Adaptive innovation in the aftermath of immediate change

David Williams · 23 December 2020 · 5 minute read

Perhaps before the COVID-19 pandemic, IT teams were forgotten heroes. They were the first to be criticised if things went wrong, but new improvements were often met with silence.

Yet, the impact of a near-universal move to remote working and digital customer engagement – and their ability to empower that change at short notice – have seen IT teams shine. It’s no hyperbole to say that, without a good IT team working effectively during the pandemic, a business couldn’t function.

The transformation IT teams have enabled has seen a rapid change in perception and application in a range of business practices, according to the speakers at a recent Nimbus Ninety webinar on the topic of adaptive innovation. IT has been brought into the heart of business decision-making.

The impact of change on adaptive innovation

It’s not a novel insight to note that the pandemic has spurred economy-wide adoption of new technology.

In fact, what’s clear is that many of these changes were already planned – and would likely have been rolled out at a more leisurely pace over the coming months and years. Yet, the impact of COVID-19 and the requirement to empower a new-found generation of remote workers and digital customer interactions have rapidly accelerated projects that might otherwise have languished. 

The crisis has seen the pace of delivery, from ideation to deployment, shrink from years to months in many businesses – even those that steeped in tradition and with significant legacy estates.

That rapid acceleration has seen agile work practices being embraced and efficiency improvements in a wide range of areas. From the digitisation of customer experience and delivery, to greater use of cloud to reduce costs of failure and barriers to innovation, to the way processing has shifted to edge – we’ve seen enormous change at scale.

But while that initial surge has started to plateau to some degree, now the challenge is to bring all of those new innovations together to work consistently and coherently. For some businesses, customer data may be sitting in lots of places on many different platforms. Modernising those systems to unlock the value in that data has to be a priority.

The solution has often been found in an agile culture. Organisations are increasingly seeing the benefit of focused iterative improvement and experimentation, despite that way of working being at odds with IT engineering teams’ natural inclination to have a fully defined plan and destination before they begin.

“What we’ve found is that there’s no such thing as a universal solution – even across a single organisation,” said one of the webinar attendees. “Agile practices, investment in incremental innovation, and decentralising decision-making are all ways that we’ve seen businesses flex to meet the challenges they have faced during the past year.”

The impact of change on adaptive investment

Innovation has to be backed by organisational investment for it to be successful, though.  Many organisations have seen projects that used to be considered ‘nice-to-have’ become essential because they improve business resilience. The traditional measures innovation investment were gauged against – ROI, for example – have been supplanted by impact on continuity.

Our webinar attendees confirmed that they found decision-makers much more amenable to funding projects like securing endpoints, upgrading remote access, or improving cloud performance in recent months.

That’s why it’s something of a surprise that McKinsey research found organisations’ commitment to innovation had waned during COVID-19, perhaps because bigger transformation projects were put on hold to allow agile, incremental change.

Budgeting is therefore becoming more agile alongside innovation. Projects and workflows are becoming more agile – with more sprints, more decisions, more reviews, and more revisions to activity.

That means spending has had to evolve in the same way. Bigger, more expensive projects will need to be broken down in favour of smaller, smarter, and more cost-effective ways to create quicker outcomes, within a more fluid program structure that still provides a clear aspiration.

The impact of change on adaptive security

Yet, all of that flexibility can be a double-edged sword when it comes to risk and security.

This has required a more pragmatic perspective and a higher risk tolerance from businesses. Our webinar attendees agreed there was arguably a tendency to over-govern and over-emphasise the potential risks before the pandemic, but now the focus is on new control mechanisms applied judiciously – which protects but does not restrict the business – to ensure that staff can quickly respond to customer demands.

That does increase exposure, especially as the pandemic has seen a rise in cyber crimes with further spikes likely in the future. But webinar attendees were unanimous in stating that technology was not the sole source of answers.

At an organisational level, security starts with people. The biggest security issues stem from social engineering, shadow IT, and the massive expansion of the security perimeter. This puts an enormous onus on visibility and education.

An agile approach to the future

So, what do those changes mean for how we deliver IT in the months and years to come?

Agile, incremental approaches empowered by technology have enabled incredible results during the pandemic, though risks have also increased in parallel. Yet, it’s clear that technology alone is not enough – transformation also needs support from new behaviours across the entire workforce.

“It requires cultural change over time,” an attendee summed up.  "And that can't be limited by organisational barriers.  We have to focus on skills development, encouraging curiosity, and human-centric approach across traditional siloes."

To hear more from David and the other panellists on Adaptive Innovation and Growth, listen to the whole webinar recording here.

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