Steve Jobs said you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward — so you can only make decisions with the hopes that they connect in the future.
But this is the fastest the world has ever changed, from the socioeconomic front (such as consumer preferences and values) to the geopolitical (in the wake of the pandemic and economic growth shifts) to the technological, and more. So making the decisions for future dots to connect has become a challenge with many facets.
On a day-to-day basis, CEOs are dealing with a world that looks nothing like it did when they made their five-year plan five years ago (or even 5 months ago); five years from now can’t really be predicted any longer.
Transformation-sized change is coming to every existing industry sector. New industries are being spawned almost daily. Technologies, data, devices, and an ever-expanding network are converging as economic growth centers are shifting, and the traditional roles of producers, consumers, and competitors are blurring as we move forward. How we do the work and who is doing the work is changing rapidly.
The composition of the Fortune 50, 100, or 500 companies will be radically different five years from now, and the winners in this new world will have a few traits in common.
With this rapid rate of change, more important than incumbency, more important than current market share and products, is the ability to pivot and change.
“At the heart of this, it doesn’t matter what business you’re in,” says Ayman Sayed, CEO of BMC. “You’re in the technology business.
Whether you’re in manufacturing or oil and gas or pharmaceuticals or large retail or media, you need to become an Autonomous Digital Enterprise.”
What is an autonomous digital enterprise?
Sayed defines an Autonomous Digital Enterprise (ADE) as an intelligent, value-creating system that operates with minimal human involvement across every facet of the organization and its ecosystem of partners — freeing up new opportunities for people in the organization.
It’s a state and a model where automation is key: intelligent, integrated functions enabling people to focus on the things that are needed most for the business and support higher-value thinking, he explains.
And it’s also about changing the way technology is bought and deployed. The IT department moves away from being the central buyer of technology, into the moderator of new engagement systems that deploy AI, automation, optimization, and security to ensure that your myriad systems are integrated and your business delivers for customers on every platform, regardless of the channel.
And finally, it’s about making a heavy investment in people, in their skill sets, and in enabling technology to allow them to operate at their best and focus on the highest value thinking. You can deploy automation to handle the mundane tasks no one likes or wants to do, giving your greatest asset — people — the time and resources to create and innovate.
It takes agility to better anticipate the market instead of responding to it; customer centricity, because you can never forget where your revenue is coming from; and, actionable insights, to ensure that every bet you make has the highest percent of success.
Agility depends on actionable insights
A CEO can’t just run their company anymore, because the status quo won’t cut it; for their business to survive, they have to both run and reinvent the company simultaneously. That means delivering innovation and coming up with new solutions without negatively impacting the experience of your existing customers. Easier said than done, right?
Data can help make that happen. Agility comes from having the right data at the right time to deliver the actionable insights that can help you pivot on a dime.
“It’s well known that Amazon’s key differentiation — the ability that allows them to outpace many traditional retailers — is not necessarily how streamlined the supply chain is, or the cost structure,” Sayed explains. “More than anything else, it’s the ability to access and analyze your preferences and purchases and then better anticipate your needs.”
Amazon’s ability to capture data as it’s generated, distill it into actionable insights to evolve its user interface and how it approaches and reaches customers, to determine what it sells and how it transacts with customers is a modern day example of data-driven agility. As an organization, they are rapidly iterating, continuously including and factoring in insights from data, and evolving and adjusting based on that data.
This ability to ingest, distill, and analyze the data is not-a nice-to-have anymore, but the only way to stay agile enough to not just compete in the market, but understand it well enough to stay abreast of what’s next.
Centering on the customer
Data and analytics are also central to ensuring that your customer is always front and center in your business strategy.
Complementing the traditional ways of reaching your consumer, whether it’s business to business or business to consumer, with new digital systems of engagement, also provides an immensely valuable feedback channel. You gain critical data about how your customers are experiencing your offerings and responding to it, so that you’re able to proactively shift and change your products and services according to customer expectations. It also helps you offer a frictionless, delightful experience that lends itself to the kind of transcendent customer experience that keeps them coming back — and telling others about it.
Sayed points to the fashion retailers that previously focused primarily on how shiny their real estate was, because of how important location and traffic was to their business. Whereas now, they deploy heavy analytics to get a better handle on changing customer preferences, and what is influencing these changes. They’ve realized their future competition is not just against other traditional large retailers, but includes the companies they know and the small startups using web or mobile apps to offer new products that meed, and even create, new demands.
By harvesting data and insights and translating them into actionable strategy, modern retailers are gaining the agility and speed to compete against these smaller, web-first competitors while keeping their traditional competitors in sight.
You need to rapidly iterate while continuously including and factoring in insights from proprietary and public data, evolve your offering and adjust it based on that data, as well as have the DNA — both in your work force and your business architecture — to maintain this level of agility and speed in adjusting to changes around you.
“There are five technology-enabled tenets of an Autonomous Digital Enterprise that can make an organization successful today and into the future amidst the craziness of the world,” Sayed says. “But they only work when data, agility, and customer centricity are at the heart of it. This is what it’s all about.”
This agility-first strategy means that your work force skillset that carried you yesterday is not necessarily what you need moving forward. Integrating new technology — and new business strategies based on data and technology — means you’ll need to uplevel and continually train your talent, as well as bring a different way of thinking into your work force. Your people are your greatest asset, and you need to make sure that they’re set, equipped, and trained to deal with this rate of change.
Your workforce has to be diverse, in background, age, gender, and experience. It goes back to how essential it is to have data to stay agile — a diverse workforce helps your company navigate the larger shifting demographic worldwide, and guide your decisions and approaches to stay relevant in the global market.
The same changes in buying patterns, concerns about environmental consciousness, and so on, apply to employees now, and increasingly so.
“Things like a focus on social justice that were not considered crucial to running a business before now differentiate you as an employer,” Sayed says. “And that enables you to build that modern work force that’s skilled, that’s motivated, and able to deal with the rate of change and fulfill the mission to become an ADE.”
Making it to 2025
What got you here and what made you the company you are today is not necessarily what’s going to make you successful in five or 10 years from now. Playing it safe is no longer an option. CEOs must tackle disruption head-on, commit to real innovation, and radically reinvent their companies.
It means embracing new approaches to talent management, evolving your IT organizations, working with an ecosystem of business partners, optimizing technology-buying strategies, and going autonomous.
“Predicting unpredictability is easy. What’s hard is how you make it work for you instead of against you. Technology gives you the advantage to shape that unpredictability to your benefit,” Sayed reaffirms. “Technology is not just an enabler. It’s our key to success regardless of the business you’re in.”