After several months of lockdown, we grapple with the implications and reflect on the magnitude of change that individuals and organisations have faced. As we head through the summer and toward 2021, we’ve reflected on what we’ve learnt in supporting our clients, and the insights gained from the broader market.
We have identified five key themes that are front of mind for all organisations.
We have tackled each of these themes over the past few months, sharing our collective insights and vision. Last week we looked at Operational Efficiency and this week we focus on...
5. The increased Speed of Transformation
Prior to COVID-19, proposals to transform the organisation by simultaneously relocating the office, implementing new hardware, deploying new software and changing working practices, within a timeframe of four weeks, would have instantly been dismissed as impossible, or even delusional. Yet, in the last couple of months we have seen these transformations happen, many successfully, and in ways that we would not have predicted at the beginning of 2020.
Albert Einstein said that, “in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” Despite the widespread challenges and ongoing disruption, COVID-19 has shown us the art of the possible and the pace at which organisations and people can adapt. Organisations should seize the current opportunities to reimagine how they operate, reconsider traditional approaches and embed robust enablers to support rapid change in the future.
What is accelerating transformation?
COVID-19 has accelerated many of the trends that were already emerging in the marketplace, such as the growth of virtual working, migration to online retail, demand for scalable cloud-based services or the need for flexible talent. The pandemic is the most significant example of a number of forces that have impacted businesses in the last five years. Other examples including the US elections, climate change or societal movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. These trends will continue to impact as we enter into the new normal, alongside the emergence of further new challenges.
Recent industry examples and client experiences indicate the pace of change has increased still further in response to the pandemic, but accelerated delivery is not new. We have identified below the key forces that will continue to drive accelerated transformation in the post-COVID-19 world.
 Market forces. COVID-19 and other national and global challenges will not suddenly disappear and we will be living with their impact for many years. In the UK we are, and will continue to be, impacted by Brexit and associated political and economic changes, in addition to changes resulting from the COVID-19 crisis. Businesses must be dynamic and proactive to survive these events, particularly as government guidance and policy changes from one month to the next. Being agile and flexible will continue to be a key differentiator for those that win and those that lose.
 Customer expectations will continue to change. We all want high-quality products and services that are delivered quickly and are happy to move on when our expectations are not met. Those organisations that can stay ahead of the competition, innovate and drive high customer satisfaction will emerge as leaders.
 Employees and Leadership will expect change to be delivered more rapidly. The willingness to accept multi-year transformation programmes will be diminished when compared to the achievements of the last six months. Organisations will expect to see results quickly and through multiple, iterative releases.
What are the enablers you need in place?
While the pace of delivery is critical in current times, getting it right is as important as being fast. We have identified five enablers to help organisations keep up with the pace of change with confidence, which will be explored in turn:
- Maximising insight and value from data
- Having the right methods and governance in place to allow fast working
- Reducing onerous governance processes to allow faster decision making
- Enabling your people through the right culture
- Having the right technology foundations and tools to deliver technology enabled transformation at pace
 Insight from Data. From closely monitoring workforce productivity whilst remote working, to analysing performance of the operating model in near-real time, advanced data analytics will continue to help organisations adapt to change at the rapid pace that’s required to survive a post-pandemic world.
Over the past decade, major challenges faced by organisations have been identifying: (1) what data they really need; (2) what data they already have and (3) how their data can be used to gain insight and inform decision making. The changes in business models as a result of COVID-19 has changed how data is produced, captured and stored, often with concurrent changes to the systems and tools used for these activities. There have also been significant changes to the volumes of data captured, including but not limited to customer, staff and market data. Many organisations have had to adapt their data and analytics tools and approaches almost overnight, whilst creating fit-for-purpose insights frameworks to process large volumes of data in new ways.
With the right tools, we have seen in the recent months how invaluable insights from data can be. One of the clients we are working closely with, a leading insurance provider, has transferred thousands of staff into virtual working, moving contact centre operators to remote workers to ensure minimal disruption for their customers. Despite this dramatic change, the organisation has continued to successfully monitor call volumes and speed of claim resolution (key indicators for productivity and customer satisfaction), by utilising data insights. By undertaking rapid digital transformation to embed a suite of new tools for core case management, they have paved the way to obtaining richer, more qualitative, more sustainable customer experience data. This will help them to make the right decisions and to understand customer trends in the future.
This surge in data is also affording new data use cases and innovative data products that enable less human intervention in the data-driven decision process. Examples include AI-enabled data interpretation being used to help assess and combat the virus itself, through to predicting product supply and demand as our needs and ways of consuming are turned on their head.
 Methods. To transform with speed, your methods, ways of working and governance need to be defined, modelled and refined to maximise your ability to take quick decisions and rapid actions.
Embracing an Agile mindset and methodologies through the full operating model, processes and supply chain is critical to respond rapidly to change. Recent research indicates the importance of organisational resilience to enact Agile effectively in periods of uncertainty, competition and change, which is achieved by scaling up and down in the right places rapidlyi. Organisations should identify the requirements for minimum viable products and services, share them, test them, learn and iterate. These iterative approaches thrive in an environment in which failure is accepted and even embraced as an opportunity for further learning.
