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InfoQ Homepage Articles Only the Agile Survive in Today’s Ever-Changing Business Environment

Only the Agile Survive in Today’s Ever-Changing Business Environment

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Key Takeaways

  • Markets are changing rapidly, and businesses have no option but to keep up, or drop out. If you’re not prepared in advance for M&As and audits, you’ll miss out on opportunities and could fall foul of the authorities.
  • Smart training processes are key to retain your employees, improve employee engagement, and fill missing skill-sets within your organization.
  • Excellent customer experience demands seamless omnichannel support and new tools like chatbots.
  • Email marketing has evolved to keep up with CX needs, thanks to segmentations and automation features.
  • Digital transformation and adopting new processes opens up new cybersecurity risks. Keep up employee training so you don’t fall foul of data breaches.

It’s never been easier for budding entrepreneurs to start their own business, but the modern organization faces more challenges and complexity today than at any other time in history. It’s estimated that only half of all new startups stay in business for five years or more. 

Even if you manage to stay afloat past the five-year mark, you’re likely to face innumerable challenges that require you to adapt quickly if you’re going to thrive. If you can’t keep up with the changing markets, you risk declining into the kind of obsolescence experienced by Blockbuster, MySpace, and Blackberry, all of which failed to keep pace with developments in their respective spaces. 

Staying abreast of the changes affects every single department in your business, from R&D to marketing, but there are some key areas where your ability — or inability — to act swiftly and decisively can truly make or break your company. 

Fortune Favors the Bold — and the Well-Prepared

When opportunities arise, such as obtaining investment funding, or engaging in a merger, a company often needs to rapidly demonstrate its worthiness to stakeholders on the other side of the table, or risk missing out. This often leaves firms scrambling to gather due diligence information from multiple fragmented sources at the last minute. 

It’s almost inevitable that you’ll end up overlooking a vital document or missing a key contract in the hectic rush. Scrabbling around for all the relevant files and folders causes your confidence to leak away as you feel that you’re just not ready for this deal, and I’ve often seen that become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

One company I consulted for learned this lesson when a well-known international consumer goods brand showed interest in buying their logistics business. Although the CEO had been hoping to arrange an exit on favorable terms, the CFO wasn’t on board and hadn’t made any advance preparations for due diligence situations. The prospective buyer was only in town for three days and wanted to look over their documents and agree on a preliminary contract before she left, but the CFO was so rattled by the pressure that he presented a profit and loss statement from the wrong year. 

The buyer declined to continue with the negotiations, and the CFO was left knowing that he’d let a great deal slip through his fingers simply because he didn’t have all of his books digitized and organized in a secure, centralized resource. 

In the 21st century, an era of cloud storage and advanced tools, it’s easy to avoid this kind of chaos. That’s why I’m always so keen to recommend that the organizations I work with use solutions such as virtual data rooms, board meeting portals, and contract repositories for managing and sharing governance documentation in a single platform to avoid losing track of vital documents.

Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC) Require Constant Vigilance

An unexpected audit can similarly provoke panic, projecting the clear impression of a business that isn’t on top of its governance requirements, unless you’re audit ready at all time. When you have a defined matrix showing how the organization delegates authority, you instead display an assurance of transparency, accountability, and financial control that adds immeasurably to your business reputation.

ContractZen is a provider that combines these tools into an all-in-one solution accessed via a single user interface. When you use just one platform, rather than spreading your governance trails across many disparate systems, it cuts down on silos and makes your entire corporate governance process more efficient, reducing costs and the workload involved in managing and training for multiple tools. 

Keeping a handle on governance also directly feeds into better compliance with regulations, which is another pain point for organizations. GDPR and CCPA have forced sweeping changes, and many firms are still struggling to adapt to the new laws. These regulations came amid the ongoing data revolution, at a time when businesses were waking up to the benefits of business intelligence, content personalization, and advanced ad targeting techniques. 

