDGTECHtalk Larry Larmeu@LarryLarmeu

Outsourcing land mines

Whoa, talk about a sore subject! TechTalkers were decidedly none too gracious when the topic turned to outsourcing.

"Don't outsource your brains" is something I tell clients.
#IDGTechTalk Wayne Sadin@waynesadin

Common mistake is that a firm thinks they can outsource a bad process and it will suddenly become efficient with the outsourced firm. All they have done is outsource a bad process.  #IDGTECHtalk Ben Rothke@benrothke

Indeed!  I particularly like the glaring misstatements and demonstrably false assumptions that show up on some orgs' roll-out PowerPoint slides. #idgtechtalk Chris@CPetersen_CS

Tech can’t do it all

Transformation is a driving force, perhaps even more post-pandemic as organizations grapple with what they’ve learned about their strengths and weaknesses amidst disruption. But several participants made sure to point out that organizations can’t afford to overlook the human factor.

Someone once said - Digital is easy, it's just technology, Transformation is hard because it involves people & culture change ! #idgtechtalk
Nige Willson@nigewillson

Totally agree Nige ... but too many organisations focus on #digital at the expense of #transformation ... leaders need to focus on the Why and How of #DigitalTransformation ... the #tech part then becomes self-evident.
Tony Moroney@BetaMoroney

IT tools don't protect revenue unless you're in the IT tools biz! "Speeding up biz sense/respond loops" is the closest I get to a 'tool'--but being able to adjust plans based on real-time data is key to having the right stuff at the right place at the right time Wayne Sadin@waynesadin

Often the tools that are already in place aren’t being properly used to begin with. Start with your people, update your processes/policies, and then look at technology. #idgtechtalk Tricia A. Howard 🖤 Black Lives Matter@TriciaKicksSaaS

And understand what your people think is really going on :) mitchparkerciso@mitchparkerciso

Plus - the most expensive thing you can lose when there’s an exodus of talent, or as time marches on is institutional and operational knowledge, because it’ll cost a lot to replace. (#IDGTECHtalk) Amélie E. Koran@webjedi

Scratching the surface

The IDG TechTALK was lively, animated, and bursting at the seams with observations and advice, and we’ve only skimmed out a small sampling here. Business agility and resiliency has been tested on a global scale as never before in the technology era and it is critical that organizations grow from the experience. There is much to do to prepare to take on whatever is next. To learn more about solutions for the agile enterprise go to https://business.comcast.com/enterprise/agility.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.