The new world of work demands a change in traditional management styles and business approaches. Sreeram Visvanathan, Chief Executive of IBM UK and Ireland, discusses ways that business leaders can lead their teams to success and thrive in a new era which is rapidly evolving before our very eyes.
The last few years have had a profound impact on the world and all its inhabitants. There is no going back to the way things were before. While we continue to recover from the losses brought about by this pandemic, there are two important things we must continue to do: prepare for different possible scenarios and be willing to adapt as things unfold.
Thriving in a new era
Rates of Digital Transformation have increased exponentially as companies sought to rapidly transform their processes and operations to cope with the impact on our daily lives. During the pandemic, we saw companies find new innovative ways of engaging with their clients and their employees.
Key policies that impacted supply chain, customer interactions and service levels were changed and new technology partnerships were formed to see the urgent needs of clients. However, the underlying business and IT architectures that supports most companies remain largely unaltered and complex. CEOs across the globe have acknowledged the need for greater composability of their business in order to cope with unexpected future events.
To enable that composability, IT architectures must evolve to exploit the benefits of an open hybrid cloud environment, to infuse automation and intelligence into processes and workflows and to provide real time insights that are infused into critical business decision-making.
For decades, IT has often been viewed as an enablement function that supports business. The pandemic has enabled a recognition that technology is at the core of everything – from strategy to execution.
Prepare rather than predict
The one thing the last two years has taught us is that we cannot predict what will happen in the future, but we can prepare for it. With the dawn of a new horizon, businesses need to use the lessons they have learnt while dealing with disruption to make sure they are better prepared for future crises. This is where strategic analysis and planning of any organisation must be front-of-mind as it looks to move forward.
Critical thinking plays an important part in anticipation of enterprise risk. Analysing and assessing a business’ infrastructure will enable improvement of risk-intelligent decision-making effectiveness and foster criticality in various business management disciplines such as resilience, predictive compliance and the ability for early diagnosis of non-compliance.
One of the most important lessons learned from the pandemic was that businesses could indeed step up to disruptive challenges to drive innovation and excellence, and even corporate growth. At IBM, we were excited by the abundance of new partnerships rapidly forming and delivering rapid, tangible value. Identifying key partnerships will help to navigate adversity and promote urgency among industries. This in turn drives collaborative problem-solving, innovation and a willingness to all-of-society approach for a more resilient, sustainable future.
Evolving the supply chain
It is becoming clear that the current disruption created a catalyst for change and opportunity. In procurement, business-as-usual approaches are no longer enough for continuing to operate effectively, and this provides the perfect time to challenge how things have been done traditionally. Priorities for businesses will need to look at its procurement practices to change from tactical ‘keeping the lights on’ sourcing to ensuring long-term sustainability. This means ensuring they are much more flexible and responsive in the wake of future issues by re-evaluating their entire supply chains from a much more strategic perspective.
Where is transformation happening
With the accelerating speed of change, it can be difficult to stay on top of it all and plan effectively — especially when you add in factors such as inflation, supply chain disruption and an ever-increasing skills gap into the mix. So, what should businesses be focusing on?
Earlier this year we produced a new report to look at the trends that are set to shape technological and business decisions this year, with the key ones being:
1. Cloud and AI is here to stay
This stands out as a ‘mega trend’, framing our understanding of all the others. Rapid Digital Transformation fuelled by cloud, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) is here to stay — so don’t expect life to slow down. This doesn’t mean that we are all trapped in a state of permanent pandemic emergency.
Rather, that the technological changes initiated by the response to COVID have become permanent and for businesses to succeed, Digital Transformation must become a way of life. Our report highlighted that 60% of organisations accelerated their investments in digital technologies due to COVID-19, and more than half (55%) permanently course-corrected their organisational strategies in 2020.
With operational agility and flexibility top of mind for so many business leaders, successful adoption and implementation of technologies such as cloud and AI will be central to efforts at achieving growth.
2. An appetite for risk modernises business operations
Business operations are inherently complex, so a few isolated improvements here and there will not be enough to guarantee successful modernisation.
Our research showed that many businesses grasp this. Consider that since 2019, the number of CIOs reporting advanced hybrid cloud operations in their organisations has increased by an impressive 700%, while intelligent workflows have gone up by an almost equally striking 560%.
But successfully negotiating change also entails an enhanced appetite for risk. Insisting on an immediate return on innovation can lead to a fear of failure that stifles creativity. Our report highlighted companies that don’t penalise failure see a 10% revenue growth bump in the context of tech adoption and Digital Transformation.
3. Zero Trust approach to security
Cloud-based technologies, platforms and ecosystems create new opportunities for innovation, but they can also introduce new threats. Worryingly, 92% of organisations lack the ability to securely enable and extend new cloud-native capabilities to their internal and external partners.
It is time, therefore, to go beyond out-moded approaches and to adopt a ‘Zero Trust’ attitude to security — a preventative approach that assumes malicious actors are everywhere. After all, organisations that integrate their cloud and security strategies more intentionally outperform peers by more than 2x, both in terms of revenue growth and profitability.
4. Digital Transformation = social transformation
Today more than ever, businesses need to consider the social context of their actions. Increasingly, we see focus on sustainability from consumers and according to our study last year 54% of consumers say they’re willing to pay higher prices for a sustainable future.
To help organisations in achieving these social actions, this year we launched a pro bono social impact programme that applies our technologies – such as hybrid cloud and Artificial Intelligence – and an ecosystem of experts to helping non-profit and government organisations in driving change in vulnerable to environmental threats including climate change, extreme weather and pollution.
Organisations utilising transformative tools can help achieve sustainability benchmarks through greater measurement, data collection and carbon accounting, as well as through improved predictiveness and greater supply chain resiliency.
5. Workplace cultures must also transform
Last year, we heard a lot about ‘The Great Resignation’ and our IBV research found that while 30% of employees were planning to change jobs before the end of 2021, a further 15% were looking to do so this year. In other words, the disruption is not over yet.
The virtualisation of work has given companies greater access to global talent, but to keep that talent, companies must foster cultures that place a value on people. To be truly successful, Digital Transformation must be accompanied by cultural transformation also.
As business leaders, we must evolve our old ways of thinking. Leadership skills that allowed us to succeed in the past may not be sufficient to succeed in this rapidly evolving, digitally infused world. There is a need to be more adaptable, resilient, agile and flexible than ever before.
The way we define our strategy, set business priorities, assign resources, procure goods and services, recruit and motivate our teams, engage with our clients, engage an ecosystem of partners that support our business – we need to rethink all of that, not once, but constantly.
Technology can help each of those components – the winners of the future will be those that to build new leadership muscles and a culture of innovation in their business.Click below to share this article