Business is no longer restricted by boundaries, as my fintech clients know, so you can’t assume that none of your clients or website visitors are affected by localized data privacy laws. You’ll not just have to comply with the rules, but be able to prove that you’re compliant. As a result, many companies are still working through the impact of these changes and how they need to adapt their policies, procedures and systems to remain compliant. 

Talent Acquisition and Retention Demands New Strategies

The technological shift and increasing reliance on data are driving demand for employees with skills and specialisms in areas that didn’t even even exist a few years ago. Until the novel coronavirus outbreak, the US was facing unprecedented employment rates, which meant that companies were forced to court talent, and despite the impact of the pandemic, employees with the right skillsets are still in short supply – especially as corporations shift to remote work.

Financial services giant KPMG’s CIO Survey for 2019 showed that skills shortages in technology are at an all-time high, with the most significant shortfalls in big data and analytics, AI, and cybersecurity. The report also found that larger organizations are more likely to have a shortage, with only 26% of these firms able to retain their skilled staff for the duration they’d like. As a consultant, I’ve often been asked for recommendations for potential hires with advanced skills in network security, AI, ML, and database management. In recent months, I’ve asked at least four times if I might be willing to drop by independent consultancy and go in-house. So the demand is out there.

The short list of talent in my network whose skills I can vouch for only goes so far, so I usually advise clients to find new ways to attract and retain talented employees in this fiercely competitive tech employment market. I generally recommend that executives look for employees within their company who seem like they might be good candidates for reskilling and grooming to fill these tricky roles. 

Often, if someone is already in IT, for example, they can learn enough skills to serve a data scientist role, or a web designer may be delighted to pivot to cover UI/UX design. Retraining existing employees who have the soft skills and the motivation to expand their area of work is an excellent retention strategy to help you to hold on to your top workers and fill empty roles. It’s a win-win-win situation, helping reduce employee attrition rates, expand your skilled workforce, and improve employee engagement at the same time. 

Herzberg’s two-factor theory of motivation has stood the test of time. In a survey from the UK Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, far more respondents cited increasing learning and development opportunities as an effective retention strategy than those who cited increasing pay. 

However, merely sending employees for more training isn’t an effective retention strategy in and of itself, as multinational consumer goods firm Unilever found out when it had a training requirement for managers in seven of its markets. Unilever began by offering remote training in a traditional, classroom-based format that took people away from their jobs and interrupted their workflows. It was not a success: only 20% of employees were engaged enough to participate. But when Unilever switched to a self-service, goal-oriented training program powered by GrowUperion, 85% of employees completed the training within a given window of time. 

Using the right tools for smart on-the-job training was the key to success.  

Customers Require More Attention

It’s not just employees who tend to flit if they’re unhappy. Attracting and retaining customers in today’s competitive and ever-changing environment is another challenge businesses face. Digitization and the rise of social media, among other trends, have totally transformed the way that firms interact with their target audiences in just a couple of decades. 

For marketers, omnichannel has become not just a buzzword, but a requirement. Fashion retail consumers expect to move seamlessly from Instagram Stories to online stores to in-store pickup or to-the-door delivery without missing a beat. Your company is expected to successfully track every customer’s interest and order from one platform to the next, as no one has the patience to recap their order history or product requirements to successive salespeople. 

Chatbots operating on proprietorial websites or in messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are helping make it possible. Customers can use them to track their delivery status, ask about product details like color, style, and size, and check up on stock levels instantly. Chatbot services such as Octachat or MobileMonkey or have been a godsend for brands, offering the opportunity for 24/7 customer support with a virtually infinite number of conversations happening at the same time. 

Approximately 80% of brands using chatbots told a CapGemini survey that they reduced customer wait times by over five minutes, with more than half seeing a 20% reduction in customer churn.

American Eagle’s Aerie chatbot is a great example. It asks questions and shows pictures of different items, asking "This or that?" to learn more about customer preferences and offer relevant product suggestions. Aerie doubled its sales in this way. Pizza Hut has also had a lot of success with its Facebook Messenger and Twitter chatbots, which allow customers to choose from the menu, order and pay without having to leave the social apps they’re already using. 

