Uncertainty and complexity may define the market and business landscape of 2020, but it does not have to define the business
The average tenure of a CEO is around five years which means that most business leaders in 2020 were not at the helm when the SARS outbreak took place in 2003, or even when the economy crashed in 2008. They are staring the current pandemic in the eye and wondering whether now is the time to turn and outrun the competition or step forward slowly without any sudden movements. In short, many leaders are struggling to find business direction in a world governed by uncertainty and complexity. According to Karien Bornheim, CEO of FABS, this is the right time to set business foundations that allow for uncertainty and disruption without having to compromise on strategy.
“While the markets have seen fragmented growth and there has been significant disruption across the supply chain, industry, and organisation, there have been positive outcomes within the pandemic as well,” she says. “Many organisations have found that the move to digital and the remote workforce has transformed their productivity and growth, while others have discovered new solutions and opportunities, or have landed into unexpected markets. What is important now is not looking back at what was, but to look forward incrementally and take advantage of the unexpected opportunity.”
In a recent analysis by McKinsey, the research company pointed out that the worst of times can bring out the best in organisations as well as the best in people. The company also found that numerous leaders had seen positive changes in the ways people worked, the things they could accomplish, and the opportunities that they took advantage of. Some of the examples used by McKinsey were extraordinary: the retail company in the Middle East that redeployed more than 1,000 people to move from movie theatres to grocery retailing; the fast-food company that partnered with a wellness retailer; the retailer that launched a curbside delivery business in two days. These are stories that emphasise how agile leadership, combined with technology and ingenuity, can pull the business out of trouble and into something new.
“These are not stories that are exclusively told by large organisations with deep pockets,” says Bornheim. “There is scope for the small to medium enterprise and the micro-enterprise – for any company with an agile mindset – to leapfrog the pandemic into new areas of business using uncertainty as a springboard. The challenge is to have an agile approach and to ensure that the organisation has access to the right tools and technology.”
One of the technology toolkits that has undergone plenty of evolution over the past few years and is now really getting to the meat and potatoes of data is analytics. Data analytics can be used to help organisations become more agile and capable because it provides immediate insight about the problems being faced by customers. It is the cliched finger on the pulse of the customer that allows leaders to make more informed decisions around direction, focus, and product. Data can help your organisation identify a specific need and assess whether, or not, this is something that your current skills and capabilities can pivot to deliver. It is an intelligent way of managing the shifting goalposts of customer and market demand, but it also expects the organisation to, as the saying now goes, build the plane while it is trying to take off.
“If you want to find ways of adapting your business to better serve customers in the pandemic, then analytics and intelligent insights are the way to go,” says Bornheim. “However, they are not the only tools and technologies that your business can leverage to find opportunities and gain footholds in new markets. There is also the Internet of Things (IoT), and other emergent technologies that can be tugged neatly into the business to support growth and change.”
Using intuitive dashboards, intelligent devices, and innovative blends of legacy and emergent tech, the business can put together solutions that are designed to help customers overcome their challenges during the pandemic. These types of solutions don’t necessarily need that the business hauls out all its old infrastructure either, as there are plenty of ways to create hybrid solutions that are capable of using both old and new technology to help the business find new feet.
“There is a way to turn the pain of the pandemic into opportunity, to help define business direction within uncertainty, and that way is to be as agile and flexible as possible,” concludes Bornheim. “Using the right technology investment and an open approach, the business doesn’t have to twist itself into new shapes to succeed, it needs to merely be able to pivot on one foot so it can land the other into new markets.”