Building Platforms for Organisational Agility

Posted: 17 October 2012

The world around us is becoming more complex and challenging by the day. That provides manifold challenges – and opportunities – for today’s organisations. The Law of Requisite Variety was first stated by cybernetics pioneer Ross Ashby, who most concisely stated the idea as “only variety can absorb variety”.


A more direct way of expressing the law is:


The only way you can control your destiny is to be more flexible than your environment.


It is a vast understatement to say it is difficult for large organisations to be as flexible and adaptable as their business and social environment. Yet that is the task at hand for any company that wishes to be able to set and implement effective strategies, rather than be simply buffeted by the forces of change.


The implications of IT consumerisation

The consumerisation of IT is one of key trends creating a more complex business environment. However it also generates opportunities for those organisations ready to respond effectively.


One of the most useful ways to think about IT consumerisation is as a 180 degree reversal of the flow of technology innovation. Up until around two decades ago large organisations were at the centre of the creation and deployment of new information technologies. Eventually these were adapted to be available to individual consumers.


Over the last decade this innovation flow has completely reversed. The best and most interesting technology innovation almost always happens in the consumer space, and only after gradually filters into organisations.


There have been three key trends underlying this shift:


  1. Computing power to individuals

 The consistent exponential rise of processing power means that individuals who own a laptop or tablet computer today have access to more computing resources than all but the largest organisations in the mid-1990s. The plummeting cost of bandwidth has yielded a similar situation for personal connectivity. In short, highly connected supercomputers are in the hands of almost every employee.


  1. Increasing expectations 

Staff expect more on just about every front, including having access to enterprise technology that is as effective, usable, and attractive as the consumer technologies they use in their personal lives.


  1. Drive for efficiency

Organisations are constantly seeking ways to use their resources more effectively. More important than direct cost savings is helping staff to work more effectively and efficiently, including accessing critical resources wherever they are and across a variety of devices.


There is no question that the introduction of consumer technologies into corporate workflow can be highly challenging for organisations. However it can also offer an excellent platform to build more agile and responsive organisations.


Platforms for agility

Right at the top of the corporate agenda, executives need to focus on how best to design and develop the platforms that support organisational agility. These ‘platforms for agility’ are not just about technology, they are also about process, people, structure, culture and governance.


Business processes need to be easily reconfigurable by users, responding to changed conditions, or grasping opportunities as they arise.

– Employees need to be ready and able to shift their roles, the work they do, the teams they work in, and how they work, as well as develop relevant skills as needed.

– Organisational structure needs to be flexible in allowing resources to be reallocated as required.

– Culture must be aligned with an appetite for continuous change.

– Governance needs to be an enabler of transformation rather than a constraint on innovation.


Flexible technologies

All of the elements listed above are essential in building platforms for agility. However using the right technology platforms is a necessary prerequisite for success. The willingness or desire to build agile organisations will come to naught without the technologies that give the ability to put all the key elements in place.


Cloud computing, if well implemented, is a massive enabler for building flexible, agile organisations. In particular it provides flexibility in where and how staff work, and opens opportunities to extend value creation beyond the immediate organisational boundaries to encompass customers, suppliers, partners, and other members of your value ecosystem.


In addition, the best cloud software systems make it enormously easy for your team to reconfigure processes and workflow as you work, and turn your systems on a tack to seize opportunities or respond to changing conditions.


There is no question that organisational agility will be a prerequisite for success across all industries. For every company, it must be a priority to build platforms that support organisational agility. Well-designed cloud technologies provide an admirable foundation on which to build those platforms. The winners in the years ahead will be flexible, agile, and nimble, leaping ahead of their competitors based on the quality of the platforms they have built.