10 Agile Skills CIOs Need To Manage Change

Cloud services, mobility, and digital disruption have upended the traditional methods of handling change within a company.

Craig Le Clair, VP & Principal Analyst, Forrester Research

November 15, 2013

6 Min Read

Change is happening all around us at lightning speed -- and a company's ability to respond to change is the most important factor in deciding whether it will sink or swim.

Consider that there has been more than 70 percent turnover for the Global Fortune G500 companies over the past 10 years. Companies dropping off the list were unable to manage an accelerating pace of change: pervasive Internet connectivity, cloud-based applications, mobile devices that connect everywhere, information workers who use their own tools to do corporate work on their own time.

To that end, the traditional change-management approaches that emphasize the change lifecycle, how to plan and communicate change, and establish and train owners of change, while important, are not enough for the new world. Change occurs too quickly. Executives and change-management agents at senior-level positions, once expected to anticipate and drive change, are struggling to do so.

Enterprise business agility is the one attribute that will enable companies to survive -- and thrive -- amid this level of change. So how does agility help with change management? It helps IT and business leaders make better decisions by embracing a new, more bottom-up way to manage. Employees in business units, in close touch with customer problems, shifts in the market, and process inefficiencies, are often in the best position to understand challenges and opportunities, as well as to make decisions to help improve the business. As a result, decisions at agile organizations are made at lower levels in the hierarchy.

[ Cost efficiency is important, but don't forget about value. Read How To Budget Your Way To Irrelevance. ]

In the past, decentralized decisions made enterprises more agile, but they often led to redundant efforts and inefficiencies. But today, enterprise social networks, advanced collaboration tools, and mobility allow for better knowledge dissemination. People at lower levels in the organization can now organically embrace company goals through these tools. Consider the employee who today uses salesforce.com's Chatter social network to stay in the loop on a key customer problem. Previously, only a select few would hold that information. But today it is easy for all employees to view a key activity stream, become more aware, and execute faster.

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In this new environment, the CIO becomes instrumental in creating an agile organization and culture. Forrester recommends CIOs benchmark each of our 10 agility dimensions against industry peers, highlight the top three agility gaps, and present findings to the executive team with a clear message: "To be successful and deal with impending change, we need improved agility across 10 dimensions, and these three in particular represent our greatest exposure." Here are the 10 dimensions of agility:

1. Market responsiveness. Agile companies know how to leverage data. Because online social customer interactions create rapid change in customer attitudes and behaviors, firms must gather customer data and use this knowledge to make smart decisions.

2. Channel integration. Today, customers interact with brands across more channels than ever before. Agile companies organize and share information across departments, channels, and functions and work to provide a seamless experience across physical, phone, web, and mobile touchpoints. CIOs can best help by tackling information management aspects that inhibit channel integration; for example, better organization and sharing of information across departments, channels, and functions.

3. Knowledge dissemination. Companies make decisions more quickly if the necessary knowledge to make those decisions is easily available. For example, CIOs should try to eliminate layers of management and silos for certain tasks. Decentralized decision-making fueled by improving collaboration tools will lead to crisp and rapid decisions, as was the case for this CIO of a healthcare provider we interviewed: "From an execution standpoint, we are pretty flat and getting flatter. We eliminated two complete layers [of management]. We reduced costs, but the message to employees was to become more agile, to make decisions quicker."

4. Digital psychology. Digital disruption means that new products and services come to market at a dizzying pace. To compete, firms must improve digital skills, including the design and development of mobile applications, expertise in data analytics, and integrating customer data into the creation of new products and services.

5. Change management. Bottom line? Change is the new normal. Brands must develop repeatable, familiar practices to deal with events such as price wars, mergers, and new competition.

6. Business intelligence. Business intelligence reveals better information, creating transparency for a deeper understanding of business drivers and challenges. What separates an agile company? This information is easily accessible by employees -- and not just specialized IT staff.

7. Infrastructure elasticity. By shifting IT focus away from the datacenter and toward cloud-based services, companies can acquire, build, and deploy new services quickly.

8. Process architecture. To match the new power of the customer, enterprises must redesign processes (such as work patterns, rules, and templates) to take advantage of new touchpoints such as tablet apps and mobile websites. CIOs must assess whether dependency on packaged apps and legacy systems of record are inhibiting innovation and performance. Are the skills and deployment in agile process technologies -- for example, business rules, BPM, Dynamic Case Management, content, and collaboration -- on par with your peers?

9. Software innovation. This is at the heart of most business process innovation. Agile organizations know quickly when problems are developing and build strength in core software skills that pounce on real-time feedback and build bench strength in core skills such as mobile development, SaaS implementations, and social applications, all backed by agile development methods.

10. Sourcing and supply chain. Unexpected supply chain shocks can undermine efficiency and customer experience and weaken a company's performance. Instead of being caught off-guard, firms must allow their supply chains to continually adapt.

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About the Author(s)

Craig Le Clair

VP & Principal Analyst, Forrester Research

Craig Le Clair is a Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research serving enterprise architecture professionals.

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