Four Ways to Flex in the Year of Uncertainty

  • Rob Tribe, VP Systems Engineering EMEA at Nutanix

  • 20.01.2022 04:00 pm
  • undisclosed

In the years before the pandemic, it seemed to be a binding rule that every business technology conference venue would echo the ‘agility’ buzzword. We needed to be agile because the “world is changing”. Or you would hear “change is the only constant”, a good quote from the Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, even if it has become rather hackneyed and worn down by the intervening centuries. 

Today, however, all those speakers who praised adaptivity and agility have been proven right, or, perhaps, more right. Of course, it makes sense to be able to change track because we live in a time when things have become even less predictable than usual. A pandemic, geopolitical conflict, trade wars, supply-chain chaos, extreme weather and plans for how to deal with sustainability and the future of the planet are all still wreaking havoc with the status quo. Yes, those are pretty murky waters.

I prefer to use the term “flexibility”, which means much the same as agility but is a tad less pretentious, and I want to argue that maintaining maximum flexibility in four specific areas will be the best way for organisations to survive and prosper.

Flexible subscription licensing

Barring very few exceptions, it’s clear that the jury has voted and it has done so in favour of subscription licensing as the preferred way to pay for software. Enterprise software used to be a one-size-fits-all affair: you paid upfront with plenty of excess capacity built in to avoid hitting a ceiling and then you paid again in the form of an annual maintenance tax. Result: poor value for the buyer, no correlation between usage and price paid, and effective lock-in, making it difficult to move away from an incumbent supplier. But with subscriptions, you are now paying per sip: that is, based on consumption and with no penalties for underuse or overuse. That delivers demonstrable value for the CFO but also the confidence to try out ideas and projects with minimal risk because they can be shut down quickly.  

Flexible cloud infrastructure

It makes sense to align IT operations with today’s unpredictable environment and hybrid working world. Already growing before the pandemic, we’ve already seen a clear acceleration in use of public and private cloud applications. That’s partly because they have inherent, device-independent support for remote working, collaboration, VDI and remote support. And cloud usually goes hand in hand with subscription pricing, the advantages of which we have already discussed. Similarly, some organisations are using cloud platforms to ramp up promotions or other offers, based on real-time analytics that help to identify opportunities and trigger quick actions. It’s a fair bet that going with hybrid cloud approaches that cover the bases of whatever the near-term and mid-term future of work look like will be an optimal solution. Cloud solutions are quick to set up, easy to internationalise and scale, and they can be taken down easily too. This is the perfect example of an IT architecture meeting a business need.

Flexible workforce

It seems likely that for many if not most enterprises operating in the Knowledge Economy, will persist with a hybrid working approach even when the pandemic becomes something far less scary and urgent. Exactly how that will shake out is hard to know, however. Some companies are seeing a rise in staff working in the office a few days per week (often Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays) but we just don’t know what the working patterns are that will emerge. There are challenges to this, but also opportunities because we have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to build a new world of work. We need to have people working from locations where they feel comfortable, motivated and balanced and we need to find new ways to unleash collaboration. This will involve new attitudes, new office designs and new knowledge management and teamworking systems. Get it right though and we can all feel a new sense of freedom, away from the systems based on presenteeism and the miserable daily commute that suddenly look arcane and unnecessary.

Flexible leadership

Organisation leaders always need to drive change and imbue a desired culture but today that’s in some ways tougher than ever. A CEO can’t just say ‘this is the way forward for the next year’, never mind the next five years. Rather than selling a fixed vision, they need to share a sense of being adaptive to change. It’s not an easy message to promote but it’s essential that people know that change is going to be in the air for some time. Retailers don’t know if there will be a demand to rush back to street shopping and hospitality companies can’t be sure what their audiences will want. We all need to be humble and listen for signs of what the pandemic has done to change human behaviour. Leaders will need to plan of course but they must also live with the expectation of a need to course-correct on a regular basis. In some ways, knowingly or otherwise, they will be demonstrating “antifragility”. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote in his book Antifragile, “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty … Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better."

And so we all look to the future, confident only that as the mathematician John Allen Paulos has written, “uncertainty is the only certainty there is”. That’s as true today as it was in the time of Heraclitus. But if we are fit enough to flex, we will get through this.

 

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