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Work fast – with purpose – and break down internal boundaries to become a Cognitive Enterprise

Digital disruption today is a given. Technology is fundamentally changing life and business with such breadth, depth and scale – and, importantly, at such an exponential pace – that businesses are forced to rethink the way they organise themselves.

If they are to evolve and compete with 21st century business (and beyond), organisations must reposition themselves around strategic agility. There are new competitors, new suppliers and new risks to grapple with. The whole business must get used to working at a new speed, with new incentives and new skillsets. This is the foundation for culture transformation, new ways of working and exponential growth.

It’s not enough to implement radical technology and hope for the best. A Cognitive Enterprise devotes at least as much energy to developing agile capabilities, culture, operating models, policies and procedures to anticipate the new opportunities and threats that will arise. If it doesn’t, the technology investment will fall flat.

Agile teams span organisational boundaries with one goal in mind: to meet customer needs quickly. They break out of silos to naturally share ideas and insights. They rapidly test these, failing fast and iterating around particular products or services. When the bulk of day-to-day processes become self-operating, thanks to the smart application of cognitive technology, the skills those teams need to foster will be more strategic and more oriented around customers and problem-solving.

In order to build the best possible experience for customers, colleagues must be able to look across functional boundaries to work out how to optimise processes. No longer constrained within silos within their own organisation, they will cluster into teams made up of the assorted skills and technologies needed to solve the task in hand.

Leaders, too, must evolve. They must transcend organisational politics – the biggest barrier to agility – to focus on the best outcome for the customer. They need to incentivise their teams in new ways, cultivate a new mindset and instil a new definition of success. They must encourage experimentation, continuous learning and fast failure among their people.

Instead of personal targets and profit indicators, success will be measured by customer performance and growth. “Flow” will be the new measure of successful agility. The opposite to “friction”, whereby the business processes that are captured in systems don’t match what happens to the customer in practice, flow is the ability to execute a good idea without bureaucratic barriers or bottlenecks. It will be tangibly measured by end-to-end KPIs and customer satisfaction.

Cognitive technology should be applied to increase fluidity and flexibility. The business will be able to identify which processes are routine – then automate them; which processes are critical – and keep people at the centre of them; and which processes are not suitable – and eliminate them.

When this flow happens, the business will reach a critical mass. Talented people will want to join it; customers will flock to it.

It’s time to stop trying to protect old territory, and set your sights, instead, on this new goal of flow, enabled by strategic agility. Once the entire business is positioned to deliver incredible customer experiences, the possibilities are endless.

Discover the full story by visiting our website:

Vice President, Cognitive Process Reengineering, IBM Services Europe

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