Balancing your agility, resilience, and cost base (ARC) is key to navigating an uncertain and rapidly changing economic environment. Mark O’Sullivan discusses the ‘hope’, ‘fear’ and ‘remedy’ involved in leveraging technology to achieve your ARC objectives.

The past three years have taught companies a lot around the need to build agility and resilience into the operating model, while being able to manage and control the cost base carefully. Harnessing the potential of technology is a key lever you can use to improve your ARC balance.

The hope: how can technology unlock value for your organisation?

When seeking to leverage the right mix of technology, companies may aspire to unlock business value in a number of ways.

Automation and freeing up of key staff

Excessive levels of manual and offline working can be a time and morale drain for highly qualified members of your team. For most companies automating manual processes still represents an opportunity for a material productivity improvement while also improving resilience, since there is less reliance on key individuals as a result.

Insights to aid decision making

Mastering the data challenge means having accurate and timely data to support operational, management and strategic decision making. It can be the difference between seizing or missing key commercial opportunities, or making the correct investment decisions. This is crucial in an era where businesses need to be fully informed in order to respond and make decisions, with new information, in an agile manner.

Ways of working

The impact of systems and technology on team members is now a frequently cited reason for leaving. One CFO recently told us that one of their top three reasons for investing in a new ERP system was that they'd no longer have to apologise to the finance team for their excessive overtime in making up for the legacy system deficiencies.

Business protection

Old legacy systems and technology create risk. Vendors and partners cease their support and there's no ability to upgrade old functionality or incorporate new statutory requirements. Understanding and closing off these risks is vital if your business is to remain resilient against the risk of system failure, cyber attacks or failure of key controls.

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The fear: why are some companies still tech-wary?

Despite the opportunities, why are some companies still reluctant to invest in new technology? Stories of programmes that transform a business tend to remain hidden, while those of programmes that run three times over budget and time, or fail to deliver on the business case, are often the ones that people remember. 

Here are three common, critical pitfalls to be aware of when investing in new tech:

Pitfall 1: The rush to replace

Before embarking on expensive replacement projects, consider whether you've fully evaluated the optimisation opportunities within current systems. This isn't relevant where systems are obviously out of date or end of life. But in our experience companies often blame lack of automation or control on their existing systems without fully exploring how they can be improved. We often see that issues in relation to automation and control are the result of misalignment between systems, process, and roles and responsibilities – rather than deficiencies with the systems themselves.

Pitfall 2: A poor or out-of-date map

Understanding and having a clear picture of all potential and planned technology investments is essential. Most companies have a roadmap for this, although the depth and quality can vary dramatically. Leading businesses maintain their plans as a live document. They have the agility to change direction quickly based on new information and business priorities. They're clear on where they're making strategic versus tactical investments. And they ensure they invest in understanding and carrying out diligence on the vendor landscape

Pitfall 3: Plan once, plan properly

We've seen a wave of companies coming back into the market recently to replace systems implemented in the past five years – the dreaded 'rip and replace'. This should never happen with the right level of planning and preparation. Companies have been sold the dream of new systems, implemented at low cost, with insufficient focus on whether the software can truly deal with areas of business complexity, on how it might integrate into the wider systems architecture, or in gauging whether the software vendor and its implementation partner represents a good cultural fit with the business.

The remedy: a checklist for success

Leveraging technology to improve agility, resilience and cost should be an objective for almost all companies. But there's no silver bullet. Achieving successful outcomes requires diligence, careful planning and high-quality implementation.

As a check on your technology hopes and fears, ask yourself the following:

  • Before putting in new systems, have you fully evaluated the potential to enrich functionality and optimise the current estate?
  • Do you have an integrated view of all the potential areas for technology investment, with an understanding of the key priorities?
  • Have you then fully understood the rationale for tactical versus strategic investment, and built a thorough understanding of the vendor landscape?
  • In selecting partners to work with, are you looking for a ‘do to’ or a ‘do with’ approach? Beyond technical expertise, can you create a strong and open relationship where issues and risks can be raised and worked on collaboratively?
  • Are you looking for the cheapest or best value solution?
  • How are you building subjective criteria such as future functionality roadmap and cultural fit into your evaluation process?
  • Have you fully considered how your next solution will align with your overall aims in terms of agility, resilience and cost in your wider organisation?
  • Given the importance of the investment, are you taking sufficient time to set the programme up for success?
  • Do you have a clear view of all of the work you need to have done, and decisions you need to be ready to make, for day one of the implementation?

There are no guarantees when making an investment in technology. But companies that successfully address these questions will dramatically improve their probability of leveraging technology to deliver agility and resilience whilst lowering costs.

For more insight and guidance, get in touch with Mark O’Sullivan.

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