Why agility at scale is an essential survival characteristic
In 1958, the average lifespan of a company in the S&P 500 was approximately 61 years. By 2017, however, that figure fell to about 18 years. So, what could have caused companies to wink out of existence, not at retirement age, but before they’re old enough to have a J&B on the rocks at Bobby Van’s down the road from the New York Stock Exchange?
The answer: technology. As increasing advances in digital capabilities drive an exponential acceleration of tech adoption across every industry, companies are being disrupted out of their industries faster rate than the line for the guillotine during the French Revolution.
As in nature, when faced with changing environments, redistributed resources, and new competitors with shinier, pointier teeth, it not the strong or the quick that survive, but the most adaptable.
According to a new report released by international consulting firm Capgemini, companies that want to survive need to not only do ‘agile’ methodologies, but genuinely be agile.
What is agile?
Agile is a mindset and operational style that relies on breaking down complex tasks into smaller iterations that can then be constantly adapted and altered in order to compensate for change. According to the report, agile methodology usually involves self-governing, crossfunctional teams working on a ‘product’, which could be software, a customer product, a process improvement, or a marketing campaign, and so on.
“SAAB’s Gripen fighter jet was developed in carefully coordinated, three-week iterations at just 18% of the cost of the F-35 jet. Using these Agile-inspired techniques has helped make it the world’s most cost-effective military aircraft.1 During show production, Netflix relies on the Agile principles of fast feedback and iterative changes via deep data analytics. As a result, Netflix Originals have a 35% higher success rate than other TV shows.”
Capgemini’s new report has broken down the results from a series of in-depth interviews with more than 45 organisations that can be considered ‘agile frontrunners’, that have scaled agile beyond IT or at a program or portfolio level. From this data, Capgemini identified four key characteristics of an agile company operating successfully at scale:
• Experiment: Start with customer-focused initiatives; scale gradually
• Orient: Change culture by changing behaviors and focus on developing T-shaped skills
• Govern: Link Agile portfolio planning and operations with business strategy
• Accelerate: Modernise IT with DevOpsi and microservices
Companies that are pursuing an agile transformation of their operations should, it would seem, seek to instil these values from the top down. Bryan Campbell, Agile Transformation Coach at Exxon Mobil, said in the report, “Effective Agile transformation starts at the top and executive leadership needs to maintain accountability. Each functional leader needs to establish an agile transformation group with named coaches and champions – these individuals will be directly responsible for applying agile in their area. However, it is important to place the ownership on the executive leaders to demonstrate the benefits of their agile adoption. The transformation groups cannot own the success metrics – that has to be owned by the leaders.”
SAS: Improving the British Army’s decision making with data
SAS’ long-standing relationship with the British Army is built on mutual respect and grounded by a reciprocal understanding of each others’ capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM for SAS UKI, states that the company’s thorough grasp of the defence sector makes it an ideal partner for the Army as it undergoes its own digital transformation.
“Major General Jon Cole told us that he wanted to enable better, faster decision-making in order to improve operational efficiency,” he explains. Therefore, SAS’ task was to help the British Army realise the “significant potential” of data through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks and conduct complex analysis.
In 2020, the Army invested in the SAS ‘Viya platform’ as an overture to embarking on its new digital roadmap. The goal was to deliver a new way of working that enabled agility, flexibility, faster deployment, and reduced risk and cost: “SAS put a commercial framework in place to free the Army of limits in terms of their access to our tech capabilities.”
Doing so was important not just in terms of facilitating faster innovation but also, in Crawford’s words, to “connect the unconnected.” This means structuring data in a simultaneously secure and accessible manner for all skill levels, from analysts to data engineers and military commanders. The result is that analytics and decision-making that drives innovation and increases collaboration.
Crawford also highlights the importance of the SAS platform’s open nature, “General Cole was very clear that the Army wanted a way to work with other data and analytics tools such as Python. We allow them to do that, but with improved governance and faster delivery capabilities.”
SAS realises that collaboration is at the heart of a strong partnership and has been closely developing a long-term roadmap with the Army. “Although we're separate organisations, we come together to work effectively as one,” says Crawford. “Companies usually find it very easy to partner with SAS because we're a very open, honest, and people-based business by nature.”
With digital technology itself changing with great regularity, it’s safe to imagine that SAS’ own relationship with the Army will become even closer and more diverse. As SAS assists it in enhancing its operational readiness and providing its commanders with a secure view of key data points, Crawford is certain that the company will have a continually valuable role to play.
“As warfare moves into what we might call ‘the grey-zone’, the need to understand, decide, and act on complex information streams and diverse sources has never been more important. AI, computer vision and natural language processing are technologies that we hope to exploit over the next three to five years in conjunction with the Army.”
Fundamentally, data analytics is a tool for gaining valuable insights and expediting the delivery of outcomes. The goal of the two parties’ partnership, concludes Crawford, will be to reach the point where both access to data and decision-making can be performed qualitatively and in real-time.
“SAS is absolutely delighted to have this relationship with the British Army, and across the MOD. It’s a great privilege to be part of the armed forces covenant.”