At a time when large numbers of brands and businesses across a range of different industries are embracing the digital transformation process, there is a growing focus on the importance of business agility. Companies are looking to become more agile during the digital transformation process and to prioritize sustainable operational agility over time.
Agility may be a trendy business-speak buzzword, but it reflects broad recognition that a company’s ability to operate more flexibly, to easily pivot to new processes or address new priorities, and to ultimately make smarter and more strategic decisions quickly and efficiently is critical in today competitive landscape.
The widespread availability of powerful and sophisticated new digital tools and technologies (a phenomenon sometimes referred to in shorthand as Industry 4.0 tech) has unlocked extraordinary new levels of operational agility for a greatly expanded list of businesses. With powerful new connectivity capabilities and impressive new data gathering and data management functionality, adopters can access and leverage real-time information in ways that not only produce new insights, but also facilitate faster and more informed decision-making and operational pivots.
In the banking industry, where pressures from small startups threaten market share and the emerging world of cryptocurrency promises a crowded and more complicated digital landscape in the years ahead, financial institutions and industry professionals are increasingly prioritizing digital flexibility and operational agility as competitive necessities.
Banks have a lot of cumbersome structural and technical challenges when it comes to implementing big changes, including robust regulatory compliance/oversight limitations and very real cybersecurity threats, but the reality is that evolving slowly is no longer an option in today’s competitive and fast-changing landscape. You have to change as fast as the world changes, and the world is changing. COVID has accelerated the process of agile digital transformations, but the biggest factor is the wave of innovative new technology that affords extraordinary new speed, connectivity, and efficiency.
Steps and structure
There are no shortcuts to achieving enterprise-wide agility. A successful transformation requires extensive collaborative planning, preferably with the guidance and support of a trusted partner with demonstrated expertise in planning and executing digital large-scale transformations. An expert with the skills and relevant experience in running agile transformations can help create a roadmap that will be an essential guide throughout the process. Organizational change management is always tricky—and with larger financial institutions it can be particularly challenging. Putting the right plan in place is critically important. It’s also important, however, to revisit that plan. Once you have your roadmap for transformation, inspect and adapt your plans accordingly as you learn more about your organization and the process moving forward.
The most successful transformations utilize multiple teams working in concert, testing and either rejecting or accepting new systems and processes. Digital transformations are inherently and inevitably disruptive and should consequently be broken up into short-duration increments. Staggering the process into bit-sized pieces (typically 2- to 4-week execution segments with a 3-month strategy cycle and roadmap) enhances accountability and ultimately leads, through an ongoing process of testing and troubleshooting, to more successful outcomes.
It’s not a coincidence that the best practices for achieving an agile transformation are themselves aligned with agile principles. There are many complementary practices and companies in the financial industry, especially larger ones, that are turning to the ScaledAgileFramework (SAFe) as a reference to improve cross-functional collaboration across the whole enterprise and achieve business agility. Over the last few years, SAFe has established itself as the most broadly used method for scaling agile.
Mindset and missteps
What follows are some of the accepted best practices to help decision-makers at banks and financial institutions avoid common digital/agile transformation missteps and misperceptions:
Build an inside-out team
When creating your transformation group(s), make it a point to include both internal and external personnel and points of view. While an internal change agent helps navigate the company culture, external consultants bring broader knowledge and experience to support organizational change management. The resulting blend of inside knowledge and outside expertise/perspective can be enormously valuable.
Break down the silos
Larger and more traditional companies typically have a relative slow process for software delivery because they tend to be siloed. Reduce your Fintech lead-time for testing and implementation with smaller cross-functional teams that can start identifying software solutions with a much shorter lead time.
Find your fit
Changing the way your business works and/or how you engage with customers or professional partners is inherently disruptive. Integrating AI and machine learning tools and technologies involves complex processes and projects, and these almost involve never one-size-fits-all solutions.
Recognize that the transformation process won’t happen overnight. There will be setbacks and failures. Understand, however, that the key to navigating those challenges is to accept them as part of the process and to learn from them as you go. The best transformations “fail fast,” minimizing redundancies, limiting lost time and resources, and learning and building along the way.
In the banking world, prioritizing security throughout the transformation process is obviously the highest priority. And while security measures and regulatory guidelines are necessarily more rigorous and complex, the payoff for utilizing an agile methodology and creating a more agile institution is an enhanced ability to manage and mitigate risks and limit your overall exposure. A transformation in this industry needs pay extra attention to DevSecOps practices and tools.
In the end, agile methodologies can help not only banks and financial institutions deal with uncertainty and mitigate risk, but achieve specific and sustainable outcomes that will lead to new tools, new flexibility, and a newly agile company that is fully equipped to manage the challenges of today and to thrive in the competitive landscape of tomorrow.
Gercel Silva is an Agile DevOps Senior Solution Manager and Practice Lead at Stefanini Group, a $1 billion global technology company specializing in digital solutions, with locations in 41 countries across the Americas, Europe, Australia and Asia.