Beauty chain Sephora’s chatbot showed real agility by supporting real-time in-app conversations with customers. The chatbot asks a few questions and then makes personalized recommendations for the customer. Users can upload a selfie, and Sephora’s bot will help them virtually “try on” makeup in different shades to match their skin tone, and provide some makeup tips customized for the user. Finally, Sephora’s bot connects with in-person sales by helping users book a beauty care appointment in their nearest store. 

Even email marketing has been revamped. Email is still prized for the immense RoI it delivers in customer acquisition and retention, but it’s a far more sophisticated channel than  it used to be, forming an integral part of any omnichannel marketing and personalized customer experience strategy. Many businesses start out using Mailchimp, given it offers a free basic plan. However, once the need to scale arises, Mailchimp itself and many of its competitors offer advanced plans with more sophisticated features, such as audience segmentation, which supports funnel automation and the personalization that customers expect today.

Beware the Pitfalls of Agile Gone Awry

Yes, today’s enterprises need to be willing to make sweeping changes at the drop of a hat, but that doesn’t mean you should do so recklessly. It’s a fine line. In my own experience as an IT and cybersecurity consultant, I’ve seen the value of agile processes, but I’ve also seen the risks which can accompany them. 

Agile business strategy relies on advanced analytics platforms to process data into actionable insights, digitization to drive data-driven decision-making, cloud repositories that merge outdated data silos and support flat hierarchies. The benefits are immense, but the potential for loss is commensurately high. 

Hackers are fully aware of the treasure trove of data that’s stored in the cloud and on private servers. Cloud service account credentials sell for around $10 each on the dark web. A credit card number with attached email address is worth around $25, and the value jumps fivefold for every additional piece of information. Full identities, or “fullz,” go for up to $100 each, and hackers usually steal thousands or millions of pieces of data in each attack. When Canva’s SaaS platform was hacked last year, the responsible party obtained information on 932 million users.

To say that cybersecurity is one of the most pressing risks faced by all organizations would be an understatement. The cost of a data breach in 2019 averaged over $8 million for US firms. You can’t afford to fall behind on the latest threat intelligence, penetration testing strategies, cyber defenses, or employee cybersecurity training. In fact, the latter is the most urgent. 

A recent survey from Shred-it attributed nearly half of recent data breaches to human errors. Study after study has found that human error is the number one cause of most data breaches. Often an employee is taken in by a spearphishing attack, which have become far more sophisticated and hard to recognize in recent years. Kaspersky’s Q2 2019 report noted that over 129 million attempts to redirect users to scam websites were blocked by its system, a rise of 21% from the previous reporting period. 

Personally, I’ve stopped being surprised when a company tells me that their last employee security training session was over two years ago, because they expect IT to take care of all their cybersecurity issues. If I had a dollar for every contact to whom I’ve had to explain that advanced cybersecurity tools are no replacement for alert employees, I’d be a rich man. 

Companies are engaged in a cat-and-mouse game, requiring you to continually adapt to ensure you keep systems and data secure. Raising awareness of the risks and educating employees on best practices around password security and spotting phishing scams could do as much to protect your business than updating your firewall, although I do recommend both. 

Move Quickly but Deliberately to Keep Winning 

Advances in technology and digitization represent both opportunity and challenge for today’s businesses. The ones that succeed will be the ones that move swiftly enough to capitalize on the opportunities, using technology to evolve and stay ahead of the game in employee retention, customer satisfaction, governance and compliance, and due diligence. 

At the same time, effective risk management and sound governance will protect against internal and external threats and help your agile business remain safe and secure. 

About the Author

Asim Rahal is a Michigan-based cybersecurity consultant with a passion for supporting organizations through their digital transformation. He is obsessed with cloud security, data protection and cyber risk awareness. After two years with Cognizant as an IT consultant, Asim went independent and set up his own business offering IT and cybersecurity services to companies of all sizes and sectors. You can reach Asim via Twitter.

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