The words flexibility and agility conjure up visions of elite athletes such as gymnasts, divers and parkour runners.
They twist and contort their bodies at speed and effortlessly vault from one location to another without losing control of any part of their bodies.
It’s no surprise business leaders also aim to create flexible and agile enterprises.
Just like those athletes, it’s desirable for a business to be able to precisely coordinate all their moving parts to execute stunning maneuvers that overcome challenges.
The two words have even been defined by business analysts: flexibility is operational, while agility is related to the ability to execute on strategic plans.
The two are intertwined, because if a business is not able to control its moving parts effectively, it can’t move fast in a coordinated manner.
Today’s rapidly changing technology enables flexible and agile business practices, and it’s more important than ever to embrace these technologies to inoculate against disruption.
How do new technologies foster flexibility?
Business flexibility can refer to several different things: flexible working arrangements, contracting arrangements, and the ability to work anywhere, anytime with modern devices and cloud computing services.
The Economist summed up flexibility as, “A firm’s ability to respond to changes in its environment, both rapidly and at low cost.” The article posits that firmness is the opposite of flexibility, and all firms balance those two qualities. Today, though, flexibility is gaining the upper hand.
Part of the reason for this is the rapid advancement of technology that has disrupted industries and empowered staff to collaborate more effectively and take up flexible work arrangements, which also falls in-line with the desires of Millennial workers.
By outfitting workers with devices and cloud-based collaborative software such as Office 365, firms can reduce office space (typically one of the largest expenses for a business) and rapidly expand into new geographical areas.
Digital collaboration is key to building a flexible workplace. In the past, staff may have only shared their activities at weekly meetings, but collaborative documents, video conferencing, and other tools such as group messaging software and shared calendars have changed that.
These tools create a more integrated workplace where staff can work independently, from anywhere with an internet connection, but also pull together with ease when required.
The rise of ‘as-a-service’ programs, which allow businesses to lease software and devices such as laptops, phones and tablets on a per-user, per-month basis, also allows them to scale (or downsize) rapidly without incurring large capital costs.
Flexibility and agility are complementary
If flexibility means workplaces are more able to respond to changes, while agility is concerned about executing strategy, how do they work together?
They have to, because it’s a dynamic time to be in business. Faced with internal and external uncertainty driven by technological disruption, it’s dangerous for strategists to look too far ahead. Businesses need to be flexible within their defined strategy, and also able to respond if the strategy changes.
Agility relates to speed, and it’s the ability to get out of tricky situations. Businesses today need to move fast to remain a step ahead of competitors, changing consumer tastes and new technologies.
Decisions need to be made and the business needs to be nimble enough to act on those decisions quickly and efficiently.
Marcel van Oosterhout, from the University of Rotterdam, studied agility in large service organisations, and one of his key findings was that business agility is often hampered by a lack of IT agility, and said IT standardisation was vital to foster agility.
An approach that is now gaining traction with more and more businesses moving to cloud-based solutions, making the exchange of data easier and more efficient, not only between employees but also with clients and providers.
Small and medium businesses, in particular, are often using independent IT solutions providers as a cost-effective way of supporting their enterprises’ IT needs. The up-side of this is the standardisation of systems across many other businesses.
In the sports arena, athletes perform incredible feats of strength, power, flexibility and agility for the crowd’s entertainment, fostered by expert coaches and playing within the established rules of the game.
Better Online is a leading IT services company with significant experience in providing clients with cloud-based solutions, and coaching them how to use these new tools effectively to create a flexible and agile business. Call Better Online now on or visit better.online.