For example, one of our healthcare clients relied on a six month process of paperwork, security checks and qualifications to identify and onboard volunteers. When the COVID-19 crisis hit, this was reduced to less than six weeks! Speed was delivered through a tactical, technology-enabled process to identify and onboard volunteers, increasing numbers to 1,100 volunteers across Ambulances, 999/EOC and IUC/111 services. This kickstarted the use of automation to reduce pressure as volumes increased, which is expected to remain into the long term.
Some of our clients are indicating an intent to drive even more extreme Agile initiatives, such as an ‘Agile 2.0’. This is focussed on driving Agile methods through more of their activities, helped by digital tools that enable agility, such as automated testing and deployment.
 Governance. Organisations need to compliment these more agile methods of working with faster, yet stable, governance. COVID-19 has sharpened priorities and forced organisations to revaluate their internal structures and approvals flows, particularly where business continuity has been at stake. Onerous investment processes, multiple board meetings and lengthy refining of the narrative have been discarded. Instead we have organisations reducing processes, accelerating meetings and bureaucratic level-hopping, by implementing decentralised, empowered teams that have excelled at reacting to challenges quickly.
Now is the time to reflect on how governance, and more importantly decisions, were made quickly during this COVID-19 period. Organisations need to consider these successes whilst also recognising areas for improvement where departments were reacting to stressful circumstances.
For example, one of our clients temporarily overhauled its investment processes so major decisions could be taken once a week rather than once a month, and emergency investment decisions could be prioritised that same day. This improved their crisis management and overall business resilience. They have since taken stock of this experience and are considering how they embed some rapid decision making into their future governance model.
Questions on how much control to bring back to the boardroom will be asked. Reactionary governance over the pandemic will not be geared to the longer-term strategic decisions recognised in most governance forums. Undoubtedly more controls will need to be added back in and retained long-term. The extent of these additions needs to be based on sound data and feedback from the organisation and leadership.
 Culture. There is no doubt that the deployment of employees to remote working has changed many aspects of organisational culture and that deeply engrained traditions have evolved rapidly over the past few months.
Time has been of the essence, and organisations have been forced to place speed of delivery at the heart of their responses to the pandemic. At a leading telecoms provider, the business rapidly adapted to COVID-19 by converting over 70% of the workforce to remote working with minimal impact on working efficiency or team connectivity. This approach has been replicated in all industries and sectors.
Leaders who enable and empower people to create a fearless culture will advance change, creativity, invention, and innovation in their organisation, including ‘Fail Fast’ agile concepts. Organisations should encourage their people to feel empowered to call out inefficiencies and support the business to focus on critical activities that drive real business value.
Validation and continuous improvement of new expressions of company culture are necessary to ensure that organisational culture continues to be inclusive and cohesive, bringing office-based, operational and remote-working staff closer together, albeit virtually. Organisations who courageously confront the challenges COVID-19 has brought will survive, thrive, flow and flourish by developing an organisational culture that interprets and applies failure as a manifestation of exploration and learning, rather than trying to avoid or out-think it.
 Technology. COVID-19 has proven that organisations need an adaptive technology footprint that is scalable, flexible, accessible and reliable to survive any black swan event. Fit-for-purpose digital solutions are not only critical for ensuring business and workforce continuity but also to enable organisations to rollout change more rapidly. As the drive towards Cloud First, Cloud Only continues with vigour, organisations are also increasingly focussing on frontier technology-led delivery models such as continuous integration or continuous deployment, utilising tools such as Jenkins and Git to ensure technology enabled transformation happens at pace.
Recently, we heard how a global energy supplier has turned off all its American data centres with some pride, as this allows them to be more dynamic and responsive to changing needs. Many organisations have been forced to rollout hardware and collaboration software such as Mural, Zoom, MS Teams for all of their workforce within the span of a week. At the start of lockdown, one of our largest Financial Services clients still had a resilient (yet legacy) payments infrastructure requiring physical start-up, in person, every morning. They rapidly implemented a remote solution due to lockdown, but never had the necessity to evaluate the remote solution before.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, one of our key healthcare clients had a plan to move employees onto laptops, relocate back office staff and go into co-located office space which required hot desks. The pandemic outbreak necessitated an accelerated rollout and we helped the client rapidly spec and deliver the solution; subsequent implementation taking a few weeks rather than the initially planned 7-9-months. Similarly, we have supported the rapid deployment of video doctor patient consultations across hospitals and GPs in the last few months.
Organisations that are innovative and forward thinking will find new ways to work smart and critically work fast. Technology is an underlying enabler that will help organisations embrace an environment of design thinking and at-pace delivery, whilst also improving the overall resilience of the organisation.
Whilst it looks positive that a vaccine will be developed for COVID-19, we will living with both its implications and consequences for some time to come. Organisations and individuals should prepare for a period characterised by rapid and complex change. Their ability to transform at speed will be enabled by using their data, updating their methods and governance, developing their culture and implementing the right technologies. Those that can respond at pace will survive and thrive in the post-pandemic world.
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