Mahesh Rajasekharan is the President and CEO of Cleo.
At my company’s mid-year meetings this year, we invited customers to share observations about the challenges affecting the markets we serve (manufacturing, logistics, distribution, retail) and how they are creating value despite today’s incessant disruption.
One logistics CIO spoke candidly about where he believes enduring value originates: “It comes from fostering long-term partnerships.”
Going further, this leader told us that showing appreciation and creating strong relationships throughout one’s business ecosystem is a core value-creation driver, one fast becoming best practice for customer success management.
Why? Because trustworthy relationships are key to transforming every vendor and supplier into long-standing business partners. This philosophy’s working for his company, creating massive growth in their market capitalization over the past five years.
But there’s another revelation here, besides the value of showing appreciation and fostering solid relationships: the role digital integration technology plays in enabling outcomes like this in the first place. I believe it all boils down to having agility—in integration, supply chains and organizational decision making.
MORE FOR YOU
What Makes For Trust?
Trustworthy supply chains are essential for strengthening individual relationships across a company’s ecosystem. Integration agility—i.e., being intentional about what your company makes happen at all the connection points in a business ecosystem—fosters supply chain agility, which in turn fosters organizational agility, which in turn fosters better decision making and greater business success.
Agility is your company’s ability to react and respond to any situation. Given the relentless pace of digital transformation, persistent market disruptions and recent supply chain woes, agility is also a measure of survival.
So how do you get it? I believe organizational and supply chain agility are inextricably linked with a company’s integration maturity, something which, thanks to the irreversible progress of digitalization, is always evolving.
This Maturity Curve spotlights five stages of integration maturity and corresponding degrees of supply chain and organizational agility for each.
If your business relies on static integrations, runs batch updates and is limited to just file-based and EDI-based integration capabilities, your business may not last long. You’re “At Risk of Demise.” Why? Because the onset of the cloud and API technology has changed everything, and your business must evolve.
If you want to be “Resistant to Disruption,” here are two alternatives for attaining that state so your company can start accommodating new revenue streams and take advantage of digital transformation happening as e-commerce continues to flourish.
1. Engage a Managed Services Provider (MSP) for integration strategy and to handle the work for you. The upside here is it’s a “turnkey” solution that requires no knowledge of business process management. The downside is you give up direct visibility and control. It could take your MSP a long time to implement changes mandated by a business partner, damaging valuable relationships.
2. Add APIs to your existing integration technology. This option complements what’s already working and is a low-impact change. But, since not everything is happening on the same platform, data silos inevitably result and end-to-end business-process visibility is not achievable. It also makes it impossible to get any real-time data. Cloud-based solutions provide much better cross-silo data visibility and control.
If you want even more agility, you need real-time visibility and control over your integrations—not just inside the four walls of your business but across your entire ecosystem of business partners, customers, suppliers, etc. This is being “Comparatively Agile.”
Once again, there are options for gaining this kind of visibility. There are many analytical tools that slice and dice stored data to provide information for decision making. But what’s more valuable is real-time visibility into what’s happening across your ecosystem right now. With batch data processing, pinpointing a problem’s source is tough (e.g., is it our systems or our partners?). But with real-time visibility dashboards, you really can, as Wayne Gretzky is credited with saying, “skate to where the puck’s going to be.”
The Holy Grail, though, is the “Hyper-Agile” stage atop the Maturity Curve, where your company’s ability to dynamically sense and intelligently respond in real time to any change that comes. Being hyper-agile means your organization can shift operations to accommodate new and innovative lines of business at a moment’s notice. It requires complete visibility into interactions with suppliers, trading partners and customers to make those adjustments at a rapid pace.
To get this level of visibility and agility, you might consider using a data warehouse along with analytical tools to glean insights. However, to become truly hyper-agile, companies ought to implement solutions that also consider their supply chain, because real-time supply chain visibility and insights are what give organizations the agility to change and disruption.
What are the lessons senior execs should take from this to help guide their business forward?
First, there’s a reason why the most agile companies—like Amazon and Walmart—are industry leaders. They’ve achieved hyper-agility by strategically focusing on digital transformation, and their integration capabilities support that dominating capacity.
Second, any company that’s not agile is at risk of slow death or extinction. Sears is probably the most high-profile story of our time, although the list of companies that failed to adapt to digital transformation is long and growing longer.
Third, any company can benchmark where they currently fall on the Maturity Curve and leverage this conceptual framework to define metrics to progress their organization upwards along this continuum. By doing so, you’ll steadily unlock increasing levels of agility which will make your business successful.
Not everyone will make it. To understand where you fall on the Maturity Curve and to assess your organization’s ability to survive, ask yourself whether these five traits define your organization.
• Able to turn on a dime.
• Able to make data-supported decisions in real time.
• Able to consistently focus on improving customer relationships.
• Able to find ways to discover and create value.
• Able to remain fearlessly innovative, despite external challenges.
Having these traits enables businesses’ ability to foster long-term partnerships. As our customer said, that’s what makes all the difference.