I remember a business continuity exercise we ran when I was a CIO. Our leader constructed a training around us losing access to our company’s data center. As we went around the tabletop, our team increasingly became frustrated, because many of the responses they wanted to prioritize were nonstarters due to the inaccessibility of key applications. While we learned a lot about our organization’s ability to respond to a challenge, it pales in comparison to what we’ve experienced these last few years. I can only imagine the frustration of that management team if presented with a scenario that called for us and most of our employees to work remotely — while simultaneously needing to devise completely new ways to engage customers.
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The fact is, though, that the future is highly uncertain. Just look at the confluence of recent trends in inflation, supply chain disruption, climate change and the impacts of the Russia-Ukraine war. Business in every market around the world is getting more unpredictable all the time.
Future fit leaders don’t fear the future — they embrace it
Many people think of bad things when they hear terms like “uncertain” or “unpredictable.” But visionary leaders, tech leaders included, are different. Future fit leaders use uncertain times as opportunities to grow. We found that 27% of companies achieved “growth mode” during the pandemic. Warren Buffett once said that it is wise for investors to be “fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful.” So the question we pose is simple to understand: How does a tech leader win in an era of constant uncertainty?
Given the rapid acceleration of technology in our everyday lives, today’s tech executives have a unique and growing opportunity to be the leader to drive their company’s growth and prosperity. To do so, though, these leaders need the right technology strategy. At a base level, every company has access to similar pools of technology, capital, and people. What sets leaders apart is how they deploy their technology to deliver for their customers. To address this, Forrester has developed the future fit technology strategy. Future fit is defined as a customer-obsessed approach to technology that enables a company to quickly reconfigure business structures and capabilities to meet future customer and employee needs with adaptivity, creativity and resilience.
Resilience is only the start
In talking to a spectrum of tech leaders, we found that nearly everyone is proud of what they did during the pandemic. They served customers, and they enabled employees. But there was a difference. Some survived by simply mitigating risk and refactoring applications to enable remote work while they moved office assets from filing cabinets to computers in homes. The true tech leaders turned resilience into a competitive advantage through two factors: Reconfiguring their companies’ tech stacks to enable work from anywhere, and engaging with partners and customers to reshape the physical and the digital experiences to work as one. It’s clear that customers reward resilience; look at the insurance business as one example.
Agile is nice, but adaptivity is next-level capability
Using nature as a construct, we find that adaptive organisms react to external stimuli to survive and thrive. Likewise, adaptive companies use predictive insights to identify new opportunities to deploy capital, technology and capabilities to seize the next day. During the pandemic, we saw multiple examples of adaptive organizations. A personal favorite involved a digital printing company that identified the need to sell masks — producing the product and standing up an e-commerce operation in a matter of weeks — then recently shut it down, recognizing that the opportunity had passed.
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Creativity is key
Many tech leaders lament that the place for creativity resides elsewhere in their organization. But creativity is in the eye of the beholder. Think about your help desk or application development teams. How often do they need to deliver workarounds”]? Workarounds require creativity, as there’s an element of risk-taking involved there. They also learn from failures and have a common purpose. Bigger picture, tech is helping businesses differentiate more than ever before — providing more time and more knowledge to enable their employees and customers to create.
Tech leaders: Turn uncertainty into your advantage
With so much uncertainty taking place, you have a choice. Hunkering down and waiting for the waters to calm is risky, as others may motor past. Instead, think to the future, with a specific goal of becoming future fit. Prioritize those outcomes that increase your resilience, adaptivity and creativity. As you increase each capability, you increase the ability of your company and organization to respond and to, one day, stay ahead of frequent and unexpected change. Our research shows that optimizing your IT operating model, tech stack, and approach to emerging tech and innovation (among other areas) will drive improvements in all three capabilities.
Trust me when I say that it will be worth it. In speaking with more than 500 tech and innovation leaders, we’ve found that companies identified as future fit outperformed by 2.8x compared to their peers. That is differentiating, and it is compelling, which is why it’s important to get started now so that you and your organization can handle these increasingly uncertain times head on.
Matthew Guarini is VP and senior research director at Forrester. To access further Forrester insights for technology executives, visit here. Learn more about how tech leaders can become future fit at Forrester’s Technology & Innovation North America Forum, taking place September 29–30, 2022.