The global economy in recent years has certainly become increasingly volatile. It is more and more difficult to make forecasts about what the economy will look like by the end of 2013. Even the people usually tasked with providing the forecasts are reluctant to do so for fear of being way off the mark. This market volatility is being amplified by other trends that have recently emerged – the rise of consumerism and the “me generation” mean there is no “typical” customer anymore.
No more typical customers…
In times gone by, businesses used to be able to nicely segment their customers and say things like “Customers in the Food & Beverage industry have these things in common…” I think societal changes mean that this is no longer true. And I think this can be said for both consumer and business customers.
Did you know that you can design your own Converse sneakers on the Internet? No longer restricted to the selection on the shelf, you can choose the inside and outside colours, the eyelets for the laces, even the branding on the back. When buying a new car now, you don’t have to select from the usual seven or eight standard colour options; you can design your own shade and have it made specially for you.
Customers of all types want the right solutions to meet their specific challenges. And business deals in today’s economy are no longer just about the product – we didn’t just buy iPads for our business – we bought mobility for our workforce.
At the end of the day, a customer whoever they are – consumer or industrial – no longer has typical requirements. Their requirements are very particular and they expect to be served to these requirements. So if you want to compete, your solutions must be individual, flexible and customizable.
An economy of individuals…
I think individuality is an important aspect of the new economy in which we are working – it is not an economy of categories, but an economy of individuals.
These individuals can perhaps be grouped into “micro-segments” that may share things like a specific environment, applications or geographic regions in common. But despite these cursory similarities, the way a company adapts to demand is unique to them.
Agility without compromising on performance…
Taking all these points into consideration, you could decide to develop a product that you think will last a few years in the market, but I don’t think this option is feasible any more. I would even go as far as saying that the only way to survive in this brave new world is to be agile. For our customers, this means that when they design a process, a factory or a plant, the agility of their operations is more important than ever. But let me be clear – I mean agility without compromising on performance. I think enabling agility in this sense can be built on four pillars:
1. Open systems and architectures which can be easily expanded and evolved.
2. Empowering people – people will always be able to adapt and learn better than machines can, and a system that empowers people to make the right decision at the right moment fosters agility.
3. Create a customer experience that allows you to capture all the requirements of your customers and to react to those demands in real time – permanent interaction with customers, and a process to manage the same, are enormously valuable.
4. Real-time intelligence – this is perhaps a transversal topic, but I have listed it as a pillar. It is about getting the right information at the right time – whether it’s information about your process, or business performance, or data on which products are selling or not selling. Or it could be customer feedback. Information is key. Without the information, you can’t make the right changes.
Would you add any other pillars that could help businesses reconcile agility with volatility?