Last reviewed 23 April 2018

Small businesses have always been able to respond to markets and their customer needs faster than their larger competitors, but what does it mean to be an agile enterprise today? Dave Howell finds out.

Business moves fast. Those enterprises that are nimble and have the structure, processes and culture that promotes agility are leaders in their market sectors. Although digitisation is a major component of what agility means to many small businesses, it isn’t just about IT. For small businesses in particular, being agile is the ability to adapt to changing market conditions, and is also how businesses need to evolve, enabling people to access the tools and information they need, so that they can use these assets to deliver real value to every customer.

Agility also means making changes to how businesses function. With flexible working now the norm, more decentralised teams, and individuals needing to work together, having the right tools is critical to business success. According to a new study commissioned by Ricoh Europe, the majority (86%) of those surveyed say they are actively focusing on improving business agility in 2018. Half of the respondents (51%) are specifically introducing new technology to respond faster to trends and opportunities, while 52% say that without the benefits of updated workplace technology they will fail within five years.

In their latest state of business agility report, CA Technologies conclude:

“Expanding agile principals from a development methodology into a companywide ethos offers an organisation a way of delivering business value faster than the competition as a matter of everyday business. They are better able to pivot and change as conditions do, which helps them take advantage of market opportunities.”

Understanding your business through “measurement” is also a component of developing an agile business, as Stuart Campbell, MD at marketing company Bareska outlined: “Not only does business agility mean you stay on top of customer’s needs but it also leads you to be more efficient and your operations more cost effective. Being agile means your business demonstrates a level of care and attention for your team and clients. If you care about your team, your customers and your business you’ll be reaching for that tape measure right now. Measure everything you do! You’ll not regret it and wonder how on earth you managed to survive without it.”

Streamline and integrate

The transformation to an agile business isn’t something that can happen overnight, or without the complete cooperation of the workforce. Agile methodologies will require the adoption of not only new working practices, but also new tools. This can be a major change across a business and will require careful planning and rollout to avoid unnecessary friction.

Agile businesses clearly leverage the latest communications technologies. A move to unified communications is a core competence and a trait of all agile enterprises. Here, mobile digital devices play an important role. Combining voice and data connectivity across secure networks, will deliver the efficiency gains that all agile businesses possess.

Gaining more efficiency should not be confused with doing things faster. The mantra of doing more with less has persisted, but this isn’t how agility is created in a business. Yes, choosing the right tools can have the side effect of completing a task quicker, but agility means more than this: it is using these tools in new creative and collaborative ways to develop value that leads to better services and products for a business’s customers.

Ask your staff what prevents them from becoming more efficient. Where are the bottlenecks across your enterprise? Often, these will be the legacy systems your business is using, or how data is stored and manipulated. Breaking through and integrating data silos can deliver massive gains, and lead to more agility. Couple this with efficient intuitive tools, and your business will be on the road to becoming more agile.

Managing teams and interactions is something that is at the heart of the Typeface Group, as MD Polly Buckland explained: “For us, agility means total flexibility in our approach to managing our teams, our project management, client interactions, workflow, and processes. This is not to be mistaken for a lack of focus. Agile working truly means that we can react quickly to opportunities presented for our clients while encouraging a proactive and engaged team, who are totally empowered to work how and when they want to achieve our goals. It’s very freeing.”

Cultural shift

Often departments within a business can be adversarial as they compete for finite resources. Breaking this mindset and moving to more collaborative thinking is a major component of all agile businesses. Empowering teams to deliver what their customers want is a powerful paradigm and forms the basis of what an agile business should look like.

Rigid project-based approaches to development need to make way for more flexible customer-focused discussions, which inform how your business moves forward on a day-to-day basis. As your market sector changes, and the needs and attitudes of your customers also evolve, so should your business. Having the ability to make those changes is how you make your business an agile enterprise.

Angela Love, director, Active says “Empower your people to think differently, work differently, be flexible … work is what you do, not where you do it. Implementing regular catch ups and daily communication between teams is one simple way of becoming more agile and improving efficiency throughout the business. These should be kept relatively short, but just enough time to reflect on what’s going well, any challenges you’re facing, sharing ideas and improving collaboration.”

Ultimately, agility is about delivering better products and services to your business’s customers: streamlining your processes and operations, using more automation and embracing mobile digital technologies. Developing an open collaborative culture across your entire enterprise will deliver the agility your business can move forward with to remain sustainable and profitable over the long term.

Your checklist

Your business can become more agile by:

  1. Combining information silos

    The data your business already has can be a massive untapped source of information and insights. Combining these data silos into an integrated business information resource is a critical component of becoming more agile.

  2. Unifying communications

    Combing voice and data communications with mobile digital technologies enables teams to collaborate in real time. This not only delivers efficiency gains, but also fosters closer teamwork — a central component of agility.

  3. Integrating and automating processes

    Where possible, business processes should be combined, outsourced or automated. Identify if time and other resources are being spent using manual or outdated systems that could be replaced.

  4. Connecting teams and individuals

    Using hosted systems via cloud-based services can ensure teams work efficiently together, no matter how geographically dispersed they are. New digital tools can be used to remove bottlenecks and empower workers to innovate as they have the tools they need.

  5. Placing customer needs first

    The guiding principle of agility is delivering better services, products or experiences to customers. Placing them at the centre of every process, tool and decision is what agile business means today.